Last November, Scottish based publisher Diamondsteel Comics introduced the world to their original hero of myth and magic, Saltire, in the first volume of their graphic novel series, "Saltire: Invasion". Now, less than a year later, the next installment of the big blue barbarian's legend is set to debut in both the United Kingdom and the United States later this week. Titled "Satire: Annihilation Part One", it is the first in a multi-volume saga chronicling more dark times for the champions of Scotland during the middle ages. Series writer, creator, and Diamondsteel Comics co-founder John Ferguson continues to detail the adventures of Saltire, this time with art by Claire Roe and colors by Lauren Knight. Having been provided an advance copy, how does Saltire's second adventure compare against his first?
Taking place in the Dark Ages and taking full advantage of the mythology and folklore from Scotland, Ferguson and Roe create a world which may seem familiar to those used to "Lord of the Rings" or other "sword and sorcery" realms, but is also distinct and unique from all of them. Having defended Scotland from an invading army of Rome (including against Mars himself), both the immortal beings of Otherworld and the mortal champions of the tribes of Scotland have little time to rest on their laurels. This time, it is an incursion by Saxons which once again bring Scotland's heroes out in force. Unfortunately for all involved, the zeal of the Saxon warlords to cleanse the realm of the Scottish leads to an unholy alliance with Ban Sith - sister to the legendary "Banshee" - who quickly spreads a plague of death which turns any who are bitten into ravenous monsters. Naturally, this means that Saltire once again has to be summoned from the stone of destiny from below the Ness River. Yet can even the embodiment of Scotland itself turn the tide of battle against an army of the living dead, their razor toothed queen, and her even more hellish wolves?
Claire Roe's pencils are a shift away from the art from the previous volume, but this actually may be an improvement. Those familiar with the work of Leinil Francis Yu may find themselves very comfortable in the style of Roe. It appropriately suits the tone of the piece, which mixed sword and sorcery with that of horror. The colors by Lauren Knight are also terrific and bolster Roe's line work incredibly well. Giving the already very blue Saltire pants which were also blue was a problem for "Annihilation", but Knight has solved this with drastically differing shades of blue. The climactic battle between Saltire and Ban Sith is also a treat for those who like well staged combat in their comics. The narrative itself may be straight forward - mythical warriors versus vampires - but the choice of villain as well as the brutal execution more than makes up for it. Ban Sith quickly proves herself to be a monstrous threat without being overly sexualized or posed in tantalizing ways as far too many villainesses are. It takes a lot to upstage Mars from the previous volume, but "Annihilation" certainly achieves that.
Like many adventure epics, it is the story and scope which sometimes seem to be more important than the characters within. Saltire spends a lot of time off panel to build up his appearance, and there are so many various immortals and Scottish heroes who come and go that it can sometimes be difficult to latch onto a few for longer than a few pages. Thankfully, all of their designs are distinct and the finale offers quite a cliffhanger to look forward to for the next installment. Instead, "Saltire" stories take the broad scope approach of offering a lot of mythical adventure and legendary action instead of a lot of interpersonal melodrama. In that it delivers, which impressive artwork and a far different threat for its' heroes to overcome.
"Saltire: Annihilation Part One" goes on sale September 6th at the MCM Expo as well as comic book shops across the U.K. and U.S., including Forbidden Planet (which has a branch in Manhattan) as well as on Amazon. The paperback will retail for $14.99 in U.S. dollars and those whose thirst for swords, sorcery, and mythical superheroes would be wise to look beyond Marvel or DC Comics to find something with a completely different flavor.