Magen Cubed is a novelist and comics critic. Her superhero/SFF series THE CRASHERS is coming soon from Booktrope.
Images Comicsâ 8House: Arclight #1 by writer Brandon Graham and artist Marian Churchland presents a different kind of fantasy story. In a pop culture landscape currently dominated by the harrowing violence, political intrigue, and hard edges of worlds like G.R.R. Martinâs Game of Thrones, 8House is a shared universe miniseries with a unique vision.
It is set in a world ruled by eight noble houses, part of an ongoing collaboration between Graham and other creators, where the line between science and magic blurs along roads connecting ancient forests with complicated Byzantine cityscapes.
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Here, advanced technology exists alongside mythical creatures. Deep past and far future meet in the contrast of ancient architectural traditions with liberated modern aesthetics, breaking down traditional gender expectations with long gestural lines, elegant figure work, and dramatic costuming.
8House: Arclight #1 is made of these softened edges between science fiction and fantasy. Graham and Churchland trade on sparse exposition and sprawling graphic narrative to create their captivating world but yield few of its secrets, making for a striking read that lingers long after you put it down.
Summary & Critique:
8House: Arclight follows Lady Kinga, a noble woman of the Blood House, and her knight Sir Arclight. Kinga has been imprisoned in an alien body, her consciousness trapped within a strange living tree as she resigns herself to the outskirts of the Blood Lands. The creature that took Kingaâs body has eluded her as she and Arclight trek across the wilderness, making peculiar new friends along the through her familyâs ancestral blood magic. The borders between life and death are as nebulous as those between technology and mysticism, meager situational exposition providing clues but no answers. Returning to the city, however, Kinga and Arclight discover that the creature has returned and is escorted by Arclightâs rival Sir Nowak, further complicating matters.
Graham and Churchlandâs vision of the Blood Lands is sprawling and empty, a haunted place of magic and meager comforts. Grahamâs scripting is delicate and minimalistic, conveying a strong sense of narrative context with both grace and brevity. Sparse dialogue and box captions help develop the tone in light touches, allowing Churchlandâs artwork to truly drive the book. Characters are well-defined, and the transitions between spaces or sequences are reinforced by strong, clear, and resonant language rather than hijacked by extraneous exposition.
Conveying this, letterer Ariana Maherâs deft work discreetly balances each page with thoughtful box and bubble placement. Lettering is often taken for granted despite its integral expositional role in graphic narrative; here Maherâs lettering shines, complementing each panel as the eye travels down the page. The vast wilderness of the Blood Lands is so empty and expansive that the dialogue bubbles are almost comforting, reminding the reader of the intimacy between Kinga and Arclight as they roam. The inclusion of text isnât just necessary, itâs welcomed. Bold expositional typeface contrasts the delicate, handwritten quality of character dialogue, making these exchanges feel warm and personal rather than mechanical.
Churchlandâs refined, precisely-detailed figures and gestural scenery hooks and compels the reader, unfolding over the course of the book into a satisfying visual experience. Her lines are soft, clean, and pregnant with a sense of melancholy. Sweeping two-page spreads and relaxed page compositions create wide spaces for the characters navigate. Even for the imposing loom of dense forests and lonely mountains against wide vacant skies, the suppleness of Churchlandâs organic shapes and contouring lines breaks down the inherent sense of isolation. From the upward sweep of the bundled roots that replace Kingaâs face to the energy imbued in the flyaway strands of Arclightâs hair, Churchlandâs characters are light, barely tethered to the dreamlike scenes they sleepily drift through. Every sequence feels big, quiet, and open to exploration, beckoning the reader to look and speculate on the backstory that brought Kinga and Arclight to the Blood Lands.
Arclight, Nowak, and the other knights have slender long anatomy and features that evoke Edo era Japanese art tradition. This decidedly androgynous aesthetic is reinforced by Arclightâs ornate Rococo-inspired armor and the elaborate costuming seen throughout, seamlessly blending varied European and Asian cultural periods to develop a unique and gender fluid visual setting. From lavish Byzantine-influenced metropolitan scenes to intricate character designs, each component is thoughtful and inviting, drawing the reader’s eye to inspect every delicate flourish.
Overall, 8House: Arclight #1 is an intriguing and memorable read. Itâs polished, mature, and every member of this creative team puts forth an amazing effort from the first page to the last.
If youâre looking for a fresh sci-fi/fantasy book with a unique style and set-up, I highly recommend it.
Magen Cubed is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Â Follow her on Twitter: @MagenCubed