We should start this review by revising, in retrospect, some of the assumptions and conclusions I made about 8House: Arclight #1. For one thing, as some have pointed out, I’m not entirely sure what the gender of the title character is. In Issue #2, it’s strongly implied to be male, but frankly I try not to get too attached to categories in matters such as this. Gender is obviously a fluid and diverse thing, deeply embedded in culture, and we’re seeing a very original and elegant but different culture portrayed in this series. (Arclight is only the first in a continuing series of stories set in this universe focusing on various characters.) In the end, it’s what we’re told about Arclight that matters: Arclight is a knight, a protects a lady who wears a monster’s body. There seem to a sub-class of such knights in this world, and they form a sort of Mick Jagger-David Bowie in quasi Elizabethan science fiction-land clique. (For those in askance at that metaphor, if you read the book, you’ll see it’s not far off.) That’s really all you need to know about this character, not who they “fancy”. The gender fluidity is interesting, and it links to the metamorphic nature of other characters, such as the Lady, so it’s just another manifestation of the richness of the 8House world.
(To make the writing a bit more clear, and to balance off the last review in which I called Arclight female, this time I’ll use male pronouns for the titular character.)
This continues to be one of the most arrestingly original and beautiful fantasy-sci fi titles available, with the art by Marian Churchland continuing to impress. Churchland draws fantasy landscapes and characters with a haunting fragility. Sometimes the art suggests and sketches where other stylists might fill in too much detail, which is very much in keeping with the writing, by Brandon Graham. One of the additional pages at the end of this issue is, in fact, a fully expressionistic painting, devoid of recognizable colour and of course containing no “narrative” information as such, but somehow captures that all-important tone of this book. Graham’s spare, elegant dialogue, just as in the first issue, gives just enough information and not a drop more. Many sequences are simply of characters moving, or watching, or listening (the book makes great use of sound, as comics often do), moving through their world with a rare thoughtfulness.
In terms of plot, this issue revisits the notion that a lady was transformed into a monster through a misapplication of magic. The Lady is now trapped in the monster’s body, but the twist here is the reverse is also true: a monster was trapped in the Lady’s body in the process. And we’re told that now the monster in the woman’s body has woken up, and is seeking out the Lady herself by contacting individuals from her previous life.
My fellow Buffy and Angel fans will find much to appreciate in the metaphor of a monster trapped in a human body, because that’s the Whedonverse thumbnail description of a Vampire. Particularly Angel himself, “The demon with the Angel’s face,” comes to mind as we see how the monster tries to interact with the Lady’s friends and colleagues. And in the meantime, the monster is using magic to attract or set a trap for Arclight and the Lady. The question becomes how long can a monster pass for a human – and the answer, as is usually the case, is not nearly as long as a human can pass for a monster. There’s something wonderfully psychologically and spiritually rich about the whole metaphor, getting at the heart of what assumptions we make about appearances vs behaviour.
And all of this is set in an environment with gorgeous vistas, a real “scope” to the world and an heroic lack of exposition. The very fact that so many of the details of life in this universe are left unexplained, right down to elaborate magic rituals, is a brilliant choice, and one that encourages the reader’s metaphorical eye to wander into the margins and contemplate what else might be going on in this strange and beautiful world.
Arclight is only one story that will be told in the 8House universe, as Brandon Graham envisions the series as a “label”, under which there can be many characters and stories. So far it’s fantasy-science fiction that is rich in its restraint and has a quiet confidence in its vision.