The situation faced by the crusaders in Lake of Fire is becoming increasingly desperate in issue #3. Theo has been badly wounded, the Keep is surrounded by aliens intent on getting in, the people are terrified and the remaining Knights know that they have to take immediate action. It’s the kind of action they recommend that puts them into conflict with some of the citizens, and raises questions about their honour and their oath.
The issue of a Knight’s oath often features prominently in stories about the crusades, probably because the modern audience is fascinated by the moral justifications furnished by these men who committed such atrocious acts of violence. The oaths sworn by these men have mostly been preserved through history, and though there was a bit of diversity throughout Europe, most oaths boiled down to promises of service and protection, particularly of the church and the poor. It was through this sort of oath that the invasion of Jerusalem was justified, for example, by claiming that the crusaders were freeing persecuted Christian pilgrims. (For the record, Christians enjoyed freedom of religion under Muslim rule, and were really in no need of saving, but in medieval politics, facts never got in the way of a Holy act of killing.) in this issue, when the Knights propose a strategic retreat to a safer place that involves passing through danger, some people object. It would mean leaving sick people behind, and exposing everyone to the possibility of alien attack in the open. The argument boils down to what portion of the oath will have to be violated: the part involving protecting the poor, or the part about protecting the church. The Knights are reminded that their oath is first and foremost to God, and they have to do some serious thinking about what that means. In the end, the retreat has to happen, although not everyone comes with them, including the wounded and possibly dying Theo.
Beyond the rich arguments over honour and religion, this issue of Lake of Fire also boasts some arresting artwork, particularly in the latter section featuring the Knights on the road through the wintery French Pyrenees. Matt Smith has a classic comics style, and Nathan Fairbairn colours the scenes with crisp efficiency, but it all works, with most of the journey taking place without any dialogue or narration.
One final wonderful thing about Lake of Fire so far: we don’t really know what’s going on. The aliens have eluded any explanation of their biology, their agenda or their strength, beyond establishing that they’re insect-like and deadly. There’s still quite a lot to reveal about precisely what kind of thereat the aliens pose, and that opens up even more interesting narrative doors as the series moves forward.