Review: Saltire / Author: John Ferguson / Artist: Tone Julskjaer, Gary Welsh / Publisher: Diamondsteel Comics / Release Date: Out Now
Created by author John Ferguson and brought to life by artists from Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Saltire is billed as “Scotland’s first superhero.” Fusing history with fantasy and legends with superheroics , this short but striking book collects the first two (and currently only) issues of the comic.
The first book, titled Invasion, is an action-packed summons and battle as Scotland’s champions fight the advancing forces of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, while the next, Inception, details the origin of Saltire, a being created to embody the ideals of a nation and stand as immortal guardian over its people.
Although Saltire takes place in 2nd century Scotland (or Caledonia, to be precise), with the shadow of a dragon soaring overhead like the intro to Skyrim seen as early as the fourth panel, there is no pretence this is the real world we’re seeing, but rather a mythic fantasy realm of intrigue and wonder easily the equal of Hyboria, Middle Earth or Westeros. The nation is divided into the lands of ten tribes, bisected along the Highland Boundary Fault, with the Valley of Light to the south and the Highlands of Shadow to the north, while the gateways to immortal dominions the Ethereal World and the Otherworld are positioned at either end.
Ferguson’s writing style harks back to classic superhero comics, where plot intricacies and character building were very much secondary to awe and spectacle. He clearly has a wealth of ideas for his fantasy world, although in his rush to present them all the end result is a little cluttered. After answering a call to arms like some kind of Pictish Avengers, the twelve champions of the nation – each of whom brandishes a mystical weapon whose origins we can currently only speculate upon – are barely more than name checked over a couple of splash pages before we are introduced to Saltire himself. A seven-foot, red-haired, woad-skinned wall of muscle, glowing runes adorn his arms and a faint white cross scars his blue chest, reflecting the Scottish flag with which he shares his name. Dual wielding a pair of indestructible claymores and with an amusingly anachronistic battle cry of “I’m gonnae have you!”, he embodies the fearless and indomitable spirit of those he protects. The sorcerous conjurations also extend to the aggressors, and by the end of the first story Saltire is battling the Mars Ultor avatar of the Roman god of war, while later on chief deity Jupiter makes a brief appearance.
As well as firing out its own lore at a supersonic rate, the comic also incorporates more recognisable historical myths, such as the mysterious fate of the Roman Ninth Legion as well the identity of the Loch Ness Monster, while the Stone of Destiny, the coronation seat of Scottish monarchs, is used to summon the eponymous champion when he is needed. In keeping with the fantasy aesthetic, the muted colours of Celtic tribes are saturated to the point of vibrancy, so much so that as well as Saltire’s eldritch tattoos and gleaming blades, even the wet mud of pathways and the perpetually overcast sky practically flare from the page.
Light on story but heavy on impact, Saltire is a vibrant blaze of mythological fury that far exceeds expectations of a debuting superhero comic. With the forthcoming third issue titled Annihilation, we can likely expect the scale to expand even further and even faster.