COMIC REVIEW: SALTIRE – ANNIHILATION – PART 1 / AUTHOR: JOHN FERGUSON / ARTIST: CLAIRE ROE, LAUREN KNIGHT / PUBLISHER: DIAMONDSTEEL COMICS / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 6TH
As Britain descends deep into the Dark Ages, Saltire is once again summoned to defend Scotland against devastation from invading forces. Anglo-Saxon ruler the Mercyan has called upon vampiric fae the Ban Sith to unleash a deluge of bloodshed and death upon the entire nation, and its Guardians, both mortal and immortal alike, must fight to avert its destruction.
Nowadays anyone should always be hesitant of uttering the word “dark,” as the potency of this once compelling adjective has been irrevocably diluted by more than a decade of overuse regarding teenage wizards and sparkling vampires. However, despite its ubiquitous excess, it really is the best way of describing Saltire’s tonal shift.
Whereas the artwork of the previous volume Invasion was colourful, vivid and almost dreamlike, now it’s as though the shadow of war that has descended upon the country has sapped its chromatic vitality, leaving it shrouded in a muted grey haze. The stark contrast, angular features, heavy shading and jet shadows are reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, while the exponentially amplified volume of gore and the unforgiving carnage take the story nearer the realms of horror rather than fantasy. Splattered blood, smashed skulls, pulped flesh, shattered bones and torn guts regularly stain the pages, while one memorable image of Saltire holding aloft a decapitated head with a dangling spine like Sub-Zero’s death move hammers home the uncompromising brutality of battling supernatural monsters.
With the formidable build, terrifying beauty and uncompromising temperament of a bloodthirsty Celtic She-Hulk, the Ban Sith is pure personified malevolence; a lank-haired, corpse-skinned, razor-toothed, black-lipped, crimson-eyed nightmare made flesh. Revelling in the wanton slaughter like a house-cat toying with its prey, she traverses the country accompanied by her pets Cu Sith and Cait Sith (a monstrous undead wolf and equally hideous big cat respectively), joyously releasing a vampiric scourge in her wake.
We get to see more of the Guardians this time around and although they are different characters from those glimpsed in Invasion, we learn that upon ascension they inherit the name of their predecessor, as well as, it seems, their appearance. As the plague of undead gradually swarms north we come to know characters such as Loarn of the Hunters of the Fields, talking in measured and articulate manner even when facing an army alone; the smart-arsed Men of the Loch Guardian Trest (“Good company and a big fight. Could be a Scottish wedding.”); and Talorgan, the Guardian of the Deep Forest Shamans, whose every spoken sentence is a cascade of alliteration, one panel also invoking Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm. The scope of Saltire’s otherworldly setting is further expanded by including wailing washerwoman the banshee and cameoing mythological creatures like a giant water spirit and damned forest daemons, making you wonder just what else might be out there, crouching in the shadows.
Although the book (thankfully) doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, the “part one” of its title promises a lot more to come. The Mercyan stated that the Ban Sith’s campaign of terror and butchery is intended to “distract,” so we can presumably expect to soon learn what plans of ruination the megalomaniacal warlord has put in place to destroy the nation.