COMIC BOOK REVIEW: SALTIRE: ANNIHILATION (PART 2) / AUTHOR: JOHN FERGUSON / ARTIST: CLAIRE ROE, LAUREN KNIGHT / PUBLISHER: DIAMONDSTEEL COMICS / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 11TH
The rampage of the Ban Sith and the vampiric plague she unleashed upon Scotland was only the first wave of the Mercyan’s campaign of destruction. Now the forces of the Saxon warlord stand at the foothills of the Borders, ready to march across the land and lay waste to all that lies before them.
Superheroes need to be super; that’s obvious. But they also need to be fallible. If they’re just some invincible set of powers then any threat can be defeated with little effort, which runs the risk of them becoming boring as any tension is removed from their exploits. Up until now, Saltire has seemed to be a quite literal force of nature, his swords cutting an unrelenting swathe through his enemies will little resistance. However, at the end of part one of Annihilation we were introduced to his kryptonite: alcohol, and that this should be the defined weakness of a Scottish hero could spark quite a debate. Although, now this weakness has been identified it would seem to have a simple solution of keepin’ ‘im aff the bevvy, so it’ll be intriguing to see precisely how it can be used against him in future.
As the Saxon army advances from the south, the big blue ginger one has been left in a drunken coma, leaving the Guardians to face the army without the nation’s immortal protector. While infused with the power of ancient magic, most of the Guardians are still human, and when facing an entire army single-mindedly geared towards utter ruination the odds seem to be stacked too highly against them. As one by one they begin to fall under the crushing tide of the relentless onslaught and the survivors are driven further and further north, despair begins to set in, not only for precisely how victory over the oppressors will be attained, but also if it even can be.
Even after Saltire is awoken from his stupor, the tide isn’t necessarily turned, as the Mercyan’s dark witch minion Ester summons Tuisto, the deific Germanic allfather, and what follows is far from a simple retread of Saltire’s duel with Mars Ultor that climaxed the battle of Invasion. Even the greatest fighters in world inevitably have their skills blunted by the effects of booze, and with Saltire hungover and lethargic, and Tuisto born of the earth and manifesting as a 200-foot stone colossus, it takes more than just physical might to put down the enemy once and for all.
From their inception, the Saltire comics were intended to utilise Scotland’s extensive mythological history that exists largely untapped in fiction. In keeping with this, the fantastical nature of the dialogue maintains the feeling that the comic series could be a retelling of an ancient saga, a Scottish equivalent of epic poems such as The Nibelungenlied, Beowulf or The Odyssey. The story itself is pretty straightforward, but the depth of its themes raises it above a simple action comic, incorporating notions of honour, self-sacrifice, standing for ideals greater than yourself, and the nobility in laying down your life in the defence of others. While no less grim and shadowed, the artwork doesn’t have quite as much gleeful bloodlust as part one, and although there isn’t the same level of wanton carnage propelling the story, the action is augmented with a satisfying volume of fire and explosions that create wonderfully dramatic backdrops for striking menacing and heroic poses against.
The story ends on a two-panel stinger that acts as a set up for the next book and an antagonist’s possible return, the location of which also gives a big clue as to the next foe that Saltire and the Guardians will face.
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