“Iron Horse / Born to Lose”
If you’re following this book on a monthly basis, the plot recap on the inside front cover has become essential. It’s not that the story is especially convoluted or confusing, but it’s really nice to be reminded of all the various plot threads going on among the myriad of dirt-covered, ragged characters as they run around their post-apocalyptic world. Luckily, writer Antony Johnston and artist Christopher Mitten do a great job of differentiating all those personalities through both visual appearance and voice. And their story continues to be compelling, with plenty of action, intrigue, and violence to keep us coming back for more.
The current storyline continues to chug along (pun intended, since an explosive-laden train is the centerpiece of a big scene in this issue), with the battle that began five issues ago continuing to rage through the city of Newbegin. In a risky move, Johnston has removed two of the main characters (Abi and Michael, who set out to find the fabled A-Ree-Yass-I after experiencing some revelations in the previous storyline) from the stage and chosen to concentrate on the city they left behind, which is under attack by the monstrous Sandeaters. Instead, they’ve been focusing on Abi’s adopted son Jakob, various members of Newbegin’s ruling class, and, most interestingly, the Sandeaters themselves.
In addition to the big train scene, we get a big moment with Marcus, the “Lord Founder” of Newbegin, and a surprising cliffhanger that will keep readers guessing for the next thirty days. But just as interesting is a conflict between Skot, a conflicted member of Marcus’ government, and his mother, who has been doing her best to push him into a position of power, leading to a poignant scene that questions the wisdom of putting societal advancement over familial relationships. There’s also a thread about holy man Golden Voice calling the slave classes of the city to use the battle as an opportunity to fight for their freedom.
So, yeah, did I mention that there’s a lot going on in the story? That description only touches on the basic plot points of the issue, but the real pleasure is seeing everything play out, especially in character moments where we see emotions come through their actions and speech in the midst of the chaos.
Mitten’s artwork continues to shine, grabbing readers by the throat with shocking and gory violence, and clearly (for the most part) conveying the often-complicated action. He also does a great job of visually distinguishing the many characters, who are all similarly-dressed but still seem like unique personalities in the midst of big events. Even if you completely put aside the plot, the detailed art that fills every page really makes the book an enjoyable read.
The series continues to be a recommended read, whether you follow it every month or wait for the trade collections. However, reading the monthly issues provides the bonus of travelogue-style text pieces that flesh out the world of the book. Johnston and Mitten are putting out some really nice work here, and it would be a shame to miss it.
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