The medieval genre is hotter than ever… sort of. Game of Thrones has become an undeniable cultural phenomenon, but doesn’t hit the small screen again until 2019. There’s a new Robin Hood movie slated for release this summer, and it looks… interesting. Luckily, comic book fans have an awesome new series to fill the medieval void in their lives in the form of Image Comics’ The Last Siege.
From creators Landry Q. Walker and Justin Greenwood, The Last Siege blends elements of spaghetti westerns and realistic medieval fiction in a title that explores life on the fringes of a recently conquered nation struggling to maintain a semblance of independence. The Last Siege hit shelves this week, and after reading the debut issue, I can’t recommend this series enough. It boasts a fleshed out, lively world on the edge of collapse with just the slightest inclinations of hope from its engaging characters to hook readers in for the struggle ahead.
With art focused on showing the reader rather than telling and characters struggling to find their place in an utterly hopeless world, The Last Siege is a fine example of why medieval fiction works so well in the comic book medium. “I really enjoy the challenge of making silent pages work, and for a story like this, it felt like a perfect fit,” said artist Justin Greenwood via email. “Silent pages force you to toss out the crutch of letting the dialogue tell the story and really make every visual beat count.”
This is medieval fiction at its best, but don’t expect dragons, magicians, or watery tarts throwing scimitars to make appearances in this series. “There is a strict no-dragon policy with this book. As fun as that stuff can be, it changes the stakes of the game,” said Greenwood. “There are no get-out-of-jail free cards, no easy way out for anyone. If you want to be saved? Grab a sword and get to work.”
The Last Siege may not feature a real nation or historical events, but it’s a story firmly rooted in a realistic representation of medieval systems. “The legends of Hereward Wake were a huge influence on this story. He was a minor Saxon noble whose family was slaughtered by the Normans following the conquest of England in 1066. Some people consider his story to be the seed of the Robin Hood legends,” said writer Landry Q. Walker. “I’ve also drawn heavily on the history of Eastern Europe in the 700s-900s, as well as a touch of Genghis Khan. It’s a bit of a historical melting pot, meant to highlight a general type of pressure people in this world were under.”
The alchemy of multiple medieval cultures shines throughout the narrative, with hints at typical Anglo-Saxon religion and society present in this first issue. The unnamed protagonist particularly personifies this melting pot of cultures, depicted as an Anglo man wielding an eastern looking katana rather than a typical broadsword.
“He’s a stranger. It’s a quick shortcut to help suggest that he’s traveled,” said Walker. “It also gives us an opportunity to play with different styles of combat.” Greenwood added to this, saying “Visually, it instantly sets him apart from just about everybody but it’s also a plot point and an integrated part of the mystery of The Stranger and his well traveled past.”
The nameless protagonist is one of the more intriguing mysteries at the center of The Last Siege, taking elements from both classic medieval folk tales and spaghetti westerns. He’s a quiet, yet strong figure wandering across a barren landscape to save the last beacon of hope in a desolate nation. While this is undoubtedly a work of medieval fiction, classic western films helped shaped the general narrative of the series.
“Fistful of Dollars is a strong contender for a specific point of inspiration. The first several minutes of the film are some of my favorite in cinema history,” said Walker when asked about inspirations for The Last Siege. “I remember also referencing High Noon a couple times with Landry,” added Greenwood. “They used mood and tension to create a sense of hopelessness before ever even getting to the showdown.”
While spaghetti westerns stand as a clear inspiration for this new series, readers would be forgiven to want to compare this story with medieval juggernaut Game of Thrones — both stories focus on the socio-political landscape of a nation torn apart by a conquering monarchy. However, George R.R. Martin’s masterpiece is nothing more than a coincidental occurence in the creation of The Last Siege.
“I am a fan of Game of Thrones, but I conceived of this story long before I encountered the works of George R.R. Martin,” said Walker. “The original outline for this series was written almost 20 years ago. I danced around it in my spare time for years and years, changing direction and writing and rewriting the first issue.”
With the final product finally on shelves, it’s clear that a ton of time and passion was poured into The Last Siege. The debut issue is a moody, unrelentingly hopeless story that sets up an overrarching narrative about finding hope and redemption in a hopeless world. Simply put, it’s the type of title that will immediately have readers running to their local comic shop to add this title to their pull list- at least I did.
The Last Siege is in stores now, with issue number two hitting shelves on July 4th. For more from Landry Walker and Justin Greenwood on The Last Siege, historical realism, and even Star Wars, keep reading.
AiPT: There’s a definite spaghetti western vibe to this book, with a stoic and quiet wanderer randomly showing up to save a troubled town. Why’d you decide on taking that approach with the protagonist? Are there any specific films that inspired this series?
Landry Q. Walker: I like the idea of a third party stepping into an already tense situation, and throwing that situation into chaos. Fistful of Dollars is a strong contender for a specific point of inspiration. The first several minutes of the film are some of my favorite in cinema history.
Justin Greenwood: It struck me from the first time I read Landry’s script that influence was a very deep part of the storytelling in this book, right down to the sparseness of dialogue and the fact that our protagonists were only ever initially referred to as The Stranger and The Lady.
From a visual standpoint, Once Upon a Time in the West has one of the best silent opening sequences of any story, western or otherwise. I remember also referencing High Noon a couple times with Landry, thinking about how they used mood and tension to create a sense of hopelessness before ever even getting to the showdown. I grew up on westerns and I think a lot of this sensibility seeped in very naturally.
AiPT: We’re sure the two of you get this question a lot, but we’ve gotta ask; are you Game of Thrones fans? And did that inspire this series at all?
JG: I really dragged my heels getting into that story because I think I was just burned out on fantasy for a while. I finally broke down a few years after the show launched and now I watch it on the regular. It’s great, but I can’t say it’s an inspiration for me on this book. Tonally, they are pretty different. And I know Landry came up with this story so many years ago that it would be hard to make that connection.
LQW: I am a fan of Game of Thrones (and in fact, I also currently write the comic book adaptation of the series). But I conceived of this story long before I encountered the works of George R.R. Martin. The original outline for this series was written almost 20 years ago. I danced around it in my spare time for years and years, changing direction and writing and rewriting the first issue. I recently dug up my original notebook for this comic, written while on break in a restaurant I was working at. I hadn’t realized I had circled almost entirely back to the original outline I wrote so long ago.
AiPT: After reading the first issue, this is a very gritty, realistic look at medieval life and political systems (we especially enjoyed the little bit in the ending prose about having a giant, dull sword designed for breaking bones), is this series going to stay grounded in realism or will readers see magic, dragons, and trolls appear at some point?
LQW: 100% realism. I’m not sure how that genre is defined? Fiction, I suppose, grounded and inspired by historical texts. The story takes place in a fictionalized bit of western Europe, with characters coming in from Eastern Europe as well.
JG: There is a strict no-dragon policy with this book. As fun as that stuff can be, it changes the stakes of the game. There are no get-out-of-jail free cards, no easy way out for anyone. If you want to be saved? Grab a sword and get to work.
AiPT: Landry, your work is usually considered “all ages”, but The Last Siege is certainly a more adult book. Was there a challenge in writing a book for a more mature audience?
LQW: I bounce back and forth. Always have. My earliest work was grungy, underground comics about sex and drugs. My most recent creator owned series, Danger Club, was an extremely violent deconstruction of superhero tropes. I also did a Mad Hatter one-shot for DC with Keith Giffen and Bill Sienkiewicz that explored the mental process of a serial killer…
But you’re not wrong. I’m still best known (I assume) for Supergirl Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade. I like writing the fun, light, and weird stuff. Like Supergirl being exposed to kryptonite and being turned into a block of cheese. That stuff is a fun place to live, mentally speaking. But variety, spice of life and what not.
AiPT: Justin, we loved how the opening pages are pure art, no dialogue, all about showing you the world of the story rather than telling you about it. Is it more challenging to draw a page with less dialogue or does it give you more freedom to tell the story?
JG: Thanks! I really enjoy the challenge of making silent pages work, and for a story like this, it felt like a perfect fit to open the book. I try to tell a story in a way that the art will make you feel what is happening without word balloons anyway but silent pages force you to toss out the crutch of letting the dialogue tell the story and really make every visual beat count.
It’s not a dominant aspect of this book, but these wordless portions show up periodically. I’m working on a dungeon sequence right now that is also silent. It’s important to me that it’s not used as a gimmick but something natural in the story and appropriate for certain scenes and adds a good counter balance to the violence.
AiPT: In the early pages of the first book and on the cover you can see a cross mounted on one of the buildings and one of the characters is a bishop. What is religion like in The Last Siege? Is faith/religion going to be explored in this series?
JG: Religion is not a major element of the book, although in this time period religion and power were directly related. And faith has a way of finding root in places this broken when people have started to need hope. Cross style windows were also good for archers to have flexibility when defending castles during this time, so the theme can work both ways.
LQW: Religion is more or less as it would be in Europe roughly in the 400-900 AD era. I know that’s a large window, and is in fact a very important one in terms of the spread of Christianity. It’s safe to assume that many of the characters in the story are of Christian faith, simply given the general flavor of the book, but that aspect of the lives of these people isn’t a driving force of the narrative here.
AiPT: Are there any specific historical battles or moments that inspired The Last Siege?
LQW: Several, really. The legends of Hereward Wake were a huge influence on this story. He was a minor Saxon noble whose family was slaughtered by the Normans following the conquest of England in 1066. Some people consider his story to be the seed of the Robin Hood legends. I’ve also drawn heavily on the history of Eastern Europe in the 700s-900s, as well as a touch of Genghis Khan. It’s a bit of a historical melting pot, meant to highlight a general type of pressure people in this world were under, rather than a specific retelling. So all of the above is in the mix, but none of it is 100% driving the bus.
AiPT: We mentioned the two-handed, dull broadsword designed for breaking bones above. Any chance readers get to see that in action in panels? What other type of medieval weaponry can readers expect?
JG: When the book opens, the cast is pretty small and most of the weaponry is pretty typical for that time period and location. But as things come apart within the castle, the scope of story gets bigger and bigger with warriors from different areas and tons of different types of weapons to check out.
AiPT: Speaking of weaponry, the nameless protagonist carries a sword quite different from the rest of the goons in the castle, specifically a Japanese looking katana. What went into the decision giving him such a specific weapon?
JG: That idea came directly from Landry when he started talking to me about the idea for this book years ago and I always loved it. Visually it instantly sets him apart from just about everybody but it’s also a plot point and an integrated part of the mystery of The Stranger and his well traveled past.
LQW: He’s a stranger. It’s a quick shortcut to help suggest that he’s traveled. It also gives us an opportunity to play with different styles of combat.
AiPT: Landry, you’re a pretty big Star Wars guy and have even written some Star Wars books in the past. What one Star Wars character would you bring into The Last Siege if you could?
LQW: My go to is usually the Crimson Corsair — a minor character from The Force Awakens — he’s the pirate that Finn almost joins with while at Maz Kanata’s castle. That said, in this instance I would probably bring in a different Force Awakens character. One most notable for having been promoted before the film’s release and then cut from the actual movie: Constable Zuvio. His hardcore sense of morality and justice isn’t one we often see portrayed in the Star Wars universe, and I enjoy writing to that type.