Lay It Down: Last month, Dennis Culver and Justin Greenwood debuted Crone, their excellent new fantasy series from Dark Horse Comics. Once known as the mighty Bloody Bliss, the titular Crone was forced to pick up her sword one last time after an old foe rears their ugly head. It’s a tale of second chances and revenge, which means at some point we’d have to understand the transformation from Bliss to Crone. That very moment arrives in issue #2, and boy oh boy, is it both a humdinger and a doozy.
Build It Up: The bulk of this issue is dedicated to Bliss’ life after she straight decapitated her nemesis, D’Kayde. Namely, her struggle with wanting a life of peace with her beloved, Ella, and continuing her ways as a sword-swinging force of justice. This is a chance to understand who Bliss/Crone was, and the sort of impact she had on the world. In just a few pages, we really grasp the sort of selfless hero she was, and her commitment to helping people without any thought for herself. So when she does meet Ella, and they quickly dedicate themselves to one another, we get some semblance of a “happy” ending, one that feels so very well earned. I think more stories need to try and build up this sort of dynamic, and Culver does a great job letting us assemble our own picture of this paladin and her larger value. It’s about as effective of an “origins” story as you’ll ever come across.
Tear It Down: … ‘Cause in short order, Culver destroys Crone and our very image of her. I won’t spoil most of the specifics, but the issue is even more effective in showing us where Crone is now, and how far she has fallen as a person and a hero. We learn the fate of Ella as well as Crone’s thoughts on life in the decades since and her sense of valor as it currently stands (which is to say, maybe in tiny pieces?) There’s a really great moment near the issue’s end involving Crone’s epic sword, Mordenstorm, that speaks volumes about the depths she’s fallen and the long, painful journey she has ahead in confronting “D’Kayde.”
Culver did such a phenomenal job of breaking Crone down in such epic, efficient fashion. We see her not at her glory, but a sad, broken shell of a warrior, to the point where it’s almost embarrassing. And that is exactly how it should hit: we need to feel this pity to understand the value of her fall and then celebrate at her possible return (or to feel twice the agony should she fail again). If you’re telling a human story in this genre setting, there needs to be less fantasy and more embarrassing grit. You feel deeply for Crone, and that tangible emotion makes you care about her in new and interesting ways.
Just An FYI: It’s here that I need to address something: in case you hadn’t picked up on it, Crone is a lesbian. That’s obviously huge for inclusion and representation, but I think it’s also done in a way to not over-hype that point. And as much as I feel like I shouldn’t be the judge for this sort of thing, that kind of presentation is key in normalizing these portrayals. No one among Crone’s friends ever bat an eye, and they’re simply happy the hardened Crone ever found a reason to smile. That’s the way it should be in other stories/franchises, and Crone is a great start to expanding our perceptions of a true hero.
This Is Now: At the same time Culver is breaking down Crone, he does a commendable job building up her new squire. That eager trainee would be Corinne, daughter of Crone’s old friend Gaspar (also the man responsible for facilitating her return to hero-dom). There’s a small chance she could be nothing more than comical relief, the awkward rookie to Crone’s bloodthirsty vet. But at the same time, Culver does help set her up as a possible light in Crone’s dim universe, the fresh-faced reminder of why she first picked up the sword and why it’s so vital to do again. In some ways, her youth and inexperience mirror Crone’s early interactions with Ella, and that just adds all sorts of layers of emotion and narrative goodness. It’s hard to see what the future holds, but Corinne represents a pureness that is essential to the story while off-setting some of this issue’s dark and depressing tones.
A People Person: In some ways, I think Culver’s structure and pacing outshines Greenwood’s art throughout issue #2. However, he earns mad credit for a few really great moments, like D’Kayde’s helm being tossed off a bridge, or the scene with the burned prisoners (you’ll know it when you see it). But I think his biggest contribution is the battle scenes, and in a series where there’s likely to be a ton more of these clashes, Greenwood makes some interesting choices. The battles in this issue, especially Crone’s return against a marauder “pup,” focus on the faces of combatants and provide some really intriguing angles. Again, that human element is so deeply important, and we need to see that sense of fragility or weakness to fully engage with the story. Otherwise, this story feels so much like some of its influences (like Red Sonja), and we miss out on new and interesting musings on getting older, lost potential, the need for closure, etc. Greenwood’s art gives us a shorthand for the humanity of these characters, and a chance to engage with these people in a way that feels genuine and authentic.
Never Change: Issue #2 was an effective way to slow the action, highlight the most essential angles/elements of this world, and still manage to drive the narrative forward. It is the decision that’s turned Crone into this deeply human thing, with all its wondrous flaws and hubris. Whatever comes next on her journey, here’s hoping the book retains these very essential traits. Oh, and way more decapitations.