Love & Murder: In fiction writing, there’s one long-standing mantra: “Kill your darlings.” Which is to say, as much as writers love their characters, they can’t coddle them and still draw out any essential truths. No, only through blood and suffering can we achieve important stories packed with real life lessons. Dennis Culver clearly understands that, and the third issue of his excellent new fantasy series Crone (alongside artist Justin Greenwood) finds the once powerful Bloody Bliss bruised and beaten by the world (mostly metaphorically but then also not?)
Smash Your Babies: To some extent, the preceding 2 issues have been gearing up to peak “kill your darlings” levels. Issue #1 found Bliss contemplating death on a mountain only to be faced with the return of her nemesis, D’Kayde. Issue #2, meanwhile, dug the knife in deeper (and also broke Bliss’ legendary weapon, Mordenstorm).
Yet all of that felt like a walk in the park compared to issue #3. In bloody detail, Bliss is shown to still have that chutzpah on the battlefield, mowing down a few gnarly minions in brutal fashion. Those scenes do a stellar job in helping Bliss rebuild some confidence, contemplate her larger value, and even reconcile her wish for the sweet release of death. That “joy” doesn’t last, though, and Bliss/Crone is quickly subjected to some rather debasing treatment by the resistance (led in part by Crone’s old friend Gaspar and his children Corinne and Anton). They want to cast her more as a figurehead, including dying her hair back to its once brilliant red with nasty beets. That’s a new low, a misery and sadness not made by Bliss’ own hand but thrust onto her by the world. It would be one thing to die on the battlefield, but this is a dismembering that Bliss has little defense for.
It’s a powerful way to break down the character even further, and to show us what she’s made of as she fights on through the endless misery and sexism. Suffering can be a good thing, and it shows the strength and power Bliss contains while also wounding her in new and different ways. If this is a story about second chances and vengeance and the like, Culver’s doing a damn fine job prepping the character for some huge revelations down the line.
The Torture Continues: Of course, patriarchal nonsense isn’t the only threat Bliss has to face in this issue. There’s a huge moment featuring Bliss and D’Kayde, where the two icons lock up in battle and something hugely important is revealed about the fiend in pure black armor. I don’t want to spoil it ’cause it’s soooo good, but it’s something that shocks Bliss to her very core and does a lot to undermine her own assumptions of the past and also further complicate her mission at hand. It dawned on me that so much suffering in one issue might be overkill, but then that’s what this series does great: dump the layers of blood and bad history atop Bliss and see what’s left amid the mess. She’s made for this life, and she’s an excellent avatar of sorts.
If things were always easy for Bliss, and every problem was solved with a swing of her sword, nothing would ever be gained. Instead, we’re disassembling this hero the only way it works: make her confront emotions and ideas that her extra-sharp sword skills could never vanquish, and to create situations where she is stripped of her real power. In doing so, she may have to forge herself into something new, and also recognize her shortcomings and really examine where it all really went wrong.
A Bloody World: In my review of issue #2, I spoke of Bliss’ pseudo-prodigy, Corinne. Namely, about how she was kind of a light in the darkness, and her youth and inexperience would be a good counter for Bliss. But after issue #3, maybe her presence is something else, a way to get Bliss to believe before Corinne’s shuffled loose this mortal coil. That would be a massive tragedy but it would also be another great way to mess with and possibly destroy Bliss. If I’m still getting too schadenfreude for some of y’all, maybe that’s a good thing.
Good stories need real stakes, and the best way to do that is to give people something to care about and then snatch it away (to paraphrase Donny Cates, “You gotta drop a dog.”) It seems cruel, but not only can we learn best via suffering, but safety and sanctity aren’t things that we can truly rely on. Fans and writers alike should be interested in dismantling these characters in meaningful ways. The fun then comes in using this unique medium to piece them all back together, to find nuggets amid the wreckage of a world that’s as cruel and uncaring as our own.
In addition to Corinne, I think the introduction of Anton will be a nice foil for Bliss. He’s behind a lot of the negativity she encounters in the issue, and I’m curious to see what role he plays in her journey and the lessons he might provide. The more instances of great supporting characters, the better they build up the universe for Bliss.
Not So Second Fiddle: Speaking of things from my issue #2 review, I also heralded Greenwood’s excellent artwork. Namely, his great depictions of battle and the really awesome angles and little details he’s used to build this massive world. This time around, Greenwood’s efforts supported the larger narrative and its emotional fallout, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Greenwood was playing second fiddle. He truly excels in this supportive role, and does a great job of expanding the story and providing imagery that echoes similar emotions and sentiments. It’s not that the art is less important, only that Greenwood recognizes when to opt for simplicity or basic clarity a opposed to over-sized imagery or an abundance of drama/theatricality. In this sense, it makes for a more aligned and highly effective product.
Murder & Love: I think if there’s ever a second part to the “kill your darlings” advice, it should be, “but do so with a steady hand.” As I said before, it’s not about fostering suffering for suffering sake, but there’s a kind of ritual between creators and readers to sacrifice these beloved characters in the name of greater truths and understanding. We all make a pact to do and watch these things in the hope we’ll better understand ourselves in the end. If that’s really the case, then Crone may have a boatload to teach every single one of us.