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William of Newbury #2
Dark Horse Comics

Comic Books

‘William of Newbury’ #2 finds the curiosity and charisma to really step out on its own

Has ‘William of Newbury’ found its voice? That’s a generally solid yes!

The debut issue of William of Newbury left me feeling kinda split. On the one-hand, writer-artist Michael Avon Oeming had crafted a cute and creepy story about a neurotic racoon monk fighting demons in Medieval Europe. On the other hand, he’d gone and pulled a full Hellboy/Mike Mignola, leaning too deeply into that universe to deny William of Newbury some of its own individual spark.

But I’m a glass half-full kinda guy, and the energy, joy, and potential left me thinking that a few small tweaks could push William of Newbury into into the realm of a generally entertaining book (and not one that needlessly clung to its inspirations and stifled itself).

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As it turns out, issue #2 of William of Newbury is just the right step forward.

I’ve spoken in other reviews about this idea of confidence between issues. Often the time/space between a debut and the second issue (or third or fourth, etc.) can be an opportunity for creators to fully step into what they’re doing, and to make marked improvements if only because they more clearly see the path going forward. That seems to be the case with Avon Oeming here, and issue #2 of William of Newbury isn’t a drastic change but rather much tighter and confident in all the right ways.

That begins with William himself — here, he feels a little less like “the actual monk version of Adrian Monk.” Instead, he’s a solid mix of pious and knowledgeable, with the right level of wisdom and zen-like confidence, that’s balanced near-perfectly with a slightly aw-shucks level of ignorance and just a drop or two of Don Knotts-ian charming cowardice.

William of Newbury #2

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

When he tackles the case of a dead resident plaguing the village of Berwick, he is a source of spiritual power and guidance, helping these people while never coming off overly pious or somehow detached from the sense that our dear monk is slightly out of his element. It’s a less “gimmicky” turn for William, and a decision that I think will serve him as a more organic, well-rounded lead.

Of course, a lot of what makes William work in this issue has to do with Winnie, the thieving mouse he met last issue. Winnie’s more street smart, slightly harder edge does a couple things: 1) it pulls William out of the more stereotypical undertones that defined him in issue #1 and 2) lets him feel more capable and competent given the pair’s proximity.

At the same time, they duo mostly just work because they’ve got a real Odd Couple thing going on, and the sarcastic wit of Winnie plays really nicely with the more sincere optimism of William. That dynamic’s been done to death, but here it just works — there’s every reason for Winnie to not believe in or mistrust a monk who speaks to the dead, but its handled in a way that William needs that grounded counter to stay true to his path. And Winnie can maybe start to see that her cynicism and whatnot don’t have to be so perpetual when the world needs more good and decent folks trying to make a difference in spite of themselves. This infusion of joy and solid witty banter is a great way to keep this book from veering too far into a very dark place.

William of Newbury #2

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

It’s also worth noting that the story’s structure is a big help in this regard. It’s mostly another done-in-one tale, but we hint at the backgrounds of our leads in an indirect way that promises a payoff but also gives us a long-term path and a bent for the narrative at-large.

Similarly, I think some of that emotionality and overarching tone is where this book started to turn things around for itself. (Again, it’s more like a gentle pivot then a complete about-face.) I mentioned in my review of issue #1 that the book didn’t just scream Mignola from an aesthetic standpoint, but that some of its period piece vibes and ideas about morality and spirituality felt similar. In issue #2, there’s changes that muddy those comparisons for the better.

Again, it’s subtle enough, but it feels like Avon Oeming is embracing something more joyous and curious, and that’s coloring some of the themes here in a way that feels more hopeful. He’s interested in history and religion, yeah, but it’s less a condemnation and more a small spotlight in what faith can actually offer us: a sense of community and desire to actually help the less fortunate regardless of their circumstances. Mignola stories can be rather cynical in their appreciation of the past, but William of Newbury looks back not with over-naivety but an understanding that there’s something deeply human about this time, and that as much as it kicked off some prevailingly dark threads for humanity, it’s also an instance of great generosity and spiritual wealth.

William of Newbury

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

This issue really delves into that with genuine excitement, and what we get are bigger explorations and discussions about our shared responsibility for each other, the nuanced role of religion in public life, and why we fight for goodness and decency in the first place.

Despite all these rather important changes, you may still feel those latent Mignola vibes given the art. In issue #1, Avon Oeming really laid out the core look of this book with demons and bleary English countrysides that reminded us heavily of the Mignola-verse. To an extent, that’s also still very true here: the ghosts, for instance, feel like they’ve flown out of one Mignola book and into this one, and not even the injection of cutesy forest animals can do too much to offset those weirdo/outsider vibes. Still, issue #2 does feature some decisions and depictions that make William of Newbury feel different from a much-needed visual standpoint.

The cutesy creatures, for instance, seemingly have a bit more range here, and that does wonders to make this less of a gimmick and cement this world as something with larger potential. Coloring wise, I think we also get a bit more depth and even some much-needed bursts of vividness and intensity; those show us that this world isn’t so dark after all, and that some of the thematic interests here are coming to fruition in the look and feel of this world.

William of Newbury

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Even some of the imagery and iconography are interesting — there’s a shot of William calling down an angel that mixes viking and Greek god vibes in a way that feels central to this book’s still-developing identity. It’s also an especially vivid shot — one of several in this issue — and that added drama is going to be huge for this book.

I hate to say I told you so to anyone who maybe doubted what William of Newbury could do. (Even as I was also clearly a doubter.) But I will say that I’m especially overjoyed with the development facilitated by this second issue. It’s turned a solid book with real good bones into something that feels like it’s stumbled on a familiar formula and look but with even more to offer as a story and a robust piece of art.

And it did so with a subtlety and grace that speaks volumes about its creator and the work put into this book. I’m not at all split this time: William of Newbury is a real good book, folks.

William of Newbury #2
‘William of Newbury’ #2 finds the curiosity and charisma to really step out on its own
William of Newbury #2
This second issue does a lot to extend, augment, and generally improve the book into something with its own style, end goals, swagger, and sense of drama.
Reader Rating0 Votes
The Winnie/William dynamic is a solid source of humor and heart.
The book's tone continues to finds its own footing amid its inspirations.
The art's style and large, showy flourishes are a massive source of joy.
There's still a lingering sense that this book's deeply indebted to its influences.
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