Writer: Jehanzeb Hasan
Artist: Mauricio Caballero
Publisher: Action Lab Comics
Review by Sean Frankling
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A purportedly epic fantasy story starts with a cold-open on a scene where a mysterious, darkly powerful character does something out of context but vaguely sinister. Why yes, that does describe literally everything from Star Wars to Wheel of Time to The Mortal Instruments. That’s how issue 1 of Helm kicked off. A shady meetup between sorceress Luna Lumere and her informant ends in a magically empowered chase with the city guard. I’m not sure why fantasy writers go with that intro formula, though. I know writers want to intrigue us with early action and the promise of a mystery to unravel. In Helm, though, it just leaves the reader trying to parse a situation without either context or much reason for them to care yet.
Thankfully, issue 2 gets the story moving more smoothly by spending more time with its seemingly more mundane but far more compelling protagonists. Students Gwyn and Eldrick continue to be adorable after last issue’s meet-cute on the train home from their university. In this issue, the two frantically scramble to cover up Eldrick’s own magic powers — ending up in an unexpected alliance with the fugitive Lumere. So thankfully, Helm doesn’t make the mistake of making us wait for the payoff of their shadowy sorceress’ introduction.
The art is both lovely and functional. On one hand, it successfully conveys the spatial relations of tightly-packed action in the enclosed space of a train. While on the other, the character design is instantly endearing with a noticeable Disney feel in the warm colour palette and big sappy doe-eyes. In fact, the art is so Disney that it’s tricky to see the three main characters together without thinking of Rapunzel, Flynn Rider and Mother Gothel. But that might sound like I’m being sarcastic. It honestly is just a funny coincidence in a delightfully rendered comic.
In fact, there’s a lot to love here now that the series has gotten moving. Helm offers us endearing dialogue, flowing action and hints at an unusually nuanced back story for its fantasy goings-on. Even the obligatory historical dark lord type seems to be a people’s champion demonized by revisionist history. The story makes it unclear whether he’s a monster for attacking humankind or a hero for defending oppressed magical peoples. And wow! Rather than just spoonfeeding us that answer in an exposition dump, the comic lets us wonder about it as Gwyn and Eldrick actually discuss conflicting theories on the topic.
If the series goes makes something of that, it could . Besides that controversial dark lord, the series also sets up social conflict in the present. Both Elerick and Luna are apparently outcasts thanks to their powers as “magick makers.” Combine those themes, and this series has the tools for a multifaceted hot take on the historiography of social oppression. If that is where it’s going,
Buy it. I still say the intro to issue one was a bit of a cliche. But the series found its stride fast. And I can’t wait to see where it goes.