Saltire – Annihilation Pt.2.
Full Colour Graphic Novel by John Ferguson.
Art by Claire Roe.
Coloured by Lauren Knight.
Cover by Jim Devlin.
Published by Diamondsteel Comics Ltd.
* WARNING: While there are (hopefully) no give-aways of this latest instalment in the Saltire series, there is the odd spoiler-esque element concerning the first part of ANNIHILATION.......
Way, way, way back in the deepest mists of time (well last October to be precise), I wrote a piece about a very exciting development in the world of the graphic novel - The appearance of what is arguably the first Scottish Superhero in Graphic novel form, Saltire.
Saltire - Invasion was the first in a what was intended to be a series of books that was the beginning of what promised to be a grandiloquent odyssey through the history, mythology and country of Scotland. The Superhero in question was quite simply a big, blue and ginger creation intent on protecting his country from invasion and destruction.
At the time of writing back in October I did say that the superhero reminded me a little of myself ..... well except for the big, blue and ginger bit. I will actually take part of that claim back, because it has been something of a rather cold winter up here in the North East of Scotland. As a consequence some parts of me are still a little bit on the blue side, however my legal team have advise me that due to taste, decency and potential litigation, I should refrain from saying which parts. Though as I write this piece it's actually a balmy (well it is for Scotland) Spring day with a bright yellow thing shining up there in the sky. I believe it is called the Sun.
The second edition in the Saltire series was Annihilation, which found its way into stores late last year. Once again, it didn't disappoint with its continuation of a parallel mythical history of Scotland, this time with the setting taking place a number of centuries after the first book's events. This time the story took on a darker, bleaker tone in parts whilst still managing to become ever more sweeping in terms of its narrative scope. It was an ambitious undertaking, but once again the delightful artwork and good narration carried one along in a veritable whirlwind of exciting myth and legend.
A week or so ago witnessed the continuation of Annihilation, rather cunningly called Annihilation - part 2. Though not officially released until April 11th, the comic was available at DeeCon in a pre-release launch over the Easter weekend. In addition people were able meet the entire creative team behind Saltire and have the opportunity to get a whole range of big, blue and ginger related goodies in the process. Unfortunately I wasn't able to be there as I had a pressing appointment at the vets - well, actually I didn't, but my dog Jasper did....and he still hates me for what the operation meant he had to have removed. Let's just say that there won't be any little Jaspers ever running around Fifth Dimension towers in the future.
Anyhoo, a little while ago the good people at Diamondsteel comics contacted me and asked if I would be interested in an advance digital copy of Annihilation - part 2. Of course, you know me well enough by now, I'm anybody's for a freebie - particularly a sneak advance freebie. Naturally I was interested. So this week I sat myself down with a cup of Earl Grey Tea (I'm nothing if classy) and my iPad and read the next instalment of Scotland's foremost superhero.
"As blood thins and silence echoes, a fresh torment builds behind the southern wall. When heroes fall, who will stand against an unyielding force and the brutal terror from the earth? The freedoms of a nation laid bare before a cruel and tyrannical foe, for as one battle ends another must begin.
To fight, to endure, to survive..."
The first part of Annihilation witnessed the forces of the Mercyan army and its vampire Witch being defeated by Saltire and the other leaders and champions of Scotland's assorted tribes and clans. However, the victory has come at a high cost with the villages and towns in near ruin and the many of champions themselves having either killed or their strength severely diminished. In Annihilation - part 2, the Mercyan king has returned and has sworn to rid the Scottish lands of all who stand in the way of his Saxon forces. If that wasn't bad enough for the beleaguered Scots, Saltire himself is severely ill and weakened from his heroic efforts
If there is one thing that is pleasing (and I believe necessary ) to see at any stage of a publication's evolution is a continuation of pushing the boundaries of ones own artistic standards. This is perhaps arguably more of a necessity in the ultra-competitive area of the graphic novel and comic book - quite frankly, it's brutal out there with many an example of new and ambitious projects that have fallen by the creative wayside and drifted off into faded obscurity.
Thankfully, Annihilation - part 2 continues where it left off in terms of outstanding and dynamic artwork, and if anything, the level of of exciting precision and pacing in Clare Roe and Lauren Knight's work is been taken up a further notch in this edition. The zestful visual strength on offer is simply jaw-dropping on occasion as it gives a sense of fluidity and life to the characterisation. It is a constant visual treat for the eyes as richly textured colours and artwork vie for ones attention. It is simply excellent stuff.
The pacing of the story, as in the first Annihilation, moves the reader along at a breakneck speed as it carries you breathlessly through it's plethora of skirmishes and battles. If I had one minor criticism of the first edition it would be that the dialogue occasionally at times struggled to keep up with the large array of characters and varying scenarios they found themselves in. Whilst incredibly enjoyable, there almost seemed an insatiable need to cram as much mythical history in as possible and this occasionally impacted on the pacing of the plot. However this time things have been ever so slightly 'tightened up' and as a consequence a very good piece of comic book narrative has evolved in Annihilation - part 2 to become an excellent example of narrative pacing.
Saltire's story is ambitiously sweeping in scope and application as it skillfully incorporates a whole array of Scottish myth and legend without ever resorting to tired Tartan parody and cliche. Not only that, but it very nicely taps into the contemporary cultural and social engagement that is going on in Scotland at the moment as a consequence of the recent independence referendum and not too distant General Election that will soon be with us. Something very special has been happening in Scotland over that last couple of years as a fresh sense of national identity seems to have gathered an impressive momentum. The independence referendum may not have achieved in the short term what many (including myself) wanted, however, that momentum for both for change and authentic pride in what ones country stands for is, I feel, ultimately unstoppable.
What Saltire has done is to tap into that very sense of cultural pride, something which the popularity of the character amongst the Scots populace is more than clear to see. However, don't just listen to what I say. After all, just what the hell do I know? By all accounts, I'm not alone if the collection of other positive reviews of the exploits of the bIg blue one are anything to go by. Not only that, but there is also the recent news that Diamondsteel comics have been approached by a number of Hollywood film studios with a view of bringing the graphic novel to the big screen.There is a part of me that is truly happy at the prospect of seeing the Saltire Universe expand beyond all belief. I just hope that the Hollywood treatment that he gets, if indeed it does happen, is as authentic and respectful to Scottish culture as it is at the moment in this marvellous comic.
Saltire Annihilation - part 2 is available for order and lands in stores this weekend on the 11th April. I cannot recommend the series highly enough. If you like your high-octane comics then this is the one for you - whether you're Scottish or not!
For more information about Saltire and how to acquire the comic then the Diamondsteel team can be contacted by the various means below.