After five years of war, a small castle on the outskirts of the kingdom is all that stands between a brutal warlord from the east and total conquest. The sole surviving heiress to the castle is eleven-year-old Lady Cathryn, daughter of the late Lord Aedon. To prevent further bloodshed, Lady Cathryn is arranged to marry a vicious knight with loyalty to the new king. But then, a mysterious stranger wielding Japanese daisho appears. The stranger cuts down the knight and presents an edict written at Lord Aedon's deathbed proclaiming him the new regent of the castle. The stranger's actions infuriate the king, and he marches his ferocious horde to the remote stronghold. Facing a battle he can't possibly win, the stranger reveals a deadly secret weapon to Lady Cathryn.
The Last Siege unfolds slowly at the onset, then explodes out exponentially in the later chapters. Walker deftly employs several simultaneous storytelling techniques to weave multiple narrative threads together. In other words, there's never just one thing going on. It helps to give the characters, and the world they inhabit, an impressive level of depth. This is especially evident in chapter five, where the stranger's "legendary" past is revealed while we concurrently see his first confrontation with the king outside the castle. Greenwood heightens the contrast between the two storylines by using more stark and abstract illustrations in the flashback/legend.
The book has a remarkable harmony between words, art, colors, and letters. Greenwood's heavy black lines and colorists Eric Jones' muted hues set the tone in chapter one, where a cold rain falls in every panel. The environment is unforgiving and so are the characters. The art in the final battle scenes reminded me a lot of Frank Miller's 300 and The Dark Knight Returns, except with more detail and (if you can imagine it) more brutality. Walker relies heavily on his art team throughout the book, and with great success. A noticeable number of panels eschew dialogue completely and advance the narrative with dark shadows and ominous glances. Chapter seven doesn't even have a single word. The eponymous last siege is blazoned over twenty-seven incendiary pages that are truly epic in every sense of the word.
As you might imagine, multiple storylines mean multiple narrative themes. The Last Siege is foremost about loyalty, but I was impressed with how Walker adroitly addresses other issues like the responsibility of ruler to subject and delivers a relevant message about standing up and striking back in a world ruled by fear. Walker also blends his medieval world with thematic elements from other genres. Fans of westerns (like me) will notice familiar motifs like the intruder in a hostile land, the outlaw hero versus the unjust institution, and the unstoppable march of time as new technologies literally wipe away the old.
But the book's most compelling theme revolves around Lady Cathryn. She's first introduced as a damsel in distress, beset by conniving advisors and toxic would-be suitors. She doesn't even speak until chapter three. But as her relationship with the stranger progresses, the focus gradually shifts to her. The young orphan that was thrust into adulthood by sudden tragedy (another similarity to the Western genre) starts to come into her own. Her ascension and leadership style ultimately stand as counterpoints to the cruelty of the mad king.
If you're at all intrigued by The Last Siege, I highly recommend getting the trade paperback. The collected edition includes a gallery of variant covers and concept artwork, and Walker's foreword gives a lot of interesting background and context for the story.
Creative Team: Landry Q. Walker (writer), Justin Greenwood (artist), Eric Jones (colors chapter 1-4), Brad Simpson (colors chapter 5-8), Patrick Brosseau (letters)
Publisher: Image Comics
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