(Diamondsteel Comics, 2013)
Review by Brad Gischia
Created by John Ferguson
Art by Tone Julskjaer & Gary Welsh
Cover by Jim Devlin
One of the core ideas of the comics world, especially that of the Marvel U, is the insistence that heroes can come from anywhere. One of the key points that made me fall in love with the X-Men was that they were a truly international group, with members coming from countries across the globe. And I always wondered…could they manage to survive in a book of their own? Could Nightcrawler, German circus performer, thrive as a lone hero in Bonn? Would Sunfire be the terror of the enemies of Tokyo? Those are back-stories that would interest me profusely. In Saltire, from Diamondsteel Comics, you get that sort of story.
Granted we are not in the present day. Saltire is a fantasy book for certain, but it is so because the native land of the hero, Scotland, has such a rich history within the fantasy realm. The main hero, Saltire, is the thirteenth guardian of the land, called by the other twelve to help defend it in their darkest hour, which, during the 1st century, consisted of the invasion of the Roman legions into the north of the British Isles.
History lesson. Hadrian was emperor of Rome, and commanded the largest standing army on the planet. His empire was so big that he had no hope to hold it but my force, hence the army. When he decided to march north to Scotland, he was soundly defeated again and again by the Scots, not only because of their prowess in battle but also because of their fierce determination to be free. (We’ve all seen Braveheart, and most of us have seen Rob Roy as well. Same deal but replace the English with Romans. Obviously it’s a bad idea to mess with the Scots.) In the end, Hadrian decided that the best use of the huge army he had standing in the British Isles was to have them build a wall across the entire country, clearly marking the most northern border of the Roman Empire. The wall can still be seen today. (That’s almost two thousand years later folks. Talk about staying power.)
Back to the comic, and sorry for the class time, Saltire leads the guardians into the ranks of the legionnaires, and they begin a slaughter that causes the general to call on Mars (God of War) for help. There is an epic battle in which my favorite lines are uttered; Mars: “I am a God…” Salitre; “Then your sacrifice shall be remembered by those who worship you…but not in this land!” Very cool, very dramatic stuff. Of course with the death of their god the Romans scatter, and Jupiter then advises Hadrian to build the wall.
In the second book, Inception, we have the origin story of Saltire, which gets pretty deep into the mystical nature of the character, and is more complicated than I need to go into here. If you’re into the story, than issue two will fit nicely into that framework. There is a nice progression that shows his birth and the trial he must go through. It tries to establish a mythology for him that puts him on par with more popular mythical heroes like Hercules and Odysseus. But unlike those other characters, it didn’t feel like the trial was that hard. He does fight the shadow guardian, but the fight is short-lived and ends pretty cleanly.
The art in these books is great. There is a painted or chalked feel to the drawings that make them fluid, and the image of Saltire, a red-haired, blue-skinned, shiny eye and tattooed, bare-chested Scotsman is heroic in every sense of the word. The battle and fight scenes look great. And there is one panel of Saltire underwater, a close up of his face large on the page while you see his body diving beneath the surface, which looks awesome. The composition of that one especially stood out for me.
So is this, as the makers claim, “Scotland’s first super-hero”? If you go by a conventional timeline, than certainly. All in all, this was a good couple of books. If you like fantasy, you’ll love it.
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