(Diamondsteel Comics, 2014)
Created by John Ferguson
Art by Claire Roe and Lauren Knight
In 2013 we saw the introduction of the “first Scottish superhero” into the comics canon. Saltire: Invasion showed us how the Roman army ran face-first into the blue-skinned, dual-claymore wielding, behemoth, and was crushed beneath his mighty heel. Now creator John Ferguson has penned the second issue, Saltire: Annihilation.
The beginnings of Annihilation are similar to that of Invasion. There is a threat to the country, a threat that cannot be solved by the guardians that normally protect the different zones of the country. For example, there are guardians for the rivers, the fields, the shadow realms, the caves, each guardian represents a different clan and each guardian has a special power in shouldering the mantle of the guardian. Each one is practically a superhero in and of themselves…so what could be so great at threat that the be all/end all guardian must be called upon?
There is more than a slice of historical accuracy in this book. Last time it was the Romans, the very legions that tromped across the globe in the dark beginnings of civilization. Historically the Romans would either wipe out their enemies or absorb them into the empire, which made Rome the largest empire in the world. Scotland, always the thorn, always the problem child, didn’t want that so much. As the Romans moved further and further west, dropping countries throughout the European continent as a matter of course, the native Scots were such a problem that the emperor Hadrian, rather then send more legionnaires to their deaths against the Scots, put them to work building a wall to “protect the empire from the barbarians.” Take that Romans.
History lesson aside, these books take that aspect of the Scottish character into account when describing the ancient people. This is a never-say-die culture, one that has nearly always been the David versus a Goliath, weather it be the British Empire or the Romans. After the defeat of the Romans in book one, it would seem that there is no power strong enough to defeat the combined warrior magic of the Scots. But the Romans’ magic was not strong enough to best Saltire. This book takes the next logical step and goes within, deeper into the mythos of the homeland to bring out a villain more intimate and terrifying than any centurion.
Saltire as a character has certainly come into his own in this book. Ferguson has woven the actual history of the country with a Tolkien-esque fantasy, blending the two so that the lines where they touch are obscure and hard to unravel. He takes elements of Scottish folklore and his own creative touch and has built a world where we believe that Saltire is an actual folklore figure brought to comic life, rather than a complete creation. Therein lies the Ferguson’s genius and it shows his skill has a writer and storyteller.
With the publication of this second issue there is also a change in artist, this time to Claire Roe. Her style takes a more classically comic look at the Saltire character, beefing him up, and colorist Lauren Knight does a fabulous job. Roe’s style is a great addition to this book, reflecting the darker substance of the story and bringing out the many facets of the clan guardians as they fight a nearly unstoppable foe. (Whom they do not defeat, at least in this issue, so there is more awesomeness to come.)
Enough with the review-talk…purely as a fan, I love this book. It brings out the mystic elements of Scottish folklore and pushes them into the superhero mythos. It takes the guardians, who are essentially superhuman themselves, and pits them against others as powerful as they, and that makes for good comic reading. Add the supreme efforts of John and Clare Ferguson, as well the somewhat newly discovered talent of Claire Roe and Lauren Knight, and you have the future of comic books. Small publishers cannot be over-looked by any of the bigger companies, and Diamondsteel shows that with this book. Little companies can make great comics, and if Saltire is any indication, other small publishers need to step up their game.
Saltire: Annihilation is only the second of the series, but the third is on the way, and John Ferguson leaves you wanting more in the best possible way at the end of this issue. Congratulations to all at Diamondsteel Comics, and a warning to other publishers, Saltire is big and blue and will not be denied his rightful place in comics. Let the claymores do the talking.
Brad Gischia is a writer and artist living in the frozen Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is married and has three kids and a dog, who all put up with his incessant prattling about comic books.