Brian Azzarello, story; Maria Llovet, art
Boom! Studios, 2020
This series is described very well by its own creator’s statement: “An erotic description of faith, sex, and the devil in the tradition of the divine comedy.” It opens with protagonist Faith (an enigmatic character name if ever there was one) attempting to masturbate, unsuccessfully. The eroticism and the frustration are both core elements of the story being told here.
Faith is an artist, who is also dabbling in magic. The magic feels minor, until she meets Poppy. And after she becomes involved with her father, a famous artist named Thorn, her love life soon revolves around both of them. As her friends start dying, the cost of her relationship with Thorn is apparent–to an old vagrant woman she keeps running into (and who is apparently a magician)–but not to her.
Thorn finally makes the classic offer for her soul (although not stated flat out), offering her an artist’s career. As the series ends she has cut all ties to her old friends and is living the life of a glamorous celebrity, escorted by Thorn and an entourage. A second series has been announced, so the story will continue.
Llovet has a loose, expressionist style that suits the story well. She sometimes uses sound effects (including song lyrics) to dramatic effect, wafting them through the panels like another character. The collection includes an especially impressive selection of alternate covers and pinup art, featuring Paul Pope, Lee Bermejo, Fábio Moon, Cliff Chiang, Eduardo Risso and others.
Curse Words Vol. 5: Fairy-Tale Ending
Charles Soule, writer; Ryan Browne, artist
Image Comics, 2020
Curse Words has always been an unpredictable fantasy story, and that continues to be true for the finale. The path to the fairy-tale ending is jagged, and the ending is not guaranteed. In fact much of the final arc is a battle royal. But the collection actually opens with the “Spring Has Sprung Special,” which is an origin story for Margaret. Turns out that she was the love child of Wizord and Ruby Stitch. Falling in love and having a child was very much against Sizzajee’s rules, so he curses them to hate each other and forget about their child.
The arc proper opens on the Hole World, with the battle against Sizzajee and his wizards by Margaret, the Tigers and the Norwegians (an unlikely alliance which Margaret forged on Earth). Having realized that Margaret is their daughter, Wizord (who has powered up by stealing mankind’s belief in Santa Claus) and Ruby Stitch transport in to help, significantly altering the balance of power.
On the run, Sizajee takes the fight back to the Earth. There Wizord engages him in a final combat. It’s a battle between Love and Hate, and ultimately Love wins. But not without a cost, which makes it a bit less than a fairy-tale ending: everyone does not live happily ever after. But Margaret regains her human form, and the world is a magical place, with magic and magical creatures in it. So call it a win for the good guys. It may be a bit protracted, but it is a satisfying conclusion.
Trees Volume 3: Three Fates
Warren Ellis, writer; Jason Howard, artist
Image Comics, 2020
Warren Ellis has said this is the last Trees collection “for the foreseeable future,” but that hopefully the creative team will return to it someday. The series was always intended to have a global view: the second collection revisited some characters from the first one, but this one looks at an entirely new cast, in a different part of the world.
The setting is Toska, Russia, and it opens eleven years ago, as the Trees are first descending. Like all of the previous story openings depicting the arrival of the Trees, the gigantic scale and the abruptness of the event are vividly portrayed. In the present, police sergeant Klara Voranova starts her morning with news of a murder victim at the base of the nearby Tree. He is a stranger: Klara says the official population of Toska remains 63 persons. It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere (whose name means sadness or melancholy in Russian), but the population was 601 before the Trees came.
So the murder mystery plays out against a background of isolation and desperation. As the investigation proceeds Klara realizes just how far it extends, and how few townspeople she can trust. She solves the mystery, but at the cost of several more deaths–and her life in the town. So what are the three fates of the subtitle? Klara’s is one, certainly, and I think her lover Sasha as well: he is felled by the Trees at the outset, but returns at the end as some sort of ghostly visitor. The third could be Nina: as master of the railway terminal, she was the real power in the town. Or the town itself. Nina took keeping the town unchanged as her charge, so her death could be seen as the death of the town. Either way this is a dark and solemn story, full of the surprising twists found in any good mystery. Not a bad series ending, if it turns out to be that.