Tooth and Claw #1 Promises the World and Delivers (Review)

48 pages. No ads. $2.99. That is a formula for a very enticing comic in this market.

As rare as an oversized comic with a low price and no nonsense may be, the real draw of Tooth and Claw #1 is the team creating it. Kurt Busiek. Benjamin Dewey. Jordie Bellaire. Creative pitches for a new series don’t get much better than that and this team absolutely lives up to the high expectations come with their names.

Tooth and Claw #1 is the opening chapter of a fantasy epic that builds an entirely new, but fully realized world through the eyes of a small group of characters. It is a world filled with magic, history, and a complex political atmosphere. Populated by anthropomorphic animals, it draws inspiration from reality in order to create its own unique set of characters and races. This premise is bound to draw comparisons to Saga, another series that began with a massively promising story from exceedingly talented creators and its a well earned comparison.

Dewey’s work in this issue will ensure that his name appears more frequently in comic shops and message boards. The art in Tooth and Claw #1 is stunning. Over the course of 48 pages Dewey constructs a complete world, one that is steeped in its own culture and history. Every panel reveals some new facet of architecture, fashion, or a different subculture. It is an immersive experience, one that makes you feel as though you are part of a different world, one that has existed for thousands of years. The experience leaves you wanting to see more of this world as even 48 pages seem to reveal only a small fraction. These panels are each worth more than a thousand words as they build a complete world from nothing.

Dewey’s storytelling easily matches his sense of design. There are pages in Tooth and Claw #1 that will have readers seeking out his work, searching for earlier examples of his breathtaking compositions. There is one splash page (pg. 35) that will cause jaws to drop and eyes to bulge. The draftsmanship present in this one panel creates a palpable sense of impact, one that is loud and forceful. The onomatopoeia that runs across the page continually pulls the eye back into focus with the climax of this issue.

Bellaire’s work on colors helps bring these spectacles to life. She infuses the magic with bright, kinetic energy that differentiates it from the rest of the page. In her capable hands it shines as something special and helps to guide the eye through the chaotic action of some pages. Bellaire also provides more subtle work with landscapes and urban environments. Her palettes capably construct the feel of a meadow on the edge of mountainous terrain, summoning images of the slow transition between Nebraska and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Dewey and Bellaire ensure that the effect and appearance of magic is always clear. There is raw energy to their illustrations that demonstrate the power and risk of what is occurring on the page. However, the rules and function of magic is less clear. Certain facets are understood; it is treated as an academic profession and a limited resource. Yet the ways in which it is made to work are unclear. There are several pages where magic is discussed, but the dialogue does not serve to clarify much of what occurs.

Busiek’s ideas regarding systems and the manner in which they change are much more clear. The structure of the world in this issue is based heavily on class politics and the obstinance of those who hold power. Seeds of an origin myth and the splintering of religious beliefs are planted as well. It’s a fascinating set up and one that is rife with potential metaphors and commentary. Although the world of Tooth and Claw may look very different from our own, there are plenty of similarities to be found as well.

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Tooth and Claw is another incredible debut from Image Comics, a series that promises the world and then delivers. It is the first chapter of another saga filled with potential from a creative team that has proven they can deliver on high concepts and drama both. There’s a lot to love in this issue and it’s only the beginning.

Grade: A-