Swamp things

Publisher: Valiant
Writers: JJ O’Connor & Brian Buccellato
Penciller: Manuel Garcia
Inker: Raül Fernández
Colourist: Rex Lokus
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artist: Bagus Hutomo

One thing I had not realised about the Ironclad characters was how young they are. I knew they were young but I had not twigged that Lela is only 14. That really puts things in a slightly new perspective. These are essentially enslaved children. Though it does explain their rebellious streak, as teenagers are pretty good at that. It also makes Sam’s death last issue even worse in retrospect. All of this also means we’re dealing with the classic teenage rebellion dystopia tropes. I have said previously that this is a newbie friendly title and this newfound knowledge certainly increases that for me.

When last we left our rebellious teens the consequences of their actions were appearing over the horizon. This issue the Alphan authorities arrive to interrogate the Ironclads, well grubs from their perspective, about the death of Sergeant Troy (he’s not missed by readers or the Ironclads). There’s a lot of hatred from the Alphans, though what I like is that visually you can’t tell the difference between them and the Ironclads. There’s nothing that screams different people. They don’t have anything about them that’s different. If anything the art emphasises their similarities which makes Peris’s point that he is a person just like them all the more understandable to the reader.

The first part of the book very much emphasises the conflict between the Ironclads and the Alphan Armorclads. The art backs it up. The Alphans loom over the Ironclads in so many ways. The Armorclads surround the Ironclads, their weapons pointing at them. It very much visually seems like prisoners and imprisoners. The yellow clothing of the Ironclads also evokes the look of prisoners as does the way they are drawn lined up for inspection and interrogation.

There’s a real moment of danger for Peris and Lela steps up as well. I get the sense they will be the focus of what may turn out to be two different but related plot threads. They were two of the most established characters last issue so it makes sense to follow their story here as well. We care about them and Peris does not have an easy time of it. That sympathy we have for the Ironclads and their plight is also well encapsulated by Lela who finds something of an inner strength here.

However, whilst that’s the start of the issue things rapidly escalate. The first issue was action packed and the action continues here too. If you want big battles with a heavy sci-fi theme then this issue has you very much covered. It also brings in another faction – the Legionnaires who are basically mercenaries. I liked how we got some brief exposition about what they were and what they were after but we don’t get too much. The Legionnaires are still a bit of a mystery.

The battles between the Armorclads and Legionnaires are suitably full of explosions. There’s a really beautiful ‘Ka-Boom’ onomatopoeia lettering in front of a well drawn explosion. The bright flashes to represent guns firing is effective. It all comes together to really evoke a battle atmosphere. It’s a different battle to that of the bugs last issue and it doesn’t evoke any obvious sci-fi parallels as that did. This battle feels a bit more original, like it’s finding its own voice.

I think that’s the same for much of this issue. The world has been established and now things can be developed. There are still familiar tropes on offer and I do think that’s a good thing as it makes for a satisfying read for newbies and more versed readers alike. This is still an unexplored area for the Valiant universe but this issue feels more confident with that as well. As a long time Valiant reader I like how this evokes feelings of other teenage rebels in books past (the Renegades, Gen Zero & Secret Weapons kids) but at the same time feels fresh and new.

We also get more development of the other characters; Jac, Pulo and Cole all get a bit more to them this issue. It’s nice to see the cast expanding. It was needed to hone in on more of the individuals as although we had sympathy for them you empathise better if you know them more. The character designs also helps to single them out. Jac trying to hack the locked Ironclad suit was a nice bit of character art, just to see the facial expression. Cole climbing around in the swamp to try and free them was also nicely done.

There’s some really nice setup at the end for going forward. It’s clear things are changing in the world of the Ironclads. I want to see what happens to them next. This feels like a more established world in both writing and art. We see terrain that we saw last issue which is at once both familiar but new. We see a different side to it as the Ironclads are led out like the enslaved group they are.

I really liked this issue, it expands on the world, the characters and the plot. It feels as if it has faith in its own story, its own voice. I think I enjoyed this issue in many ways more than the first for precisely that reason. There’s a freshness and a confidence here that I really like. The art is exciting, the plot building and the writing are solid. The pacing is excellent. This is a book I think I will very much enjoy going forward. Armorclads is a book that is showing off some excellent potential.

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