It's hard to conjure up consistent adjectives for the Autumnlands series; Ben Dewey, Jordie Bellaire, John Roshell, Jimmy Betancourt, and that Kurt Busiek fellow just keep churning out one of the best books on the shelves without any semblance of wavering in quality. And this latest issue? ****ing fantastic as ****.
Leoroyd and Dusty have encountered the missing Craglanders, and it isn't pretty: the poor goats have somehow been fused with various assorted wildlife through raw, unfiltered magic in the area - a sickness spreading and mutating life into a giant, crazed beast.
Dirty Aelbert, one of the last Craglanders, is confronted by the various pieces of the village he knew in the monster, and he shirks off that horror while fighting alongside Leoroyd and Dustry as they try to figure out how to separate all the life twisted together by this corrupt magic.
Dewey gives us some of his best work in this issue, especially in this chaotic confrontation. The two-page spread mimicking a sci-fi/fantasy periodical is just uncanny in its composition of action featured with strategic exposition. His own inking really highlights his physical aesthetics, and I'll be damned if his anthropomorphic animal faces don't convey a serious range of emotion. Of course, Bellaire works so damn well supplying a palate that seamlessly corroborates with the linework that you'd think that it was simply one person doing all the artwork.
Busiek, of course, shines with the diverse dialogue patterns and an absurdly good sense of comedic timing. Leoroyd is earnest in his impulsive reactions during combat, Aelbert may become the runaway favorite character of the series, and I'll be damned if Dusty's own thought process doesn't rip your heart out; the magician's apprentice can feel all that unbridled magic in the area, the raw hatsas that is echoing in the area, and we can feel the awe he is experiencing. When Dusty casts his cleansing spell on the beast, the aftermath leaves him shell-shocked, and Busiek succinctly channels the pup's hollowness.
They group -- now with a fully committed recruit in Aelbert -- keep traveling until they find an ancient castle containing beautiful topless statues as a security measure.
Leoroyd is able to conjure up the correct password to prevent their untimely demise, giving the reader a sense of just how far into the future this may be. Once inside, things build up to a shocking final panel that will make the wait for #12 nearly unbearable.
We alluded to it earlier, but Comicraft's Roshell and Betancourt really do an exemplary job with a task that can be as easily overlooked as it can be epically devastating - the lettering in this issue is as organic as the artwork. Any difference in the captions or dialogue presentation would take away from the overall aesthetic of the book, which has been cultivated since the very first issue.
There's so much in this narrative - it's so damn dense and elaborate, like a million-dollar tapestry, and just as cohesively beautiful. We live in a golden age of comics, where there are a slew of great books available to a wide audience. Autumnlands is one of the greatest of the great.