From: Jamee Mikel [73537,2663]
Subj: New Blood 13
Twice in 30 days you have published an issue that compels me to write. I never wrote a letter to a comic before January, now I'm in danger of becoming a regular.
NEW BLOOD 13. What can I say? It wasn't what I expected by a long shot. I had to go back to the original EQ #15 to find an issue that left me this torn up inside. I couldn't write at all last night (I spent over an hour and barely squeezed out a paragraph). I didn't get to sleep until after 12:30 AM and woke up at 4:30 AM. I was only about 10% present at work today. I just finished reading it for the sixth time in less than 30 hours. You get the picture.
Why? Well, Dart (obviously, right?). NB 13 pushed him off my list of Favorite ELFQUEST Characters of All Time. Now he's on the Favorite Characters of All Time Period list. An auspicious company in my opinion: the top five include (in no particular order because it changes) Warp's own Strongbow, Orson Scott Card's Ender Wiggin, Kaoru Shintani's Shin Kazama, Patricia A. McKillip's Morgon. And now Dart. (He edged out a couple of other OSC characters and Louise Cooper's Tarod)
Why? I guess the thing I see in all these characters is the dark side, which shapes them but doesn't control them. "The dark side" -- that's got some wrong connotations. Look at Ender and Shin especially, they are both warriors who kill many people. That killing leaves a darkness on their souls that shapes all their subsequent actions. But they don't let it defeat them. They constantly strive to find their way back to a humanity they feel they have lost. The Jury is still out on Shin, but in the end, Ender succeeded. I think the same is true for Morgen and Strongbow (although Strongbow only killed one elf it left as strong a mark on him as Ender's genocide left on Ender).
Dart remembers Shushen, and feels mind numbing pain and grief from the loss. He remembers the killing and the war, and he regrets it, and to a certain extent he hates the part of himself that could do it. But he doesn't do what many people would do, allow the pain and grief and hate and regret to consume him, he tries to find the peace, the balance, he once knew, and when he can't he chooses to wait until the time it right.
That's my interpretation anyway. I don't think he's there yet by the end of NB 13, but I think he's on the way.
Now on to detailed comments, some negative (intended constructively -- honest -- I'm sorry if they come across badly) and some positive. I use the term "official" in a couple of places below. I don't mean to try to create sheep and goats, but as Orwell might say, some sheep are more sheep than others.
1) On page 7, beautiful parallel between Dart's face and the zwoot's. Really drives home the effect all the deaths have had on him.
2) On page 6 there is a fairly serious time inconsistency from the KINGS/HIDDEN YEARS time line (intentional or not, it's there). In HY 9.5, Cutter tells Rayek he waited over 500 years before cocooning, but in HY 2, which is the definite precursor to this NB story by only a few years at most, Scouter, who is scarcely younger than Cutter shows no sign of facial fur. He doesn't in NB 13 either, yet Scouter is awake (page 3) and the Wolfriders are cocooned (page 6). (Just because the Wolfriders can grow face-fuzz doesn't mean they all will - RP) I also find it hard to believe Kahvi and Tyldak took over 400 years to get back to the Go-Backs in HY 2. I guess I'm fairly conscious of this stuff because I've been compiling an unofficial timeline.
3) On page 8: (a) It's supposed to be cold, right? So why is Dart running around in long sleeves and no pants (minor, but it caught my eye -- sounds like something my grandmother might say). (b) Did you make Dart look sooo much like Strongbow in the 4th panel on purpose? He does, and it's great! He's in one of those dark moods that characterized the early Strongbow. (In fact, yep, there it is: "Fire and Flight," page 129, that same look on Strongbow's face.) (c) Those last three panels really went a long way to put Dart's character over on the Best Period list. "Gloomy-grim highthing" is positively inspired (see comments on "the dark side" above).
4) Pages 9-11, The Negative: (a) On page 10 there seems to be a zero time-gap between panels 1 and 2, but somehow Serrin is suddenly undressed (her dress has a strap that goes around her neck which vanishes in panel 2). (b) On page 11, panel 3, poor Serrin's back must be broken to bend at that angle (or else she's one heck of a gymnast). (c) OK, wait a minute, why is Mender up? Did they wake him up special, Newstar too (page 13)? I can deal with that (shades of Vernor Vinge's "Marooned in Realtime"), but Wing is only a few years older than Mender (and is several years younger than Newstar). He's got a full beard on page 9, so if Mender was up the whole time, where's his (and if they were up, Mender and Newstar ain't got long to live because that pot of pebbles is nearly full).
5) Pages 9-11, The Positive: Don't tell Wendy I said this, but this is one of the most loving, sensual, beautiful recognition/love scenes in all ELFQUEST. It's at least tied for number one with the famous firefly love scene, and just might be better. It's reinforced even more by the pages that follow. It was so good I didn't notice all that negative stuff above until the 4th read through (usually I read words an the first and pay close attention to the art on the 2nd, but I had trouble holding the nit- pickiness for this scene). Beautiful work. Someone give Barry a medal. (PS, nice self-satisfied grin on page 11, panel 4).
6) Page 12-13. Dart's first healing begins here. Of course, you know that, but I thought I'd tell you anyway. Again, this is just beautiful story and art. These two pages combined with page 8 are what pushed him into the "Best Period" list.
7) And then there's page 14. Alas, Bowki isn't enough healing. The pain and darkness are too strong. (Does Serrin remind him of Shushen?) Dart must wait again. To make it all the harder, he knows that he'll never again see the son he loves (who is what, 10-ish?, maybe about 13, Dart's age in EQ Book 2? Oooh, that had to hit harder than I originally thought), but still, he goes. He knows if he stays the darkness might win, and he doesn't want that.
I guess that's getting a little melodramatic, but I get the clear sense that he feels he isn't running away from the problem, he just isn't ready to deal with it. The decision to go back into the cocoon was not an easy one. Panel 2 on this page kicked him firmly into the top 5 of the Best Period. He wishes Serrin happiness, even though he knows it cannot be his. The world needs more unselfish love.
8) Pages 15-18. The reaction is so perfect. He isn't ready yet. Perhaps he's drawn too far into the pain. The wounds have festered over the millennia in the cocoon. It's going to take what happens in the next issues to clean and heal them, and it will probably hurt. He is dragged kicking, if not screaming, back to life. He is the ill-tempered zwoot again, but his reaction on page 17 is certainly justified. They've brought him back to be the thing he least wants to be, a war leader. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I like Windkin floating along in these scenes. Makes sense, looks good.
Finally in this set, the panel where Newstar tells him the Wolfriders are awake. Oh, the pain in those two words, "I'm sorry." The realization of how changed he is. I think his second healing begins here. He realizes this isn't what he wants to be, unfeeling, numb, dead to the world.
9) Page 19. I go to NB 11 and 12 and compare the Darts. Barry, you've done a wonderful job aging him, not so much physical age, but emotional. He looks much more like his father, the faint scowl, the serious air, but he's not as ready to kill the humans. The Dart who befriended Geoki is still there, waiting.
The whole issue seems to draw a parallel to Strongbow's struggle after he killed Kureel. The major differences are: (a) Strongbow didn't lose someone he loved dearly, Dart did. (b) Strongbow's healing was fairly quick, Dart's takes a long time. (c) Strongbow's struggle was spread out in the KINGS issues, Dart's is concentrated in one (with perhaps more to come in the future).
10) Ending. Windkin flying off into the sun laughing maniacally? I wonder what has possessed him. Now I have to wait for NB 14 to find out. (Not maniacally... joyfully! Sheesh! - RP)
11) The cover. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but was there a change in the story somewhere? There's nothing like the cover anywhere in this issue. NB 13 seems to be a prelude to the cover and to the short description in the back of NB 12. Am I disappointed? Definitely NOT! Don't you dare recall this issue, I'll never give it back.
12) The letter column. What letter column? Where'd it go? I like reading what other readers think. (I already know what I think. I want to hear their perspective.) Well, OK, maybe the editorial semi-counts.
Overall conclusion: Great issue. The technical points I raised were not nearly enough to keep me from enjoying the story. Powerful, wonderful, heartstoppingly beautiful story. Some great art from Barry. The love scene is in a class by itself. Keep up the good work. You've got a lot to live up to now, but I believe you can do it.
Thanks for listening -- er -- reading. I'm patiently waiting for NB 14, (like Huntress Skyfire was patient -- riiight!)
And then, just to keep us on our toes, from the other side of the Critical Universe comes the following...
--"I don't buy it." "I don't have it." "Is it NEW BLOOD? Cause if it is, I don't have it." "I didn't buy that issue." "Blair, right? Sorry, don't own it." "I don't buy NEW BLOOD. "I don't pay for his bread and bacon."
Just an everyday part of this balanced letter column. More from the world in 30! - RP