The story is a familiar one, but no less exciting for it: Magic is fading. This world is more dependent on it than most, though, as the upper races literally live among the clouds in great, floating cities far above the beastly races that toil for them on the ground below. The sorcerers need to find a solution, and a heretical leader brings hope laced with devastation. So, the first chapter is a long forward establishing the world and whetting our appetites for the Great Champion, the being responsible for birthing Magic itself into the world, who they try to bring to the present in order to save it. There's no denying the obvious nature of the Champion, with many animal races each claiming him to their own, but it helps cover the real surprise of what he is. Seriously, you will love him; the curveball he represents gives a fresh and really fun take on the idea of a "hero out of time" that perfectly balances the films Masters of the Universe with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Each issue (now chapter) begins with a prose-laden block in the tradition of The Wheel of Time that helps build the larger world and really helps to sell a massive living universe to play in. Busiek has a fantastic handle on the fantastic and has layered a unique and engaging story on familiar themes that create something well worth reading.
I love the artwork on this series; Benjamin Dewey creates lush and wondrous vistas that he's more than willing to splatter with blood and destruction. He finds a great balance in the action, letting the world exist organically while highlighting the difference brought about by the big story element in the second chapter. The selling point of the Champion is brought home by his skill and makes every moment he's on the page a pure joy to see. There's no mistaking when s--t is about to go down, and the combat is glorious as it is . . . well, gooey.
Anyone who enjoys high fantasy turned on its head will get a real kick out of this collection and out of the series itself. There are not a lot of creators who set this high a bar for their work, and the number who manage to consistently hit it is even smaller. This is a great big journey for anyone wanting to take it, and it's a helluva ride.
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