ISOLA Vol. 1 by Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Msassyk, and Aditya Bidikar
ISOLA Vol. 1 follows Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl's nuanced characters Captain Rook and Queen Olwyn on a twisting story made all the more wild and dramatic with Kerschl's stunning art and Msassyk's careful colors. The volume from Image Comics is nothing short of entrancing.
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Comics like ISOLA Vol. 1 are both challenging and wonderful to review because it is hardly clear where to start. The volume is dark, mysterious, and unwinds for the reader like a classic epic. The journey is poetic, and the artwork is beautiful. Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl’s story of a young soldier and her queen is spellbinding. The volume from Image Comics showcases Karl Kerschl’s imaginative artwork, Msassyk’s deliberate colors, and the striking lettering of Aditya Bidikar that bring ISOLA Vol. 1 to life.

ISOLA’s heroines, Queen Olwyn of Maar and Captain Rook of the Royal Guard, first appeared in a 2016-17 prologue that featured as a supplement in MOTOR CRUSH. ISOLA Vol. 1 methodically recounts the steps Captain Rook takes to keep Queen Olwyn safe after a dark curse besets the queen. The wayward traveler’s face a dangerous road on their journey to Isola, the mythological land of the dead. As a result of the comic’s detailed mythology and diverse cultures, ISOLA Vol. 1 captivates readers. The magical animals, dark forces, and the deep connection between Rook and Olwyn keeps readers on the lookout.

ISOLA Vol. 1
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Strong Head and Strong Heart

Fletcher and Kerschl’s heroines are both stubborn and loyal. The artistic team successfully creates a powerful female lead that neither becomes victim of the male gaze nor becomes overly trite. Although Rook is a rookie captain, her devotion to Olwyn empowers her actions. She is driven to find Isola and save the queen she swore to protect. However, there is nuance to Rook’s character. She fumbles, becomes impatient, and often slips into a too familiar tone with the queen. As a result, Rook is compellingly human. Moreover, Fletcher and Kerschl use Rook’s persona to build tension and draw readers closely into the narrative. It is hard to watch Rook struggle to help Olwyn, but as she fights off hunters, wild animals, and even her own personal demons, readers can’t help but root for her.

ISOLA Vol. 1
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

ISOLA Vol. 1 gives readers a stronger understanding of Olwyn, too. While single issues hints at her motives, the complete volume makes Olwyn’s perspective more deliberate. Olwyn’s ambition balances Rook’s loyalty. Fletcher and Kerschl don’t shy away from the connection between the two characters, suggesting that their relationship goes deeper than queen and knight. For example, Rook struggle’s to perform the appropriate distance between them, often calling the queen by her first name. The two are frequently physically close, as well, and Kerschl’s artwork emphasizes meaningful glances.

Together, the two leads drive ISOLA Vol. 1 on a dramatic course. Their strong characterization gives the comic both it’s heart and drive.

A Twisting Landscape

Kershl’s illustrations follow Rook and Olwyn further and further from their home in Maar. As they get into the lands of the godlike Hallum and the strange, beastly Moro, the landscape itself becomes more tangled and unfriendly. However, like the most remote and wild places in our universe, Rook and Olwyn’s surroundings are beautiful. Indeed, even without the dynamic plot, ISOLA Vol. 1 would be a joy to read simply because of the magical forests, valleys, and animals. ISOLA Vol. 1

Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Some of Kerschl’s animals are familiar. The small fox that appears as a messenger of death draw from traditional mythologies that figure the fox and coyote as cunning tricksters. Other animals, like the large storks, the glowing tiger, and the strange woolly boars, bring excitement to the volume. Indeed, the strangeness of these creatures serves to convey their magic and power all the more. And due to the immaculate detail, readers can practically feel the damp rain forest, stark deserts, and feverish chills in ISOLA Vol. 1. Kershl’s artwork captures even the temperature changes, which lets readers almost feel the physical stress of Rook and Olwyn’s journey.

Building from Kershl’s dramatic art, Msassyk’s colors guide ISOLA Vol. 1’s readers. Eerie blues and purples filter the light when Kershl’s small fox appears to guide Rook to terrible visions. At other moments, painfully bright pink blasts through the pages with images of Isola across a barren desert. As Rook and Olwyn move through jungles, the lush greens and browns give readers moments of comfort. The colors help readers differentiate between flash-backs and different perspectives, giving the narrative a subtle and mesmerizing structure.

Adding to the dynamic is Bidikar’s expressive lettering. While Rook and other human characters’ speech takes a more conventional script, the Hallum’s language shudders through the comic. As a result, the language in the story is as menacing and powerful as its characters.

ISOLA Vol. 1: An Extraordinary Journey

The road to Isola is fraught with danger. Matching Kershl’s diverse taxonomy of wild beasts and landscapes, the narrative includes equally strange foes. From angry, disenfranchised hunters to the secretive Moro people, it seems as though every culture Rook and Olwyn meet wishes them harm. The winding narrative does not answer all of the many questions it poses. The true history of Olwyn’s curse, and why the occasionally inept Rook is her Captain of the Guard, remains somewhat ambiguous. However, the mystery adds to the story’s enticingly strange atmosphere.

ISOLA Vol. 1 bears witness to the powerful magic of storytelling. The volume’s leading heroines journey through the comic’s wild and beautiful pages carrying their readers with them. Rook’s love and dedication to the regal Olwyn grips readers attention and the narrative refuses to let go. Just as each issue has, ISOLA Vol. 1 leaves readers hungry for what will come next.

ISOLA Vol. 1 is available here.

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