SWORD OF AGES by Gabriel Rodríguez
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Gabriel Rodríguez creates a fantastic sci-fi retelling of the Arthurian Legend. With Avalon at the helm, SWORD OF AGES depicts a gender-bending new version of the medieval myth.
88 %
Swords and Sorcery!
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From Gabriel Rodrígez, co-creator of IDW Publishing’s LOCKE & KEY, comes this cosmic retelling of the Arthurian legend. SWORD OF AGES #1 establishes the central hero to be Avalon, who carries herself with the same swaggering confidence as Xena of WARRIOR PRINCESS fame. The once and future queen, Avalon, grew up with gigantic saber-toothed tigers and learned at the hand of a steampunk Merlin with eerie blue skin. Still, SWORD OF AGES #1 has Avalon follows in the footsteps of the King Arthurs before her. 

SWORD OF AGES
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

The Clan of the Saber-Toothed: An Eco-Myth?

At first glance, SWORD OF AGES #1 comes off as a drastic tale of life as a caveman. With saber-toothed tigers, barren landscapes, and Avalon’s thick animal pelts, SWORD OF AGES #1 looks Paleolithic. Indeed, the comic bears thematic similarities to other dramatizations of prehistoric life, such as Jean M. Auel’s 1980 novel THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR. The novel, though cheesy, tells the empowering story of a young girl’s fight for survival. Likewise, SWORD OF AGES #1 is pleasantly corny and centers on a strong heroine’s epic journey.

Avalon is part of an advanced alien race, yet her family history is lost. Lotharr, Avalon’s father, crashed his spaceship on the red planet prior to Avalon’s birth. Post-crash, Avalon lived with the saber-toothed cats without knowledge of her family’s whereabouts. SWORD OF AGES #1 takes for granted the reader’s ability to extrapolate information. The comic tends toward dramatic posturing rather than plot, giving a mysterious if melodramatic affect. For instance, the saber-tooth cat’s opening monologue introduces Avalon with brooding awareness of her auspicious origins. The penchant for melodrama slows the pace. Nevertheless, SWORD OF AGES #1 recasts a legendary tale with innovative creativity.

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Take, for example, the fact that the legends of Arthur and his knights often relied on restoring the balance between civilization and nature. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s 1983 cult feminist retelling, THE MISTS OF AVALON, foregrounds the pagan. Although he plays on classical archetypes, Rodríguez retains a key theme: natural magic. He directly ties Avalon to nature by dedicating a great deal of the story to Avalon’s environmentalist discussion with her feline mother. Avalon professes her determination to correct man’s “many twisted ways.” The cosmic tides are turning, and it is clear to Avalon that she must make a stand.

SWORD OF AGES #1
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

SWORD OF AGES #1: An Arthurian Retelling

Nevertheless, one does not require past experience with the Arthurian legends to enjoy the adventures in SWORD OF AGES. SWORD OF AGES gender-, time-, and space-bends. Avalon, whose name links her to the location of the sword Excalibur’s creation, is a reasonable stand-in for Arthur. The gender swap updates the character and makes the myth less about male chivalry and more about character development. However, understanding the classic characters like Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, Morgan le Fay, and Merlin would help readers appreciate Rodríguez’s creative re-interpretation. Eventually, Avalon joins forces with Merlin, Trystan, Gawyn, and Lancer. The hyper-masculine group does not phase Avalon as she commands authority throughout the first issue.

SWORD OF AGES #1
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

SWORD OF AGES #1 does not alter the crux of the legendary plot. Depicting age-old characters in a new light is highly entertaining, but at least in the first issue, the supporting characters could benefit from more depth.  In coming issues, it will be interesting to see if and how SWORD OF AGES handles sub-legends. Stories, such as SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT and TRISTAN AND ISOLDE as well as the love affair between Lancelot and Arthur’s beloved Guinevere, could make fabulous additions to the SWORD OF AGES arc.

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Sharp Detail

SWORD OF AGES #1’s artwork is fittingly balanced between PRINCE VALIANT and Robert Kanigher’s Silver Age WONDER WOMAN. The illustration has old-school aesthetics, but more fluid artwork might support the inventive space-age take on the tale. The character’s eyes are given special focus, lending extra dramatic appeal. Physical strength and action are highlighted; Avalon practically struts, but has a stealthy fighting style appropriate to her wildcat upbringing. The drawings of the wild animals are especially intricate, giving them a vibrancy even as they blend in with the landscape. To match the intensity of the characters, Rodríguez illustrates sublime terrain. The red rock backdrop to Avalon’s quest is appropriately menacing. The muted tones surrounding Avalon — in the saber tooth fur and desert landscape — make the bright greens and blues of other alien creatures and technology stand out all the more. The sharp juxtaposition keeps things interesting as Avalon explores the planet. 

SWORD OF AGES #1
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

In particular, Rodríguez’s character design is flawless. Each figure has their own meticulously crafted styles and behaviors. Rodríguez clearly pays great attention to affecting the correct attitude in his characters.  Merlin is wiry and rides his bizarre motorbike with all the confidence of an old man on a Harley. Avalon’s new compatriots, Lancer, Gawyn, and Trystan, are appropriately cocky, sly, and brooding, respectively. In short, Rodríguez’s illustrations capture the strange planet with captivating detail and well-rounded characters.

SWORD OF AGES #1
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

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Final Thoughts: Quest for the Sword

Rodríguez takes the fantasy legend to new heights in SWORD OF AGES #1. Avalon’s future is unknown. The truth of her origins, the location of her brother Morgan, and the perils of the quest remain mysterious in the first issue. SWORD OF AGES #1’s narrative details and painstaking artwork are worth savoring. The quest for the sword of ages is sure to be an exciting adventure.

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