With a solid foundation in myth and legend, this rousing romp through the Dark Ages celebrates the singular Scottish spirit without taking itself too seriously.
There are a number of different things I like about Saltire: Annihilation, not the least of which is its quality of celebrating Scottish culture by exploring the fertile grey areas between myth and history with the same whimsy and insight of the bards. This action-packed romp through a Dark Age vampire infestation evokes the same grandiose sense of wonder and pride that permeates much of Scottish myth and legend.
Never ones to set clear lines between history and myth, the Scots are known for their ability to tell a good yarn. Beginning in last year’s Invasion, set during the Roman occupation of the British Isles, Saltire continues to expand its backstory with a jaunt through the Dark Ages in this latest volume.
Weaving together several threads of Gaelic folklore into a cohesive storyline is no mean feat, but creator and writer John Ferguson does an admirable job in balancing the colourful myths surrounding the Stone of Destiny, the banshee and Faerie.
In Annihilation, Saltire is once again summoned by the Guardians of the Clans to combat a dire threat to Scottish sovereignty, as represented by the unholy alliance between the Mercyan, leader of the Angles and Saxons, and a dark vampiric creature linked to the myth of the banshee.
As the curse of the Ban Sith threatens to overwhelm the land, Saltire is able to pull out a last-minute – albeit temporary – victory (this is Part One, after all!), though not without a few sacrifices.
Ferguson’s script and dialogue, while a little clunky, evoke a style of comics writing that will remind our aging funny-book fan base of simpler times, as evinced by his frequent use of that endangered species, the thought balloon.
That isn’t to say this book doesn’t have legs. The plot proceeds at a good clip, but extended or redundant use of exposition sometimes bogs the action down with unwieldy narration and clumsy dialogue. Sometimes, it’s just better to let the artwork do its job and trust in the ability of the audience to follow the story from panel to panel.
The artist for this issue, Claire Roe, is a successful replacement for the last volume’s team; Roe’s linework and layouts show a bit more maturity and fluidity than the previous pairing of Gary Welsh and Tone Julskjaer. Of particular note are wonderfully mobile facial expressions that border on the cartoonish, with their bulging eyes and flaring nostrils, but refrain from entering into the realm of the ridiculous.
Overall, this second instalment in the growing legend of Saltire is an improvement over what was a fairly strong first outing. I like Ferguson’s slow-boil approach and hope to see how Saltire’s saga develops as the series progresses through the centuries.
John Ferguson (W), Claire Roe (A) • Diamondsteel Comics, $14.99/£9.99, September 2014