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Tuesday, December 3, 2013



SMN Comic Review: Scotland's First Original Superhero in 'Saltire'

I was given a pretty cool opportunity earlier tonight when my man Knight Gambit  forwarded me a review copy of a new, original comic: Saltire. Saltire, created and written by John Ferguson with art from the team of Gary Welsh, Tone Julskjaer and Jim Devlin (cover) was published by Diamondsteel Comics.  The review copy came with the first two issues, Invasion and Inception, which, when read together, give a breathtaking introduction to an aesthetically striking hero before unveiling his origin as the ultimate guardian of Scotland. After the jump I'll take a more detailed look at this incredible indie effort which was published this past October.


Saltire-Invasion sets the scene in Ancient Scotland in around AD 122. After a detailed map which splits Scotland into 2 main sections, the Highlands of Shadow and the Valleys of Light, each of which have 5 sub-sections, we meet the invaders for which this volume is titled: the Roman Empire's legendary Ninth Legion. The Ninth Legion has been the subject of three movies in the past six year (The Last Legion, The Eagle and Centurion) and of much historical debate. Saltire-Invasion takes some poetic license with the legion, basically talking all the best parts of the legends and combining them for the book. The legion is at the northernmost post of Provincia Britannia, what would eventually become referred to as Caledonia, looking to continue the northward expansion of the Empire. For the purposes of the book, the Romans serve their purpose well: the provide a threat large enough for the inhabitants of the Valleys of Light and the Highlands of Darkness to come together and call upon the ultimate guardian of their land: Saltire.


Saltire couldn't be any more symbolically representative of Scotland. A saltire is a diagonal cross, also called St. Andrew's Cross, as seen on Scotland's national flag, a flag that has symbolized the nation since AD 832. To this point Saltire is quite literally the symbol of a nation and, as if to emphasize that point, the creative team has chosen the colors of the flag, blue and white, for their title character.

Through a brief exposition we meet our two teams of warriors and each of their immortal protectors. The 5 warriors from the southern Valley of Light: Gallan the Courageous, Engus the Just, Trest the Faithful, Cennet the Righteous and Aden the Noble. Each of these warriors, their look and their weapons are cleverly tied to the landscape and wildlife of Scotland.  We come to learn that these warriors are protected by Riada the Wise, an Immortal Warrior of the Fae (Fae as in Faerie, but remember the Faeries of ancient legend are far different than Tinkerbell).  The 5 warriors from the northern Highlands of Darkness, basically the yin to the Valley's yang, consist of Cano the Mighty, Loarn the Brave, Talorgan the Masterful, Domall the Agile and Brode the Cunning and are under the protection of Sloan the Poweful, the Immortal Warrior of the Shadow Bearers.

Upon reading both Invasion and Inception, it becomes clear why these 12 warriors gather together in the company of Mormaer, the High Shaman, to summon their warrior Saltire. Each of the warriors are the sons of the men that Mormaer brought together in hopes of saving the sovereignty of Scotland by sacrificing their lives in a ritual to unite themselves, their individual people's abilities with the elements of their homeland into one immortal entity: Saltire. When reading the two books back to back, the origin story of Saltire suddenly shines a light back onto the pages of Invasion and makes them a necessary reread. This is truly an inspired and unique origin and one that, I'm sure, will continue to pay off through the upcoming issues of the book.


The climax of Invasion sees 12 warriors and the newly summoned Saltire face the powerful Ninth Legion. Saltire, without the help of his Diamondsteel blades, singlehandedly decimates the Romans who, in an act of desperation, make a sacrifice and invoke Mars Ultor (the avenger), their god of war.  Despite the fact that he's a god of war, he is fighting with the titular character of the book.  The book ends with Roman Emperor Hadrion, awakened by a fevered dream of the beat down of his men by Saltire, praying to Jupiter who instructs him to build a wall to remind the natives where their freedom ends.  I found this clever retelling of the origin of Hadrion's Wall to be just one of the many nice touches that Ferguson used to spin some Scottish mythology and history.

I certainly don't want to include any more detail about the two issues other than to say that, when read back-to-back, they compose and absolutely worthwhile read of an independent comic. The artwork is solid throughout and the battle between Saltire and Mars is drawn extremely well and with great detail. Ferguson and crew are set to follow up these issues with Annihilation sometime in the fall of 2014.  You can pick up the first issue at Amazon (Saltire Invasion) and you can find out much more about the book and the team at Diamondsteel Comics.  This is a project worth checking out if you're a fan of history or mythology or if you're looking for something new. I'm certainly looking forward to checking out the next installment.

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