Birthright – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Joshua Williamson (Part 2)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Can’t lie, writing an intro paragraph for Joshua Williamson is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I crammed all of the really accessible information on him into the intro paragraph for my first post. Since Williamson really started to emerge as a note worthy writer over the last year or two, information on him isn’t as bountiful as it is on someone like Frank Miller or Jim Starlin. Nonetheless I’ll spin it in a personal manner and say that Williamson is perhaps one of the writers of whom I look most forward to when I hear he’s working on creator owned projects. He’s a writer who almost seems born to make his own comics as all the ideas he brings to the table are truly unique and an absolute joy to read.
Birthright Volume 1
Aaron Rhodes takes his son Mikey out to the park as his wife and other son prepare a surprise birthday party for Mikey. When Mikey chases a ball into the forest and doesn’t return, Aaron becomes worried and scrambles into the forest after his son. Mikey can’t be found anywhere and becomes a missing child, much to the dismay of Aaron and the rest of his family. A year passes that sees Aaron become an alcoholic, accused of murdering Mikey, and ultimately ends in the divorce between he and his wife, Wendy. Everything changes for the destroyed Rhodes family when the police suddenly take a burly, muscular man into custody. With one look, Aaron realizing that the man is, in fact, his son Mikey. Mikey appears to have aged by decades after having only disappeared one short year ago, claiming to have been transported to the mystical land of Terronos to fulfill his destiny as the warrior to free that land from an evil king. Shocked by the sudden return of their aged son, the Rhodes family is unsure of how to react while Mikey claims he’s returned home to hunt down five evil mages who threaten to allow Terronos to pour into our world and destroy it.
Birthright may be one of the first fantasy comics I’ve read and actually
liked fallen madly in love with. I’d readily recognize the series as something like Jumanji meets Lord of the Rings and Conan, which is just about the coolest combination of things you could ever have when it comes to a creative medium like comics. Joshua Williamson gives an exciting take on a fantasy world that will just enthrall you immediately. A tight cast, with two different timelines, a beautiful world, and exciting story, Birthright is a series you simply can’t put down once you start reading it.
Williamson tackles a dual narrative with Birthright, showing the present day struggles of Mikey and his family as he tries to track down mages from the region of Terronos who, if left unchecked, threaten to destroy our world. While all this happens, Williamson also recollects about Mikey’s time in Terronos as a child shortly after disappearing, chronicling the start of his rise to becoming the great hero that he was destined to be so that he can free the land of Terronos from the grips of the evil God King Lore. Together you get a fantastic story that shows you the rise of Mikey as well as what you presume is his “final quest” in our world. The transitions between these two stories are rather seamless, with Williamson typically using Mikey from the present day as the catalyst, having him tell stories about his travels through Terronos to anyone who is willing to listen. Williamson manages to heap in plenty of interesting twists to keep this story out of just being a standard “I am the Chosen One!” kind of story, where you have a one-note muscular hero who is nearly defeated before being triumphant. The end of both the first and the last issue in this collection completely turn the series around in a different light right before your very eyes. The plot for the most part is fairly consistent with Williamson placing enough humour and fun beats into the story but also finding plenty of dramatic flair to keep things heavy and emotional throughout. At the core, the story is about this family who were torn apart from the disappearance of their son, examining if and how they can come back from what happened over the year they lost as a result. Although there are some liberal leaps taken towards the back half to keep the plot moving, rest assured that the overall story is still superb.
One thing that I found profoundly entertaining within just the few pages is how gripping and dynamic the narrative is. Following the disappearance of Mikey, Williamson and Andrei Bressan, the artist on the book, seamlessly illustrate the passing of one year’s time in two pages using only seven panels. The raw emotion on these two pages brilliantly displays the dissolving unity of a family crippled by the sudden loss of their son. Aaron, Mikey’s father, starts out in denial, before becoming defensive, withdrawn, and then becoming an alcoholic. As a result of all of this Wendy, Mikey’s mother, ends up filing for divorce and leaving Aaron altogether. Brennan, Mikey’s old brother, is the unfortunate middle party, trying to appease both adults who have become bitter towards each other. All this across only two pages to kick-start an emotional roller coaster ride for the Rhodes family. To an even further point, this all takes place within the first ten pages of the story. I can guarantee you that more powerful moments pop up during the remaining issues in this volume, with this one in particular just being so poignant and heartbreaking that it needed to be highlighted by itself.
Your core characters for the story are the Rhodes family, with the story largely centering on Aaron and Mikey’s relationship during the first half before shifting more to the brotherly relationship shared between Brennan and Mikey during the second half. What is interesting is the clear-cut main character of Mikey gets character development in reverse, wherein it’s his past self who goes through more changes than the present day one which we spend most of our time with. The evolution of the other characters and their relationships happens quickly early on in the story but it’s still enjoyable to watch characters like Brennan and Aaron grow closer to Mikey while working with him. Wendy is the character who appears to get short changed, as Williamson actually brilliantly highlights in a scene where she confesses to always getting pushed into the role of being the “mean mom” while Aaron always got to be the “cool dad”. That scene rings strong as you see clearly that Wendy is the parent who is trying to be in the adult in the situation whilst Aaron is enabling the man who may or may not be their son. The core characters of the story work wonders in making you care about their family and what happens next, ensuring that you’ll come back for more by the time the second volume of Birthright is released.
Collects: Birthright #1-5
Best Character: Mikey Rhodes (Young)
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Dude, we need to have a conversation about your speech. If you keep talking like medieval times, we’re gonna get busted.” – Brennan
Best Scene/Moment: The end of issue 1. Trust me, it’s a good twist.
Best Issue: Issue 2. Issue two succeeds in drawing the lines in the sand for the rest of this first arc, establishing where each member of the Rhodes family falls on the matter of whether or not this man is actually Mikey. It’s exciting, action packed and shows you what this adult version of Mikey is truly capable of. Everything about this issue works, meshing the characters rather well with the action, especially following the great ending to the first issue.
Why You Should Read It: If my line earlier in the post comparing this book to Jumanji meets Lord of the Rings and Conan didn’t convince you to immediately buy this then I don’t know what will. The story is tight yet fluid, focusing in on the struggling relationship of the Rhodes family. It’s heartbreaking and joyful all at the same time as you watch these family members fight for what’s most important to them. On top of that you’ve got a beautiful world that you get to see the starting stages of as it sets up a truly exciting story. There’s some dark twists, powerful human moments and, above all else, there’s a truly entertaining comic unfolding all around you as you read this story.