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George R.R. Martin's
The Hedge Knight #1

creator: George R.R. Martin
adapter: Ben Avery
artists: Mike S. Miller and Mike Crowell

Because of Martin's tremendous following in prose, landing the rights to his creation "The Hedge Knight" was a large feather in the cap of Roaring Studios. At the same time, creators at the studio stirred up a little controversy with claims of censorship over their Christian beliefs. Well, this week, it's time for the studio to just prove that they're about good comics.

To make their case, Roaring Studios (distributed by Image) put together a Convention Preview of the first issue of The Hedge Knight. Luckily, I happened to pass by and get stopped by one of the guys, who recommended me a copy. Of course he did; he worked there.

But I'm glad he did.

While I've read elsewhere that this comic is a prequel to a fantasy series by Martin, it doesn't read like we're missing anything, or filling in a backstory. Instead, we encounter a serious and charming spin, perhaps, on A Knight's Tale, as a squire on the edge of manhood, Duncan, buries his master, Ser Arlan. The young man has two choices: pledge his service to another wandering paladin (aka hedge knight) or assume the mantle of knight for himself.

It wouldn't be much of a story if he didn't choose the latter. But he clearly agonizes over it, and not for any of the social reasons. There's a strong sense of respect for his passed lord. Though Duncan was once punished unfairly, he doesn't hold a grudge over it. Choosing faux knighthood seems more a carrying on of a legacy than a presumption.

However, he has nothing, and must start from scratch. As a scrappy stable boy points out, it's a poor knight who wears a rope instead of a belt. But Duncan retorts that it holds a sword up just as well.

Martin and Avery drop hints of perils to come, as an inn denizen appears to have had terrible dreams foretelling the young knight as a danger to him (and possibly to himself). But this first issue spends more time in a lightly melancholy reverie, establishing this world in a well-paced and entertaining fashion.

Though the land resembles feudal England, it clearly is not. Spellings are just a little bit off, and the people worship multiple gods. Those elements might seem to be affectation, but they do a quiet job of setting The Hedge Knight in a distinct once upon a time. Dragons once walked this earth, and may yet again, but magic has little part to play so far.

While Roaring Studios' other major project, Legacy has a manga look to it, they've gone with a more traditional appearance here. The combination of Miller and Crowell has a smooth, steady effect. At times reminiscent of Dave Gibbons, they're storytellers who are already well along in mastering their art, and like the narrative, they take their time without wasting it.

The Convention edition was published in black and white, but editor-in-chief Ernst Dabel assures me that the regular book will be in color. I rarely say this, but it seems almost a shame. The chiaroscuro effect serves the book well. Let me know if you like the final coloring.


Derek McCaw

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