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A Case For Sojourn

If you read comics, you've undoubtedly heard that Crossgen Comics has been running the gamut of financial problems in the past few months. There have been rumors galore about freelancers not getting paid, of CEO Marc Alessi shelling out his own money to cover production costs, and a slew of other glitches that make the rumor columns like Lying In the Gutters drool like a St. Bernard staring at a t-bone.

Recently, other online reviewers and comic book commentators have been of a split mind when it comes to the fate of Crossgen. Some say these are the final days of the company that tried to foster a unique working environment in comics, where artists and writers were full-time employees and not just a paid-for-hire workforce; where new mediums (Comics on the Web, DVD) were proposed and tried and new venues (Crossgen's scholastic program) were found. Some say the company isn't dead, but the innovations mentioned above are the fat that needs to be trimmed to keep the company going.

I have no idea what will happen to Crossgen. Despite my spectacular ability to pontificate about the greatness of this trade or that collection, I don't know a damn thing about business. I'm just hoping Crossgen sticks around, because the books in its line, Sojourn especially, are some of the better comics on the market today.

Sojourn is a straightforward fantasy adventure that somehow manages to feel fresh when compared to some of the other fantasy comics and books in recent publication. Ron Marz, Crossgen's former go-to man when it comes to writing, pens the story of Mordath, the man who almost brought The Five Lands under his despotic control and would have succeeded if not for one man named Ayden. Ayden managed to ally the many races of The Five Lands to create an army that toppled Mordath's troll legions, and then slew the megalomaniac himself.

And then he left as mysteriously as he came, leaving behind a way to contact him should the world ever be threatened again.

Fast-forward a few hundred years. Mordath has been resurrected and controls almost all of The Five Lands and will soon control all of it as his troll hordes sack town after town. When his army attacks a small border town, razing it to the ground and killing most of the inhabitants, he kills the husband and daughter of Arwyn (no, not Liv Tyler, another Arwyn), a woman whose skill with a bow is only surpassed by her burning desire for vengeance against the man who killed her family. Her path of revenge will lead her and her trusty dog Kreeg into a multitude of death defying situations, and she'll meet some interesting people: the one-eyed archer (and the only man able to ignore a lack of depth perception when firing a ranged weapon) Gareth, the slightly pale but magically (and *ahem* physically) endowed Neven, and a whole lot of trolls.

Marz writes what could have been a badly conceived Dungeons & Dragons campaign and makes it richly entertaining. Marz, as I've mentioned before, is an excellent world builder as he's demonstrated in other Crossgen titles, and he doesn't slouch here. In the beginning prelude to the main story, we get a glimpse of the many races of The Five Lands, and of the mysterious Ayden, all of which beg for more story time and get it in later volumes.

Marz also has a great narrative dialogue in the series. A lot of the story is told directly from Gareth's perspective and it's interesting to hear Gareth comment on Arwyn in the past tense, as the narration seems to be set some time in the future of the story. It makes the tone a little lighter and gives Marz the chance to throw in sarcastic comments and comedic hindsight. It may not seem funny when trolls in the sewers of some ancient temple are hunting you down when it's happening, but boy howdy does it have its moments of levity a few years down the road.

Points have to be given for fostering the seeds of an epic story. Marz takes a long view of the story as Arwyn and Gareth go off to find the means of calling Ayden back to help defeat Mordath, which means that they'll be seeing all five of The Five Lands in great detail as they battle their way through Mordath's hordes. And Mordath, a very well written villain for a change, won't make it easy I'm sure.

And it will be a gorgeous journey. Artist Greg Land is one of the best pencilers in the business, and doesn't get enough credit for the level of detail and outright beauty in his work. The sketchbook in the back of the volume further demonstrates this, featuring some of the greatest pin-up shots in comic book history. Arwyn and Neven are two of the most captivating women drawn in comics, and Land draws each with such care that it's clear this man cares about his work. Land doesn't just focus on the ladies though; the people, the trolls, the creatures, the magic, even the architecture and backgrounds are of the highest quality. Like a lot of comic book artists these days, Land seems to have studied film or camera work in some respect, as he has a good eye for setting up interesting "shots" of characters: the opening of the fourth chapter featuring Mordath on his throne is such a creepily evil, yet somber depiction that I got that feeling that I was in an Alfred Hitchcock movie and any minute now, a butcher knife-wielding transvestite might be lurking over my shoulder.

Thankfully, Sojourn is not one of the titles set to get the axe after Crossgen's upcoming, multiple-title-spanning event (I just really, really don't want to say "crossover") entitled The War, so the epic may continue, provided Crossgen continues. There's both full sized editions of Sojourn available, which is better for the artwork, and a Traveler sized edition, which is better for the pricing. Pick up whichever satisfies your personal fanperson tendencies, but do pick it up. It's worth every penny, and at the moment, Crossgen could use every penny.

Robert Sparling

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