Writer/Artist: Aly Fell
For the comic reader who wants to try something completely different, consider The Shadow Glass, whose first of six issues are published by Dark Horse this week. The Shadow Glass is something of a sword-and-sorcery story set in the height of Elizabethan Britain, which has seen little serious use in comics outside of Neil Gaiman’s 1602. The story is also a bit of a gamble for creator Aly Fell: he’s prominently known as a fantasy/horror cover artist, but The Shadow Glass is apparently his first foray into a solo feature-length comic series.
The story opens in 1562 London, where mysterious traveler Thomas Hughes seeks to bring the wife of his friend Adam Larkspur to the queen’s alchemist advisor, John Dee. Dee and Hughes engage in what can only be described as “Christian sorcery” in an effort to contact the netherworld using Mrs. Larkspur as some kind of focal point. The spell goes disastrously wrong, though its effects aren’t quite revealed to us in this issue.
Twenty years later, Adam’s now-adult daughter Rosalind returns to London to meet with her father. A dangerous curiosity in Elizabeth’s publicly-conservative culture, Rosalind is a tomboy who dresses in men’s fashions and prefers wearing blades to dresses. On reuniting with her father, Rosalind is shocked to learn not only that Larkspur isn’t her real father, but that Thomas Hughes is. Worse, she’s warned that he’s dangerous and not to seek him out–though destiny may have other plans for her regardless of those warnings.
Aly Fell’s artwork translates wonderfully to the comic book page. Fell is mostly famous for doing cover art and pinup pages, and that doesn’t always translate into the ability to tell a sequential story in smaller spaces. Fortunately, Fell loses none of his eye for human anatomy in the reduced area. Indeed, his art nicely captures the Tudorian architecture and Elizabethan dress of the story’s setting, and it feels very much like an authentic British Renaissance story.
Fell also appears to have done his homework on the setting, as The Shadow Glass incorporates actual historical figures into its fantasy setting. John Dee really was one of Queen Elizabeth’s advisors in the latter 16th century, and he really was a pseduo-scientist who tried to combine alchemy and science as a means of contacting heaven and the angels. The eponymous “Shadow Glass” which appears in this story is a real item still on display at the British Museum today. Fell also introduces Edward Talbot at the end of the story, another real British occultist who associated with Dee. It’s unclear whether Thomas Hughes–much less Rosalind or her adoptive father–were real people; the only “Thomas Hughes” of the period I could find was a playwright who appears to be unconnected with Fell’s character. It might benefit the reader if Fell includes footnotes for the reader’s benefit in future issues.
The only downside to The Shadow Glass is that as an introductory chapter, it doesn’t tell us much about what dark secrets lie behind Rosalind’s existence. Thomas Hughes is her biological father, but what does that really mean to her, and why does she need to keep away from him? How did the crying experiment in the story’s cold open affect Rosalind? Answers to these will undoubtedly come in future issues, but readers having their first introduction to Fell as a writer may be scratching their heads at where this story is going.
Still, it’s not a bad story, just one that needs further development as it progresses into future issues. The Shadow Glass will be of particular interest for readers who are fans of Shakespeare and 16th century British history, even if that is a rather narrowly-targeted niche market.
Rating: Four and a half philosopher’s stones out of five.