Writers: Adam Markiewicz & Frankee White
Artists: Adam Markiewicz
Caliber Comics is a rare breed of publisher, willing to focus on the surreal and the fantastical as well as the bread-and-butter genres of the comic book industry. Many of their titles carry a suggestion of earlier times when direct, character-driven narratives were more in vogue.
Like Khor’s Land (another Caliber Comic’s title), Broken Bear is a decidedly retro approach to the fantasy genre. The tight focus on a handful of characters and the protagonist’s clearly defined journey help differentiate it from the sprawling fantasy series of today. And that works in its favor.
Traditional fantasy often focuses on the underdog, chronicling their rise from victim to warrior. Selm, the protagonist of Broken Bear, fits the bill perfectly. Like Conan or Gutsu , she has experienced early trauma and her desire to be powerful is what drives the narrative. Since she’s a female protagonist, her aim “never to feel helpless again” carries a particular resonance.
The world she inhabits is a fascinating one, more akin to the setting of The Witcher or Berserk than Tolkienesque fiction. The monster concepts are inventive and disturbing, their designs verging on body horror. Markiewicz’s art style is an interesting choice for this genre. Clean and bold, it reminded me strongly of David Mazzucchelli’s work on Batman: Year One. The lively linework goes well with the muted palette provided by colorist A.H.G. Markiewicz has a knack for bringing the characters to life whether through dynamic fight sequences or simple interaction with one another.
The narrative is brisk and action-orientated. Despite this, writing duo Markiewicz and White never neglect Selm’s inner life. She’s a more introspective character than the macho heros of traditional sword-and-sorcery yarns and unlike them, she comes to learn that power is never without cost. Instead devolving into a brainless power fantasy, Broken Bear is crafted as a clever morality tale. Selm is a refreshing change from the one-dimensional Mary Sues often passed off as complex female characters. Far from being idealized, Selm is deeply flawed yet still relatable and I found myself rooting for her against all odds.
World-building – such a vital element of the fantasy genre – is handled deftly without relying on exposition. The dialogue is snappy and laced with grim humor. Markiewicz and White prove to be a formidable creative team, capable of delivering something familiar yet deeply original. As fantasy devotee, I look forward to reading more of their work.