Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw 5, originally released March 25th, 2015.
Spencer: I like to think that I’m an optimistic person, but if there’s one thing I allow myself to be unabashedly cynical about, it’s politics. Now, I don’t think that everyone involved in politics is up to no good, but for every politician trying to do right by their voters, there’s ten thousand more looking out only for themselves. In The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw 5, Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey focus a bit on that dilemma, showing how the political maneuverings of the selfish can drown out those with more noble intentions, even in a world of magic and great champions.
Councilor Sandorst most obviously fits the “selfish politician” mold here, and this month he finally makes his move, arresting Lady Ghrata in an attempt to solidify his position above the other survivors of the fallen city. Sandorst seems to care for very little besides gaining fame, power, and prestige, which is ironic considering how little he deserves it. Throughout the last five issues, pretty much every single thing he’s said and done has been a massive mistake — has he been right even once?! Sandorst is the worst kind of egomaniac, the kind of guy who thinks he understands how the world works when he clearly doesn’t, but also thinks he’s above facing the same kind of consequences as everyone else.
It’s only at Ghrata’s urging that he even considers that he’s being played for a fool by Goodfoot. As for Goodfoot herself, while she may not technically be jockeying for any kind of political power, she’s got no qualms about selling the survivors out to the Buffalo Tribe just to line her own pockets (although I’m not sure why she’s so keen on allying herself with the Buffalo — why isn’t she trying to double cross them as well?). Like most of the other figures of authority in this story, she’s using her power for her own selfish gain without caring who gets hurt because of her actions.
Lady Ghrata is the exact opposite of these two, a figure of authority who seems to genuinely want to use her power to help the survivors, well, survive (In fact, at times she’s so good and pure that it’s practically caricature, and I’m grateful for the way Busiek humanizes her in this issue by fleshing out her relationship with Lady Affa and allowing her to lose her temper). The problem with Ghrata is that she has no idea how to play the game. Politicians as genuine and earnest as Ghrata always end up eaten alive, and she’s no exception; she’s too distracted by actually trying to help people to keep outmaneuvering Sandorst as she has in the past.
It’s interesting to look at the Buffalo Tribe through this lens too, because, while their murderous attacks on the survivors are inarguably wrong and paint them as the aggressors, in many ways they’re victims as well, as Busiek even points out in the letters column.
The Buffalo aren’t savvy political players in any way, shape or form; they’re a clan who have been oppressed for generations — and it’s likely that even “good” politicians such as Ghrata have a measure of ingrained, societal prejudice against them — trying to strike back against the system that’s kept them down.
Of course, the Great Champion himself, Learoyd, runs circles around all these other players. Maybe it’s because he’s an outsider who isn’t as embroiled in the minutiae of the politics, or maybe he’s just that good at playing the game. Unlike every other character in this issue with an agenda, we don’t know the details of Learoyd’s plan or even what his ultimate goal is, but he’s still a character we end up trusting.
Why? I think it’s for the same reasons Dusty trusts him: there’s really no one better to trust.
Dusty knows that Learoyd is a bit suspicious, but he’s certainly a better option to look up to than Sandorst or Goodfoot, and more likely to get results than Ghrata. Combine that with the personal interest he takes in Rusty and, really, what other choice could he make?
In many ways Dusty seems to represent us, the non-politicians. Dusty is the only character without an agenda; all he wants to do is survive and have a few adventures, but to do so he’ll have to live in a society ran by one of the schmucks we’ve talked about for the last few hundred words. What can he do? The same thing we often do: support the lesser of two evils, the candidate who may not be fully on the up and up, but at least isn’t wholly corrupt, who at least seems to make an attempt to court us.
Of course, real life politics probably aren’t quite that black and white, and maybe I’m being a bit too cynical (gasp!), but still, the way the many complexities of these characters and their plans reflect reality is part of what makes the world of The Autumnlands so rich and engrossing (though it shouldn’t be any surprise that Busiek is a master world-builder — we’ve all read Astro City, right?). Dewey’s art is just as essential; his detailed, textured work helps create a captivating world that feels real without being photorealistic. I guess that’s why it’s easy to get lost in this world, one unlike just about anything else on the stands.
Patrick, did you enjoy all the political maneuvering of this issue, or were you hoping for a bit more action? Do you have more to add about Dewey’s art? What do you have think Learoyd might be doing with all that bat dung and rope? Making a very big, very stinky candle?
Patrick: The stinkiest! One of the things I appreciate most about The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw is how little it tells us about a world which clearly has such precisely defined parameters. We are often presented with a lot of information without the a hand-holding narration that clues us in on that information’s role in the story. A fine example is the way magic works in this world. Sandorst makes a specific point of naming the lighting magic he used against Learoyd (“Javv’s Bolts”), and he and his council even speculate on concrete reasons why the spell failed. This all implies a rigid magic system — which is the kind of shit that normally makes me roll my eyes in modern fantasy fiction; I don’t really care how much MP your characters have left — but Busiek smartly obscures that information in mystery. The only time we’re talking about spell-casting ability is when the characters don’t understand why a spell failed, and that’s something that they don’t understand.
Which brings me back around to Learoyd, who is the biggest mystery of them all right now. We’ve been able to piece together a few things about him: he’s a human man, from some world or time with advanced technology. He’s also from a world (or time) where anthropomorphic animals don’t exist. He also seems totally disinterested in magic: even when planning to ambush Seven-Scars and his vast buffalarmy, he scoffs at the idea of employing magical arms. Of course, that’s because he has his own set of advantages.
Learoyd has these kind of built-in Google Glasses — seemingly able to operate outside of his 4G network — and he’s hard at work building…something. It’s not until the end of the issue that we realize he’s recreating the landbridge to Tofar’s Platte — the meeting place for this supposed parley. That stinky candle we’ve been joking about is obviously a shit-ton of homemade explosive. He’s built his model here, presumably with the intent of checking it for structural weakness and blowing it up.
The thing that I find most intriguing about Learoyd, however, is that I don’t know for whose benefit he plans on blowing that thing. Is he making his move against Councillor Sandorst or against Seven-Scars? Or both? Or neither! Last issue, we had a single-panel flashback to his real life — seems like he has a nice family with two beautiful kids. I’m sure he’d love to get back to them, but Learoyd never expresses any of this. The narrative keeps him at arm’s length, so he very seldom looks like anything more that “The Great Champion.”
Spencer, that’s why you, me and Dusty can’t help but love the guy. It’s also fascinating to me that he represents high technology and brutal violence at the same time. The animals, while being way in to magic and controlling resources to oppress native peoples, are predominantly a peaceful people. That makes the Champion an outlier with agency: not only is he physically able to get things done, he seeming has the willpower to do it. Seven-Scars may have fortitude to raise and army and march it on his oppressors, and the fallen city may have the resources to defend themselves, but only Learoyd possesses both.
I also wanted to touch on Dewey’s art before we closed up our discussion. I can’t help but love the way he draws these animals with as much attention to their anatomic detail as possible. I love the size-disparity between Ghrata and Affa! I mean, they’re a warthog and a giraffe, you can only assume that one towers over the other, but Dewey seems to delight in the difference. Rather than homogenize his animal designs, everyone has their own body-size and body-shape. And that’s what makes the moments they share so much more precious. My favorite little interaction in this issue is a show of affection between Ghrata and Affa — a simple little nuzzle.
If you can imagine away Ghrata’s hand (and her headband) it almost looks like a real warthog and a real giraffe comforting each other. (Which: squeeeeeeeeeeeee!) I also love the decision not to ink the line between their noses — it makes them look even closer!
Looping back around to Spencer’s first question: do I need more action? I don’t — especially when the next issue promises a knock-down, drag-out brawl between… shit, every character we’ve met so far? You can count on me — loyal like a terrier — to check back in on it.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?
Holy crap Patrick, it never even occurred to me that Learoyd was making a model of the bridge. But it makes so much sense! Maybe I’m just blind as a bad, but still, awesome observation Patrick. That does bring much of his plans into focus for me now, even if, as you mention, we still don’t know the full extent of his targets or motives.
Right! And missing that connection is legit – that’s one of the things I think this series does so well: presenting information without insisting on the importance of any of it.