by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Exiles 4 is the series’ best issue yet, and not just because of the puns (although the “Juggernautical” joke alone certainly earned this issue a spot high in my rankings). Saladin Ahmed and Javier Rodriguez slow down just a bit, devoting the entire issue to one dimension and one story, allowing the world the Exiles visit to feel interesting and fleshed out and for a full, self-contained adventure to play out there in a way that previous issues haven’t always had room for — all while still advancing the overarcing Time-Eater plot. It’s impressive plotting, pulled off with aplomb by every member of the creative team, who never allow the issue’s density to choke out the detail, character work, or fun this series has come to be known for. It’s a killer combination, and there’s one perfect moment that epitomizes everything that’s great about this issue.
That moment is, of course, the two-page spread of the Exiles and Ben Grimm/Blackbeard’s pirate crew fighting the Juggernautical and his slaver masters.
Wow, right?! It’s jaw-dropping for the sheer amount of Where’s Waldo?-esque detail Rodriguez packs into it alone, but also for the fact that Rodriguez and Ahmed fit a battle that could take an entire issue in another series into just two pages without losing even a fraction of the tension, action, or spectacle any good fight scene should have. There’s exciting, swashbuckling action, fun character work (such as Valkyrie’s lament), and intriguing world-building (discovering new facets of Wolvie’s abilities) — this spread really is an entire issue in microcosm, and it’s absolutely awesome how well it works.
Yet, the most impressive facet of this spread is how cohesive it is, how easy Rodriguez and letter Joe Caramagna make it to follow the action in a logical way. Starting from the top left, like any typical page, we can follow the action and speech balloons down the page until the point where Blink teleports — while we’ll no doubt finish reading Khan and Wolvie’s interactions before we do, we know to look for Blink and pick up there, which brings readers to the other side of the page, where the action is split into two different paths (Valkyrie & company vs. the Juggernautical and Blink vs. Admiral Gyrich), both of which Rodriguez breaks down into smaller panels so that it’s crystal clear how to proceed, no matter which battle you read first. Rodriguez still can’t resist showing off, though — the panels depicting Gyrich’s book falling into the ocean actually descend into the ocean themselves, and likewise, the panels depicting Juggernautical falling topple over with him. It’s such a smart way to depict movement, space, and location even within a static image.
I can’t gush about this spread enough, but what’s also great is that everything good about this spread is present throughout the rest of the issue as well, making it a fantastic read from beginning to end. Exiles has really found its footing, and has 100% earned a spot on my list of favorite titles.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?