Review: Lake of Fire #1

lakeoffirecoverIdealistic knights, political and religious conflict, and giant bugs? Lake of Fire #1 is one of the most unique comics of 2016 as writer/colorist Nathan Fairbarn (Multiversity, Scott Pilgrim) and artist Matt Smith (Barbarian Lord) spin the tale of two young knights named Theo and Hugh, who begin as crusaders, end up going on a mission to hunt out “heretic” Cathars in a rural village in France, and end up being Ellen Ripley circa 1220 AD. The double sized length of the issue allows plenty of time for Fairbarn and Smith to set up the cast of characters and the state of France in the 13th century without resorting to heavy-handed narration. Historical background comes naturally through banter between characters, like when Raymond, an old cynical baron and leader of the crusade, explains that the Cathars don’t drink wine, eat meat, and abstain from sex in the context of a masturbation joke.

Probably because its writer happens to be one of the best colorists in comics, Lake of Fire #1 is largely driven by its color palette. The comic starts out like a horror comic with minimal dialogue and plenty of terrified faces from Smith and speed lines to show the dust of the mysterious alien ship covering the countryside. Fairbarn uses a black and blue palette to ably convey the pain and terror of an alien invasion on a rural medieval town. He then cuts to the golden fields of France, which symbolize the youthful idealism of Theo and Hugh as they are ready to become the next great crusaders and make up for the last generation of crusaders, who didn’t make to Palestine and sacked Constantinople instead. The crack about the 4th Crusade made by the nobleman Montfort already shows that this comic isn’t going to be about glories of war as the palette goes from golden to faded green and brown when Raymond, Hugh, Theo, and a ragtag band of knights and creepy inquisitors ride out for the village of Montaillou. The only reason they’re going on this “crusade” is so Montfort can concentrate on taking a major French city without worrying about religious fanatics, drunks (Raymond in this case.), and worst of all, young people.

And there is already plenty of conflict without the aliens having to show up as Theo and Raymond clash over their views of the world, and the inquisitors in the party decide to go off the reservation and hunt down a young Cathar woman named Bernadette instead of investigating why all the citizens of Montaillou are huddled behind the wooden fence of their keep. The mismatches of age, class, military experience, and ideologies creates plenty of drama in Lake of Fire #1, and Fairbarn doesn’t have to resort to buddy movie cliches to create drama.


He also includes period-specific details to add realism to Lake of Fire as well as enhance the characters and themes. For example, Theo is a big fan of Canso (Song of the Albigensian Crusade in English), an epic poem about a previous French crusade against the Cathars that paints the crusaders as wholly good, and the Cathars as evil monsters. His love for this song, which kind of pales in comparison to  superior medieval French romances that people actually read like Song of Roland or anything by Chretien de Troyes, shows his simplistic view of the world. In fact, the only Cathar we meet in this comic is Bernadette, who bravely holds her own in hand to hand combat against the Inquisitors and lives a simple life in the woods instead of riding around and hacking people to pieces. She is also kind of a badass and is about to deliver an epic monologue about the hypocrisy of the crusades when the alien bugs show up.

In Lake of Fire #1, Nathan Fairbarn and Matt Smith create an almost perfect fusion of historical fiction and action-packed science fiction. The comic deconstructs medieval romances and grips with the age-old battle between idealism and cynicism while also having some epic scenes of crusaders jousting against aliens courtesy of Matt Smith, who cuts loose with biting action choreography and a flurry of gore. It’s a feast for both historical scholars, action junkies, or any aficionado of stories that involve contradictory personalities trying to work as a team.

Story: Nathan Fairbarn Art: Matt Smith Colors: Nathan Fairbarn
Story: 10 Art: 9 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review