Full disclosure: I am so bloody excited to have read By the Horns #1. The creative team (writer Markisan Naso, artist Jason Muhr, and colorist Andrei Tabacaru) are one of the most underrated teams I’ve ever come across – their first story, Voracious has been firmly lodged as one of my favorite comic stories since the first volume wrapped (there’s three, and each one is better than the last). Needless to say, when the first issue of By the Horns #1 arrived in my inbox far earlier than I expected, I jumped on that like an Englishman jumping for tea.
Elodie hates unicorns. For nearly a year, she’s been hell-bent on tracking down and killing all the elusive horned creatures responsible for trampling her husband, Shintaro. Now, exiled from her farming village of Wayfarer for selfishly neglecting her duties, Elodie and her half wolf/half deer steed, Sajen, search the continent of Solothus for clues to the whereabouts of unicorns.
When Elodie discovers that four ancient wind wizards are abducting unicorns and other mystical creatures so they can extract their magic, she means to go through them at any cost to exact her revenge. But she’ll need to rely on an increasingly reluctant Sajen, a floating-eyeball guide named Evelyn, and two unicorn prisoners – Zoso and Rigby – who grant her the ability to rip off their horns and combine them to form wizard-slaying weapons. Will she use their gifts to save the captured unicorns, or destroy them all?
By the Horns #1 opens with a figure standing over a unicorn, bloody axe in hand with their head out of frame. It’s a scene-setting image, and you know what you’re in for, but Naso’s words over the image hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting. Normally when I stop reading a comic, it’s not because I need to take a moment to collect myself. By The Horns #1 is not a normal comic.
Khemmis, the name of the village that our lead character is from, is a brilliant nod to one of the most played metal bands on my Spotify (coincidentally, Naso cohosts a podcast about heavy metal, and has recommended Khemmis’ Desolation album – which I highly encourage you to check out). If I’m honest, I reread the book a second time trying to find other references and nods hidden within the comic, and while I caught a few, there are probably others that I missed, but that’s the joy of Naso’s work; this shit’s like an onion – the more you peel away at things the more you’ll find below the layers.
The story weaves between emotional turmoil and a deep sense that something is missing. To be clear, there’s nothing missing in the comic, but rather than the character Elodie is missing a part of who she is after the loss of her partner. Naso doesn’t force feed you this revelation, but rather shows you through the dialogue, and the pacing of Elodie’s conversation with the village elder. It’s a powerful scene, made even more impactful because of the visuals; Muhr and Tabacaru are like poetry in motion in By The Horns #1. This has got to be one of the most beautiful books you’ll see, and a lot of the credit should go to the way Tabacaru brings Muhr’s art to life.
Muhr is good, make no mistake, but Tabacaru’s work is astounding. The warmth and emotional desolation in his colours are breath taking when taken as a whole with Muhr’s facial expressions and Naso’s dialogue.
I remember first reading about this series, though I don’t know where that was (likely social media), and after Voracious I knew I’d be all in. What I didn’t expect was to be shown such an emotional depth in the debut issue; it’s hard for me to reconcile that the creative team hasn’t been working together for far longer than they have been because the synchronicity on display is utterly breathtaking.
By The Horns #1 is another blinder of a comic by Naso, Muhr, and Tabacaru. Get to your shop and make sure to grab a copy.
Story: Markisan Naso Art/Lettering: Jason Muhr Colors: Andrei Tabacaru
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
Scout Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
Purchase: Zeus Comics – Scout Comics