Sword & Sorcery & Everything In Between

An article by, Kelly Irelan

We live in an age where the popular thing is to challenge the established status quo. More often than not, creatives are finding success in attempting to rewrite the narrative, which I believe is incredibly healthy for minds in an evolving society. As a community, we should always be striving to look at people in a new and interesting light, whether they be fictional or based in reality. Stagnancy is the enemy of imagination. I am a self-proclaimed D&D enthusiast, so when I found out “Songs for the Dead” from Vault Comics would be showcasing a necromancer protagonist, I was beyond thrilled.

Bethany is our plucky, optimistic hero, and she’s simply trying to do some good in the world. She is openly travelling as a minstrel, but secretly uses her necromancer abilities for noble causes. When she decides to check out the notice board in the town of Alavesh, she finds a flyer that brings a missing boy to her attention. The flyer states the boy may have been set upon by nefarious bandits in Newlyn Forest. Quickly, she takes on the mission to discover the whereabouts of young Emory Van Craggan. After some tracking into the woods, she sullenly locates his lifeless corpse. This is where we first witness her fantastic abilities as a necromancer. Emory returns to life and is able to inform Bethany of what brought him to the doors of his unlucky demise. They find the fort where Emory claims the bandits are hiding, but both members of the duo are swiftly subdued by an ambush attack. Lord Rolland, the leader of the bandits, intends to use Bethany’s abilities for his own selfish gains. Bethany, who is clearly a courageous hero on the rise, promptly refuses his demands. The lord’s bodyguard, Elissar, suggests they have their prisoner starve out the night in a cell in the hopes she will become more compliant by the morning.

Rolland reluctantly agrees and Bethany is returned to her cell, but she finds Emory is missing. Unbeknownst to her, he escaped through the cell window with the goal of exacting vengeance on his attacker. He fails in his pursuit of justice, but the man who murdered Emory believes Bethany to be the mastermind behind the assassination attempt. He prepares his sword for a killing blow, but is speedily felled by none other than Elissar. They fight their way out of the fort, accruing a small army of the undead along the way in their quest for freedom. Bethany commands them to deliver Rolland back to Alavesh to face the law for his crimes. The unlikely pair has the option of parting ways by the end of the issue, but Bethany asks Elissar to reconsider, thinking she might be able to accomplish even more good with this mysterious outlaw by her side. They set off in search of more information concerning The Covenant, a rumored guild of necromancers where Bethany’s kind can find safe haven and understanding.

I can already tell that Andrea Fort and Michael Christopher Heron have written something immensely special. Any fan of the “Sword & Sorcery” genre is going to completely adore this project. It’s told in an unconventional way because, despite the setting, it uses modern, accessible dialogue. As readers, we thrive on imagining ourselves in these roles, so the language choice definitely helps us identify with these character creations. As a woman, I must say seeing quality female representation in comics brightens my day, and Bethany has added a sizable amount of light. I see her positive influence only growing as the series moves forward. Not only does she fill the shoes of “powerful female protagonist” well, but she is also breathing new life into a once wicked and dangerous role: the necromancer. Historically, nearly every necromancer in fiction has always been the “bad guy.” They were the villains and the opposition to all virtuous efforts, but here we have Bethany who has bewitched a dead squirrel into becoming an undead animal companion during her travels. She offers to seek out Emory for no pay and provides him with emotional comfort even though his fate is already sealed. This young woman has taken to a life on the road to prove necromancers can be the heroes of the story. She is, quite frankly, a gift. Additionally, I can’t wait to unearth more about Elissar’s past. What little we know already has me intrigued! From every vantage point, the story so far has me sincerely eager for what’s to come.

Sam Beck is expertly changing the game for necromancers with a few subtle adjustments and it’s unflinchingly enchanting. Her vision for this book is perfect for the tone set by Fort and Heron. When Bethany rouses Emory from the eternal sleep for the first time, my first thoughts were, This is oddly sweet. It’s like he was bonked on the head, but now he’s totally fine. Just look at him! He’s freakin’ magical! WHY WAS NECROMANCY NOT ALWAYS THIS WAY? Original takes on old templates make my heart jubilant, but what that initial illustration conveys is a simple truth for this universe we’re journeying through… necromancy is not inherently evil. Of course, it can be used in powerful ways as displayed further on in the book, but the bearer of the magic determines its intent, and Bethany is so very good. It takes both a writer and an artist to construct a world where we feel for these characters, and every panel tells me Bethany’s adventure is a tale I care about. This is only my first exposure to Sam Beck’s work, but you can be quite sure I’ll be seeking out more of it.

I feel so unabashedly great about “Songs for the Dead.” In all honesty, I want it to be a television series right now because these are characters I’m invested in. They’re weaving new stories with the help of Fort, Heron, and Beck. After only one issue, this is a team I believe in. Read it the first chance you get. If you believe people can be so much more than first appearances, this could very well be the book for you. You can buy Songs for the Dead here!

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