“Life itself is not enough.”
Little Bird discovered the stories were lies. She grew and achieved feats beyond anyone’s imagination. She found something to hold onto when the faintest glimmer of hope remained, but enough is enough. “It can’t go on like this. Not anymore.” Can Little Bird pull off the impossible? In the bleakest of times, does she have what it takes for one last fight?
Darcy Van Poelgeest, Ian Bertram, Matt Hollingsworth, and Aditya Bidikar have taken us on a journey of survival. It begins with repudiation. Little Bird discovered parts of her life to be lies and was thrust into the cold, harsh truth. Then came the resistance. She carried the enormous weight of her people into battle against a formidable enemy who carried every advantage. When despair and destruction were all that remained, Little Bird found reverie in her dreams and with her mother. Now, once that’s been taken, comes realization. The realization that merely surviving, and fighting to do so, isn’t living; it is nothing.
Little Bird #4 shatters an illusion. Did you really think it would be that simple? That Little Bird only had to find the strength within herself for to bring down an entire regime? She may be strong, but she is still just one person. The fight for life will depend on more than just Little Bird herself. It will depend on her ability to impart the hunger onto others. The hunger to do more than just survive, and the hunger that never ceases. This is no longer a beautiful depiction of war. It is an ugly depiction of death.
Little Bird number #4 opens with a spider on brown, bulbous dirt and a feast. A mother Black Lace Weaver spider is devoured by her children. It’s striking, brutal, and very memorable to open with the idea of being devoured by the very thing you created. Whether a symbol of what is to come or a clever way to depict the hunger to live, the effect is felt even if it is not seen. One might think that we would bear witness to this feast in all its glory after seeing the violence depicted in previous issue, but they would be mistaken. We the spider covered by her babies, a splash of blue, and a carcass. In fact, one might say that Little Bird #4 is the least physically brutal issue so far. Many times we see the moments leading up the the brutality, a brief cutaway, and the death that remains. It conveys the effect without showing the actual violence, and in the aftermath, the brutal, gut-wrenching feeling of death are still felt, perhaps even more so. This may not be physically brutal, but it is by far the most emotionally brutal chapter of the series, with every panel achieving its maximum impact.
Little Bird’s diary is a lot more prevalent in this chapter but never loses its effect. Each line hits with a profound and unparalleled magnitude you won’t find in many other comics. They’re the kind of lines that shake you to your core. They reverberate inside your head for a few seconds after you read them, like an echo chamber, and return once more after you put the book down. This feels intentional, as Bidikar’s lettering is quite minimalist this time around. There are no sequences or panels that stand out because of their SFX. It is only clever dialogue positioning, outlining, and the contrast between the dialogue, and the birch bark diary captions that carries the writing. Nevertheless, it does so brilliantly. Hunger is established as a powerful motif early on in the issue, and the importance that it never dies could not come across more clearly.
Little Bird will never cease to impress in its ability to create unique and beautiful characters for its world, no matter how minor. There’s a lieutenant of the resistance with a third eye who appears in a few panels. He gives a powerful speech about fighting for the dream and stands as a symbol of wisdom and leadership. What does it even mean to hunger for a dream? It’s a feeling none of us can ever truly comprehend unless we’ve experienced it ourselves. It’s a feeling we question before the beginning of the end.
It’s at this point where we are truly ingrained with the idea of living vs. surviving. The final invasion is upon the resistance, and there is not enough preparation in the world. The lieutenant stood proudly, and falls in a fitting moment. The explosive blood spatter brought by the bullet barrage is more intense and cinematic than any film. As the soldiers march on, the panels fade from brown to red to black. The brown belonging to the land that they fight for. The red belonging to the land that they shed. The black nothingness that remains. It is here we learn what it truly means to sacrifice everything. That “without it, there can be nothing else.” Every line is resonant. Every line carries weight that you will feel even after you put the issue down. From brown to red to black, the resistance movement fades to nothing. Even the baby spiders are squashed beneath the heel of a soldier’s boot. It fittingly mimics the slaughter that just occurred. The panels are connected by the smoke of destruction that flows between them, and a few spiders survive before the final fade to black.
Little Bird #4 is also an issue of answers and truth. We learn about the circumstances surrounding Little Bird’s separation from her brother and are reminded of how important eyes have been to the story’s visual structure. The eyes are the windows to the soul. The eyes of the citizens within the New Vatican are wide, blank, and empty, their souls leaving long ago. The eyes of Little Bird and the resistance are narrow, focused, and full of hunger. That being said, once a soul has left, it may still return. Pay attention to Gabriel’s eyes throughout the issue and see his journey laid out before you. Between Little Bird and Gabriel, one soul was saved and the other doomed on the day they were separated, but can you say for certain which is which? Before we can even begin to speculate, however, the scene begins to fill with a translucent red liquid. Sticks begin to grow out of the ground as Little Bird starts to drown in her own dream, surrounded by a watchful eye. The imagery is extremely brutal as we see Little Bird dreams, once depicted like a paradise, become infected with technology. Hollingsworth’s phenomenal coloring is on full display here as Little Bird awakens surrounded by technology. It’s a display of chaos and Little Bird is bound within it. Bertram does a great job conveying feelings of constriction in this scene as an unsettling feeling sets in.
All of this oppression is being inflicted under the cause of religious idealism, but there is nothing religious about the New Vatican. The citizens are beginning to lose faith, and Bishop operates with a much more political mindset than religious one. It ultimately begs the question, does indoctrinated faith hold the same power as natural faith? The people are unhappy and despair is brewing. It is faith and hunger, or lack thereof, that connects Little Bird’s themes of violence and nature. Is violence our nature? It certainly seems to be Little Bird’s. She even uses a myriad of tactics derived from nature to orchestrate her escape. The brilliant sequence begins with her playing dead and evolves to mimic the opening spider sequence panel by panel. Once again the splashes of blood do a phenomenal job conveying the effect that no individual stab or cut can achieve. We are only left with the aftermath.
Little Bird escapes and runs to Gabriel. Gabriel is a character with enormous complexity that has been depicted in very few appearances. He has opportunity and privilege people in this world can only dream of. He is the son of everything Little Bird describes, but she comes to him in her hour of need. Are they working together? What has evolved from their relationship? Gabriel grants Little Bird a favor, but only if she lets go of the hate. It’s a promise she makes, but is it one she can keep? Nevertheless, we move from the bright, peachy, colorful confines of Gabriel’s little bubble into the pale, gray, washed-out reality of the real world. It’s a pale gray we’ve all known, and a mood that attempts to prepare us for the Tantoo’s fate. But nothing could prepare you, however, for what comes next, and it’s a fate that inspires nothing but hate, a hatred that fuels Little Bird’s hunger. As the escape continues the imagery becomes more and more striking. Little Bird is one red blood cell in a sea of soulless antibodies trying to eradicate all life. The people in the New Vatican are only surviving. Their souls are lost. Little Bird is fueled with the fight to live. What she runs into on the edge of the New Vatican, however, are unspeakable horrors committed in Gods name. It is phenomenal work from the entire creative team and an unbelievably shocking panel that will leave you sitting their with your jaw open for quite a while before you can continue.
This issue is as much about Gabriel as it is Little Bird. In the moments where Little Bird realizes that surviving isn’t living, Gabriel does as well. He realizes that Bishop’s morals are twisted and that this is not God’s work. In some ways it’s a moment of triumph and in others, the perfect intertwining two siblings’ journeys. Gabriel had led a life much different from Little Bird’s in some ways but quite similar in others Little Bird is taught to hold onto hope at all costs where as Gabriel learned to burn it away. Gabriel was punished for his failures while Little Bird had to learn by necessity and clung to hope when it was all she had. Hope is Gabriel’s weakness, something he felt made him a disappointment. Meanwhile, it was Little Bird’s source of strength. Are hunger, hope, and dreams a source of strength or weakness? What we do know is that Gabriel learns the meaning of hunger. He learns that surviving is not enough and that living is worth dying for.
Gabriel is the name of a guardian angel. His source of hunger derives from love for his sister, not hate. “He’s much stronger than you know.” A series of expertly crafted transitions leads to a death. A series of brilliantly positioned and centered panels leads to the most beautiful death since Martian Manhunter’s funeral in Final Crisis: Requiem. No matter what happens now, love has won, and the hunger remains. Requiem.