Skybound’s Birthright has been doing pretty well for Image Comics, receiving solid press and reviews across the board. Now that the first story arc has been collected into one volume, we ask ourselves the burning question: Is it good?
Birthright Vol. 1: Homecoming (Image Comics)
One day while playing ball with his dad, a young boy named Mikey disappeared in the woods. Nothing could be found of him and the family became fractured as a result: The father, Aaron, became suspected of killing his son and fell into a deep depression. The mother, Wendy, began to believe it and divorced Aaron. Finally, their remaining son, Brennen, was just caught up in the middle.
A year later the family is called in to speak with the FBI. The lead agent on the case has found a new lead: a suspect who looks like he stepped out a fantasy novel (and acts just like a character from one as well) has been brought in for questioning. All evidence, despite how crazy it seems, point to this mysterious man having their long lost son in captivity. But what happened to Mikey while he was gone? What world did he enter; what did he learn there; and most importantly, what did he bring back with him?
Birthright‘s story is pretty good so far and writer Joshua Williamson handles the two separate storylines at once with know-how. We see both the story going on in the present with the family getting reunited with Mikey and we also see the early adventure of when the kid first got to Terrenos. The setup with each bit is good, there’s clear progression over the issues and nothing ever feels too dragged out, and it does feel like we get satisfying pay off with a few subplots. The storyline with Mikey in Terrenos does move a bit more slowly than the present day one, but that’s only because it’s still setting things up.
The ultimate weakness with Birthright‘s story is the pacing, since it can feel rushed a lot of time. Some plot points, like Mikey finding his first target when he returns home, feels extremely convenient rather than having a natural progression that lead to it. There’s the fact that everyone just easily accepts that there is some form magic or mysticism going on instead of being extremely confused or questioning. There are more hand-wave moments like that, but thankfully not too many.
The character work is the strongest facet of Birthright. Williamson does a solid job introducing the family members in just the first issue alone, giving us a good idea of how they are feeling before everything gets going and where they started doubting one another to the eventual breaking point. You see them grow and develop a bit over the course of the five issues, going from skeptical to believing that this mysterious man is actually Mikey himself. It’s really good stuff, though I wish we got more time with the mom in the story and how she interacted with her long lost son since that would have been interesting to see further explored.
As for the other characters, there’s not too much development. In fact Mikey, despite being the focus of the story, is honestly the person who gets the least. Well in the present day narrative anyways, since you do see the formation of a hero in the past storyline. We do learn a bit about why he made the decision to to team up with the ultimate big bad and what motivates, though there’s not much else. The others, like the main agent on the case or Rook (the guy who took in Mikey to be a hero), don’t seem to have much to them at this point. The only other character who shows a lot of potential for development is Rya, a winged girl from Terrenos, who we see grow to like Mikey during the past and given the ending of the book, makes you very interested in seeing more from her.
Williamson’s writing overall works just fine. The dialogue is alright, with some clever touches of humor and emotion throughout; the characterization is decent and the fantasy elements are pretty familiar — but they’re effective and do show the potential for some interesting twists to them beyond the whole “Chosen One” thing. The story flow and structure are decent, but occasionally, there is a touch of awkwardness to them. That is, there are some scene transitions or changes between panels that feel like we are missing a panel or two — like where we focus on the characters inside of a house then immediately shift to an outside scene while the sun is just starting to rise and then they’re in the car and the color in the sky suggests its almost nighttime. Or the scene where Mikey suddenly starts running from a gas station and almost immediately ends up at his target’s location, like it was a brief five minute walk. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it is something that I noticed.
Artist Andrei Bressan does a great job at bringing the fantastical and magical parts of the book to life. The intense violence, the larger than life beasts and monsters, the eye-catching magic, and the brief glimpses we see of the lands Mikey explored when he was younger were great. The level of detail in the imagery was impressive. Bressan is also quite capable of really capturing emotion, while also drawing some good looking characters as well. The biggest downside is that the further the character or object is away from the reader, the less detailed and polished they become, so some minor sections don’t look as good as they can be. Otherwise, the work here on the book looks great and I look forward to seeing more as time goes on.
Is It Good?
Birthright Vol. 1: Homecoming starts the series off right, showing a lot of potential and impressive content. The book benefits from a solid start, a strong set of main characters and some great looking artwork. There are a few minor pacing problems but that’s really it. Overall, if you are looking for a fantasy comic with an enjoyable twist, give this a shot.