Title: Reyn Volume 1: Warden of Fate
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kel Symons
Artist: Nate Stockman
Colorist: Paul Little
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. I try to avoid mentioning anything I see as a major twist or reveal, but I don’t guarantee it. Read at your own risk!
With only a few previous credits under their belts, in Reyn, writer Kel Symons and artist Nate Stockman offer an intriguing world and a story that promises great things in future installments. I thought I understood what the creative team was trying to do and where they were trying to bring the story, but I was wrong. Nothing prepared me for the two-page spread that ends issue 5 and therefore this collection. I don’t want to spoil it, but it left me dumbstruck, and I’m interested to see where Symons and Stockman are going with this comic.
Reyn: Warden of Fate gets both halves of its title from the character Reyn, a wandering knight in the world of Fate. Fate is a fantasy setting with all the traditional trappings: swords, magic, castles, monsters. Reyn is, or at least is believed to be, a Warden, one of an order that supposedly perished a thousand years ago during “The Great Cataclysm,” which also began “a thousand years of darkness and cold.” The story picks up at some point not long after that period of darkness, when Reyn meets Seph, the story’s narrator, who belongs to a religion known as the Followers of Tek. The Followers are hated and feared for their sorcery, but as it happens, the sorcery is really technology from generations upon generations in the past, passed down and maintained among their people. After Reyn saves Seph’s life by bringing her to their mountain home, the Followers ask him to help foil a plot to destroy Fate devised by the salamander-like Venn people.
Reyn’s worldbuilding is a stand-out in this book. There’s enough exposition in the narration on the first page to introduce essential backstory elements, but not so much that it feels like a dry, boring information dump. On the fourth page of issue 1, a giant spider erupts from the ground beneath a farm, a clear sign that Fate can be a dangerous place. Although a local baron is human, his Venn vizier is clearly the real power behind the seat, and the Venn appear to have other authority, as they supervise the mines where criminals, prisoners, and undesirables dig for resources. No matter how much technology Reyn sees, he continues to think of the Followers as mages and their abilities as mystical. He occasionally converses with a goddess named Aurora, but only he can see or hear her, so the people around him assume it’s an indication of madness. When the comic offers Reyn’s perspective, however, he really can hear Aurora speaking to him, rendered as words in a distinct font floating near Reyn. I can also appreciate the gradual pace at which the world is laid out.
My favorite thing about Reyn’s art is probably its creatures. Nonhumans are an art form in Reyn. They largely avoid the trope of fantasy monsters just being bigger, meaner versions of already-existing animals. Those elements are present, like the aforementioned giant spider and a large bird that appears later, but they barely scratch the surface of what Stockman draws. Long-tongued, almost beetle-like beasts live in the Barrens to the north of Fate, snapping up unsuspecting travelers. The figure work is solid, and I think the images work best when the art team needs to do motion or a fight, during which there is a feeling of excitement. Faces and body language are expressive. Paul Little’s color work is pleasant to look at, and Pat Brosseau’s letters help set a tone as much as anything else. The Venn speak in a purple eldritch script, and Aurora’s voice is other-worldly.
I might have scored Warden of Fate higher, but I wasn’t “wowed” until that final two-page spread. I was keeping my eye out for such a moment, but I didn’t quite find it. I was interested enough in the world and characters to continue until the end, but that was where I had my first stand-out moment, the moment I knew this book could really be something. That said, I think the moment is so striking because of the build-up. It’s a gradual spooling-out of details that add up into a wild flip-the-switch moment.
Reyn: Warden of Fate begins the way a fantasy novel would, with medieval weapons and witchcraft. But as I learned more about the world, the story became increasingly refreshing and interesting. The twists go beyond the Followers’ use of technology in a supposedly sorcerous world, and they left me very interested in what happens next. While not without flaw, I think Reyn is a comic to watch this year.