The last two or three years has seen Image Comics rise from the modestly sized #3 publisher to a true power player both in and beyond the world of comics. For readers, the Image brand is one of quality and creativity. For writers and artists, it offers a haven to distribute their full creative visions without any major editorial interference. It has been boosted due to the pop culture phenomenon of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, it continues to attract the industry’s top talents. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’ Pretty Deadly, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga, and Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals are three examples of the breadth of storytelling the publisher welcomes with ever-increasing success. Preliminary information indicates that Scott Snyder and Jock’s Wytches debuted with over 90,000 copies sold – huge numbers for a title regardless of publisher. So it should come as no surprise that Tooth and Claw, a new series by comics legend Kurt Busiek, artist Ben Dewey, and colorist Jordie Bellaire has been met with lofty expectations. And as is the case with most #1’s from Image, it fails to disappoint.
On the surface, Tooth and Claw #1 is a science-fiction, fantasy epic with a heavy dose of anthropomorphic characters and magic. That premise alone should be enough to draw in readers, and those that are interested solely on the surface-level presentation will be more than satisfied. In the span of 44 pages, Busiek does an incredible amount of world-building. Between aristocratic dogs, wizardly warthogs and, fittingly, wise owls, Busiek’s creations not only fit roles suitable for this narrative, but also are representative of society’s classes and the values placed on various animals.
One character set up to be a major player in the series is Dunstan, an anthropomorphic dog and son in a high-class, mercantile family. In the lead up to the issue’s climax, Dunstan is training under his father to assume his role in the family business. He faithfully totes along on various business enterprises, blinded by his desire for paternal approval to societal issues – especially the plight of the less fortunate. Intentional or not, Busiek provides commentary on the structural and psychological issue’s facing our culture from the perspective of a “one-percenter.” Dunstan sees his father’s work ethic and the benefits reaped from that effort, and therefore believes the world to be just. To him, his family’s position is one borne out of sweat, unaware that the resources his family possesses are not available to the greater populace. The decision to make Dunstan a dog is therefore fitting, as dogs have become domesticated pets – pampered compared to others in the animal kingdom that will blindly follow their masters out of loyalty.
At the other end of the societal hierarchy is Gharta of Daiir, a boar that seeks to upend the current state of affairs through magical means. Unsurprisingly, she is branded an outcast and a radical by her peers, superiors, and subordinates. Despite her current brandishing, she remains beholden to her convictions – driven to see real change in the world take place. It is a reminder that passiveness in the face of oppression benefits only the oppressors. One need only look at the current political climate to see this to be true. The political landscape is toxic for laymen. The so-called “information age” has drowned out the voices of everyday citizens in the white noise of Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. In order to bring about true change, something big must happen for the world to stand up and take notice. That’s exactly what Tooth & Claw #1 delivers.
Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey, and Jordie Bellaire have crafted a world that is completely unlike our own that, at the same time, provides it a stark reflection. Those looking for an escapist thrill ride should strap in tight, as this series looks to be a wild ride. For those looking for a meaty subtext in their pull list, Tooth & Claw provides plenty of that too.