by Brendan Hodgdon. While Image Comics is often justly recognized as the central pillar of independent, creator-owned comics, there are obviously many other avenues for nontraditional sequential storytelling to reach its intended audience. From graphic novel divisions of traditional book publishers to the Internet itself, comics storytellers have more options through which they can release their stories into the wild than ever before. Such was the case with Brandon Dayton’s original Green Monk graphic novel, which he self-published almost a decade ago.

The original book, which followed a wandering monk named Alexey who righted wrongs with a grass sword, found success on its own, getting nominated for a YALSA award in the progress. And now Image has stepped in to boost Dayton’s work to new readers, starting with this prequel novel that sets up how the Green Monk came to this quest in the first place. The end result is Green Monk: Blood of the Martyrs, a book that adds to the more artful, indie-minded corner of the Image marketplace and that expands the reach of Dayton’s signature fable.

Green Monk: Blood of the Martyrs OGNGreen Monk: Blood of the Martyrs OGN

Image Comics/$16.99

Written by Brandon Dayton.

Illustrated by Brandon Dayton.

Letters by Brandon Dayton.

Emerald Tapestry. Dayton’s art style is key to both the story he is trying to tell and the vibe he is trying to establish, and it serves both admirably. The look of Green Monk evokes wood carvings or ancient tapestries or other historic art forms, which lends the whole story the feel of a traditional fable or folktale. Especially considering the lack of dialogue through large swathes of the book, the art goes a long way towards selling tone and context to the reader.

And while the art has this almost arcane quality to it, and the story overall is very understated, Dayton doesn’t shy away from throwing truly epic images at us. The more mystical, fantastical segments are big on imagination, and at times recall the worlds of The Legend of Zelda or Shadow of the Colossus (appropriate, given Dayton’s experience as a video game concept artist). The blockbuster scale of these moments creates a compelling friction with the book’s aesthetic while amplifying its humanity and emotion. Dayton stakes out distinct artistic territory with this book, and makes great use of it on every page.

Myth of the Unknown. Underneath the art, Dayton’s script certainly tracks towards the oblique and open-ended, which can be frustrating to experience as a reader. Along the lines of a Jodorowsky or a Robert Bresson, Dayton’s story feels layered and full of meaning, while explicitly saying very little. With so little dialogue and such big, metaphorical art (mixed with quiet moments of monastic life), Dayton is leaving a lot to the interpretation and imagination of the audience.

This extends to the worldbuilding as well. All of the wild, distinctive creations and realms that Dayton presents come and go with little explanation or context, a phantasmagorical parade of mysteries. It suggests, depending on the scene, a supernatural world that dwarfs the personal moral quandary that Alexey faces or an unpredictable dreamscape that confronts the same. Dayton willfully chooses to keep the direct answers to himself, and to let the story stand alone with quiet reserve, awaiting readers willing to grapple with it on its own terms.

Man on a Mission. While the original Green Monk is a classic quest narrative, following Alexey as he wanders the world to right wrongs and seek atonement, Blood of the Martyrs is a coming-of-age story. At its outset the book seems classical with its moralistic storytelling, but as Alexey grows and his tale becomes more fantastical, the ethos at the core of the story seems to become more complicated.

Dayton’s characterization of Alexey is a particular sort of piss-and-vinegar piousness, a sense of righteousness that justifies taking up arms against aggressors. It’s a very relatable feeling, particularly these days, but it is hard to determine whether Dayton is in favor of it or not. Throughout the narrative, in ways large and small, Alexey is confronted with a challenging question: how does one commit oneself to peace and respect for life, and yet stand by when violence is committed against it? According to the monks who raise Alexey, it is pacifism and faith that will ultimately win the day, but it is hard not to root for Alexey when he smacks down a street urchin for tormenting an innocent animal. While the monks certainly frown on Alexey’s actions, the supernatural elements that shape his story are harder to read, and in the end it feels more like Dayton is leaving the question for us to answer for ourselves.

As readers, we are often conditioned to expect a pat, cut-and-dried moral to every story, a clear sense of who is right and what actions the story considers to be just. In our current social climate, too, I feel we are all desperate to find stories that validate our sense of right and wrong and our desire to act. With Green Monk: Blood of the Martyrs, Brandon Dayton refuses to make things that easy. Instead, he provides us a chance to make our own decisions, to assess the challenge on our own and figure out what we think is correct. The result may not be as immediately satisfying, but in the long run it makes for a much more validating and empowering storytelling experience.

8.5 out of 10

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