by Kate Kowalski. A war rages outside the gates of an ancient citadel. The masses are banging down the establishment’s door, demanding freedom or, at least, the end of the murderous inquisition rampaging through their villages. A godlike, white-bearded “warrior prophet” emerges, leading the charge. It’s an epic battle; bodies fly left and right while the common folk gains significant headway, eyes and hearts filled with righteous purpose. Until this “warrior prophet” is struck down in a single blow by an unaffiliated and unloyal upstart, killing just to get his kicks. And that’s a wrap on the holy war. 

Thus begins The Forgotten Blade, and we’re left with our guy, Ruza the Unwashed: The world’s best warrior, rough and tumble, uncaring and unbothered—as long as no one disrupts his nightcap. But it proves hard to drink in peace when you single-handedly saved The Church and wield a legendary blade. His day-to-day routine is thrown off-kilter when Noa, an outland shamaness, seeks his services. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned in love, but God himself will pay the price if something happens to her children. And that’s precisely what she asks of Ruza—to kill God. Such a challenge is what it takes to shake Ruza out of his drunken stupor and join Noa on her quest. 

Noa and Ruza set out to the Citadel to slay the “Allfather,” the creator of all life, causing mayhem and meeting monsters along the way. They’re a strong duo: Noa, calm and headstrong despite being driven to revenge by the loss of her children, and Ruza, whose tough exterior masks extreme trauma. Even his nickname, “The Unwashed,” is a seeded detail alluding to his past. Tze Chun’s writing is tight; every little thing makes its way around again, and each minor character comes back into play. Chun introduces some significant players late in the game, effectively heightening the plot to the end. The pacing is fast, carried along by a sense of urgency. There’s no feet-dragging on this mission. My only wish to slow down would be to indulge more in this fascinating ancient futuristic world. 

The people live amongst five rivers, each serving a function, such as the River of Voiding, a place where one can, quite literally, drink to forget. Along the River of Pain, people gather and merge into a wailing mass of bodies to share their misery. This world is not one of meadows and starlight but a brutal place where any lick of joy is ceremoniously stripped by The Church subjugating the land. 

There is quite a lot of grotesque imagery, body horror, and gore within these pages. But each tableau, no matter how horrific, is rendered gorgeously. Toni Fezjula’s linework is frenetic, pulsing life and movement into even the still surroundings. Everyone and everything is etched and marked in wavy, undulating lines. The world is patterned by geographic hieroglyphics transmitting magic technology through walls and skin. And the whole thing is awash in soft, lush watercolors. The colors can be dusty, can be opalescent, but where the light shines comes a radiant halo effect. A particular shade of cerulean green glows throughout the book: in Ruza’s sword, Noa’s hair, the ancient text of the Allfather, and ghosts of a people long dead. We know what is connected and what is significant visually long before any answers are revealed. 

This story is ultimately about faith—pure faith versus the corrupting force of organized religion. Through this symbolic mirror, we can see clearly how faith and spirituality are lost in exertions of power and control by a structured body like The Church. And then, in the end, all faith is a blind grasp in the dark to explain the unknowable. It’s existential, big, and heady, a reminder in case you forgot to ask yourself this week, “What are we doing here?” It’s a concise epic, hitting long strides and great heights with exacting precision in this just hauntingly beautiful painted style. If you find yourself wanting to take that mental stroll to those big questions, take it with The Forgotten Blade.

TKO Studios / $19.99 
Written by Tze Chun. 
Art by Toni Fezjula.
Letters by Jeff Powell.

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