Review by: Ed Allen Reader, I’ll be honest with you: right from the start I expected to dislike this. I took one look at it and thought “oh no, here we go again” because I’ve never had much luck when it comes to buying fantasy/action comics with buxom, sword-wielding redheads on the cover. I expected a grim, humorless and cheesecake-dependent slog full of grimace-faced posturing and shaky artwork. If that sounds unreasonable I ought to point out that I’ve read a surprisingly large number of comics where poor storytelling is excused by a focus on tits and gore and it’s a trap I no longer fall into. Fortunately, with Dawn: The Swordmaster’s Daughter & Other Stories, what I got instead was a coherent, smoothly paced fable with a sweet moral at its core, accompanied couple of intriguing backups and all of it drawn by a veteran artist with a talent for expressive characterization.
The Swordmaster’s Daughter is the idiosyncratic brainchild of Joseph Michael Linsner, who writes, draws and colors the entirety of his work. This one-shot, which is made up of three adapted folk tales from ancient cultures, works as a purely standalone comic but it is actually a direct tie-in to the larger story told in Linsner’s Dawn series. The setting is a post-atomic version of Earth where the remaining population have technologically regressed, creating a fusion of aspects of historical societies with aspects of modernity: people use swords, magical/godly powers are at work behind the scenes, yet there’s also the existence of America, baseball caps and modern plumbing. It’s a little jarring at first but it also adds to the unique look of the comic. The world revolves around two mystical characters who are incarnated into various living people throughout history: Dawn (the goddess of birth and rebirth) and her lover Darrion (the human incarnation of a death god).
In this one-shot we see Dawn and Darrion inhabiting three different lives throughout history in the three different stories, with most of the its space given to The Swordsman’s Daughter, in which we learn a little about (the main Dawn continuity) Darrion's history (as inspired by old Samurai folklore), his first crush and how he got to be such a lethal fighter. With two short backups that reflect on the nature of life and death, long term fans will be able to explore the world further while new readers can experience the catharsis of a done-in-one parable.
Linsner’s script makes reserved use of captions and dialogue, allowing the artwork to do much of the talking and making the story move along at a breezy pace. His style of writing is quite blunt but in an action-oriented genre like this there’s plenty virtue to be found in simplicity, while it's also pleasing to see each character has their own voice; again this sounds like faint praise but I’m sure we've all seen comics which fail in those regards, covering up for their lack of depth with awkwardly overwritten blocks of text and constant attempts at witty quips from characters who all sound alike. That clarity of style extends to Linsner's art as well, which applies plenty of detail to persons, objects and other scene-setting elements of the page which are crucial to conveying the story at a given moment and adopting a more simplified approach to the remainder which is not. There's not a lot of subtlety to the facial 'acting' of Linsner's characters but their emotions are intuitively readable and there's a prominence to their smooth-lined, often idealized, anatomy on the page that focuses the reader's gaze to where it is needed. It actually reminds me of the kind of fantasy art you’d typically find in the original Heavy Metal magazine, and while that’s certainly not a bad quality to have, it might feel a little old fashioned to readers who are only accustomed to the current output of the likes of Marvel or DC.
At this point I’m not sure whether or not I am a fan of Linsner’s Dawn but it would be foolish of me to deny the skill at work in this comic. His ability to speak to readers with such immediacy through his art is the aspect of this one-shot that's most likely to draw in new fans and I expect long-term followers of his work will be delighted to see this title back on the shelves of their local store. Linsner is a genuine storyteller, and I’d happily recommend The Swordmaster’s Daughter, a comic which has found a happy middle ground between the babes and brawls side of fantasy comics and the more thoughtful side of the spectrum, to anyone who’s interested in trying a new fantasy genre piece this week.
Writer/Artist: Joseph Michael Linsner
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 7/10/13