By Harrison Stewart — Freed from the cost-prohibitive constraints of something like a live-action production, comics can (and often do) tell gigantic stories with wilder, off-the-wall ideas. Titles like Saga and Monstress perfectly exemplify this tradition of sprawling, deeply weird comics that simply work. Liam Sharp’s StarHenge Book One #1 belongs to that same lineage of grandiosity, delivering one of the most visually-stunning books so far this year.
The story spans centuries, with the primary action unfolding across three interconnected time periods. In the present, high schooler Amber Weaver feels drawn to the occult for reasons she can’t fully explain (“I’m a witchy nerd. Deal with it”). In the far future, a mysterious leader known as the Ur-Queen launches a desperate mission to save humanity by restoring ancient magic. And in the distant past, the Ur-Queen’s emissary arrives with little more than the name “Mer Lin.” But the real kicker is that all these threads are occurring simultaneously: think Dr. Manhattan’s chapter from Watchmen.
To accompany that massive span of time, Sharp imbues his work with a dizzying array of references and topics. These include: Arthurian Legend, Celtic mythology, physics, linguistics, the Spanish Inquisition, Edward Scissorhands, the origin of Satan, astronomy, and a generous dose of sci-fi goodness. So how do all these disparate elements blend together? Successfully, for the most part.
The biggest asset that makes it all work is Sharp’s remarkably distinct style. This book feels like the culmination of a career, the signature statement of an artist decades in the making. Sharp is in full control of his craft, effortlessly balancing realism with otherworldly splendor in pages nothing short of awe-inspiring. Beyond the art, the designs and layouts bring the whole thing together in one gorgeous and coherent package. Visually, StarHenge Book One is one of the best looking comics published in some time.
That said, however, there is a drawback to such a scattershot approach. Sharp does well juggling so many different interests, but it often comes at the expense of dialogue. Narration frequently turns to exposition dumps that bring you up to speed on an ever-expanding litany of jargon and lore. It’s a lot to take in all at once. But for the amount of ground this first issue had to cover, it makes sense. The stage is carefully set and we’re ready for the real action to begin.
Overall, StarHenge succeeds by pure will of imagination. Sharp’s passion and excitement are evident, palpable and contagious. You’ll definitely need your thinking cap in parts, but the end result is worthwhile. This might be a masterwork in the making.
Writer, Artist, Letterer: Liam Sharp
Additional Art: Matylda McCormack-Sharp
Font: Dave Gibbons
Publisher: Image Comics
Revered creator LIAM SHARP cuts loose in his visually stunning six-issue masterpiece, STARHENGE, BOOK ONE! A future Merlin travels to 5th-century Britain to prevent monstrous time-traveling killer robots from robbing the universe of magic, and Amber Weaver’s lively present-day narrative reveals how she becomes drawn into a war across time!
The Terminator meets The Green Knight in 30 enthralling story pages, setting the scene for this original epic inspired by the Arthurian sagas!
Harrison manages a comic shop by day and writes comics by night. You can find more of his writing at @stewart_bros