Step By Bloody Step
Story: Si Spurrier
Art: Matias Bergara
Colors: Matheus Lopes
Graphic Design: Emma Price
Glyphology: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Image Comics
Changing of the seasons is a classic theme in stories. It’s the coming of age story, the passing of the torch, the hope that could be on the horizon, or the failures doomed to repeat. A great linear way to tell plot while also calling back to the past and looking to the future. Si Spurrier, Matias Bergara, and Matheus Lopes tease out this theme expertly in their exceptionally gorgeous “wordless fantasy” Step by Bloody Step.
Step by Bloody Step follows a girl and the giant metal guardian that protects her from the dangers of a hostile outside world as they travel along a predestined path, unable to travel backwards. Those familiar with Spurrier and Bergara’s Coda will find similar fantastical landscapes and imaginative wonders filling every page. Each issue takes you through another season until we come back, inevitably, to the winter the protagonists start in. It feels like an invitation to go back and read the story again, seeing the creators’ vision like a closed loop. With the added blurry blues of winter, decadence of summer, and fading yellows and oranges of autumn, the colors of Lopes slows you down to treasure each moment the main characters progress.
The comic provides a few twists and turns that are worth experiencing for yourself, but the explorations throughout this trade paperback are complex. While clearly playing with the trope of a coming of age story, Spurrier and Bergara also weave in commentary on our collective responsibilities to the future and impact of the past. The most obvious form of this is the impenetrable wall that rises from the ground when the girl attempts to head backwards on their collective path.
Far from a simplistic “always moving forward” narrative structure, there are multiple cyclical references in the comic from eerily similar carvings on a tree next to the one the girl has just made her own mark to the oppressed orc-like creatures achieving victory only to be marching their former oppressors naked from their home. The latter of these two examples is one of the more interesting panels of Step by Bloody Step. This story explores the nuances of a world that continues to move forward and benefit from the heroic actions of our two protagonists, but fundamentally does not change in a lasting way, as it seems the roles suddenly become reversed. Maybe the most lasting change is individual as seen with the family that gets swept up in this journey, survives, and gets to return to their now thriving farm.
All of these swirling themes of history and change are presented in a rich tapestry of color and art provided by Bergara and Lopes. Of special note are the occasional splash pages which act as fantastical landscape paintings between the narrative action. These two-page spreads give us stunning views of the world being created, pulling us deep into the environment. They’re always perfectly timed as well, between pages of actions or forward momentum that really begs us to slow down and appreciate every single line.
Though billed as a “wordless fantasy”, this isn’t precisely accurate. The gorgeous glyphs of Jim Campbell make up speech bubbles from characters beyond the girl and her metal guardian. Though, not completely clear what they mean, many are repeated as small images in the art of the comic itself or repeat in the speech bubbles in ways that are delightful to the eye. It adds a layer to the visual story telling that brings out the fantastical in the whole work.
Step by Bloody Step is a truly brilliant comic that encourages repeated, in-depth readings. From the page layouts to the character’s expressions, it gives us comics as story-telling vehicle and art. This is the book that you lend to a friend with the caveat, “We have to talk about when you’re done.” It’s one you go back to see what you’ve missed because there’s always something new.
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