I’d reviewed Button Press Publications’ The Wren a couple of weeks ago, which is currently into its second volume of collected issues and overall a very neat children’s superhero comic – at the end of volume two, The Wren had begun introducing some interesting story arcs that I wish to catch up in the near future.
So I wondered what gives with Button Press’ newest comic, another title aimed at kids but as a full coloured venture called Artos – its predecessor didn’t seem like it was finished yet, so I wondered what was going on here. After I read the first issue, it seems like there’s several things that link both titles together, thus setting both The Wren and Artos in the same universe.
The comic begins with a little backstory about Prince Conn discovering a cave claimed by several bears. His brother, the king Brian Boru, claims the cave to be sacred and Conn builds a small town around it leaving the bears in peace. A couple of years later, the town is raided and a lady named Bríd McMahon escapes some raiders while hiding in the cave with her baby, where Artío the bear scares the raiders off and entrusts her with a magic talisman that will activate when needed by a next of kin.
The real star of Artos is Conor McMahon who helps his father, a curator of the Aillwee Cave, but prefers to dig around for skulls buried in the cave instead. While doing so, Conor unearths the legendary talisman in a blocked-off area of the cave. Turns out that a character called Rook (yes, the same baddie from The Wren) appears through a magic portal in search of the talisman to bring to his master Amerg, and chases Conor through the caves for the trinket – until it glows and transforms the boy into a giant anthropomorphic bear to help him escape. There are some notes here of the comic’s crossover with The Wren, such as The Flying Column and Hibernious, and when Rook comes to thrash the town in search of the talisman and summons bug-like fairies to torment the people there, Conor transforms again and fights back.
Artos’ script duties is taken over by Mike Lynch (whose previous work I reviewed was the story Customs in Lightning Strike #3), and somehow, despite being a twin comic to The Wren, there are some dips in believability here. The script needs a few tweaks, as it seems Conor instantly knows about the talisman without much pretence, other than a story his grandfather told him about the bears. (Despite the relic being entrusted to an ancestor, it’s found deep in the cave’s dirt? Most likely for protection of the talisman, but its rediscovery falls flat here.) And on being chased by Rook, he introduces himself in a clunky way that activates the talisman’s powers (‘I’m Conor of the family McMahon! This talisman belongs to my family!’) while instantly recognising Rook as an evil fairy folk.
The artwork, provided by Jason Connors (who also worked on The Wren) is in full colour here, and Connor’s bright designs return with a nice, flat cel shaded look. Again, the colouring seems to still be in an experimental stage, as the colour scheme here is desaturated and lacks a range of values to make the comic truly pop. The opening credit font on page two get seriously lost and unreadable. There are also technical things like skewed panels and low resolution for some of the pages, which will hopefully be fixed in a future collection or a reprint.
Artos overall feels like an experiment in making a new children’s comic, while telling a plausible story and playing with a new colour technique. The pacing needs more smoothing out, and the writing is missing those nicely illustrated expositions that really filled out The Wren‘s mythos – without them, we must rely on the dialogue to remind us that this story is in the same universe (and it’s a missed chance to do some beautiful colour spreads too). Maybe we have yet to fully see not only how Artos works as a crossover, but as a standalone comic series too. Hopefully by the second issue it’ll find itself a worthy place in the universe Button Press Publications has created for us, but right now a balance between writing and art has to eke itself out for Artos to catch up with The Wren’s prime.