Review by James Bacon
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 the war across time…
Starhenge delivers beautifully, a majestically painted comic, pouring thoughtful magic into an incredibly realised future, mixing myth with science fiction and bringing a fascinating story vividly to life with amazing art. The future is fantastic in this exciting story from artist and writer Liam Sharp, but the link to Arthurian legend is neatly done and we also get to see part of the story set in the current moment.
I was stunned by the artwork, and by the dynamic use of style to adjust the reader to the setting as we learn about the future, linked heavily to the past.
There is a masterly use of panels, at times 12 per page, at others the full page splash, or full length striking image complemented by panels continuing the story, allowing a depth to the storytelling with information flowing smoothly.
Calling upon aspects that will be well recogniseable, such as a Geoffrey of Monmouth quote, the comic deftly introduces the Arthurian elements, the science fictional future is also presented nicely. While ostensibly this future has progressed positively with the discovery of faster than light travel, it has had its downside, with the discovery or rather awakening of an AI that has been dormant, “The Cast”, who are far from friendly and war erupts. We also meet Amber, in the now, and she tells us much of the story.
As the story develops, we discover there’s something that can stand up to the Cast, who have a lovely horrific aspect, and so we see how and where technology and magic fuse, in a moment of challenge to humanity, and we also learn of the history of this future – and it is enthralling.
Upon reading the first issue, I was so very impressed, and so soon, I had the second issue in hand, in comic shops from today. Confirming my thoughts on the story, proving that there would be nothing precarious with the second part, and indeed, I was absolutely delighted to see consistency in art, in the development of the story but another style added to the mix.
We also see Matylda McCormick Sharp draw a sequence in Issue 2, dare I say in an epistolary nature, a journal portraying photos attached to a copy book, which are drawn in a lovely young reader style. When there is an image, with a photo in it, and the photo is more realistic, I was just blown away by these few pages. It’s fabulous stuff, really nicely done and perfectly pitched for this part of the story ‘That’s enough about me, here’s more about me instead’ had me laughing hard, and of course once familiar, feeling so hollow as a tragedy and sadness unfolds.
As we go from Amber, to Fantasy, to Science Fiction the art holds steady and strong. England, Brighton feels perfect; there is an amazing sense of place and accuracy, and this helps the sense of pace, which is quick, yet detailed and rich. There is much to Amber, and I am really enjoying that aspect to the story, it somehow connects much more than I had expected, and is a mature and intelligently told tale.
Throughout, there is a level of craft about the artwork on Starhenge that is astounding. The fully painted work is very polished, while mindful that one should judge work in its own right, I felt like there were subtle influences to the work, the painted work of Simon Bisley and Bill Sienkiewicz, but with a realistic painterly beauty to the characters. When the story changes setting, to the now, we get really nice soft black, white and grey work, as if expertly pencilled to a high level, and the comic frames change at one point, just right for that point in the story, and it felt like a hint of Dave McKean.
I liked the journal, I loved the maps, so beautifully done and the inclusion of simple things, such as a stamp to help add to the grounding to history. The space setting felt like here was a student of John Harris, Chris Foss with a hint of Gieger at the periphery. The resonances did not in any way take from the art, it feels fresh and unique, art of the highest standard, and a very special pair of comics.
I had neither expected nor anticipated this calibre of comic, and it felt brilliantly entertaining as I read it, a real masterpiece of the craft.
Exceeding expectations and with an enticing deep story, it is a wonderful read and absolutely cracking.
James Bacon (he/him) is an Irish fan, a train driver living in London. A Hugo Award-winning editor of the fanzine “Journey Planet”, he is a comic fan and enjoys comic art, war Comics, Star Wars, Irish aspects to comics and railways in comics or otherwise. He has been writing about comics for over thirty years.