Review: Broken Bear (Caliber Comics)

We get sent a lot of fantasy style indie comics here at Pipedream Comics, and they can range from the traditional like  The Trolltooth Wars, to the more outlandish like Faraway, however Broken Bear, a new graphic novel from Frankee White and Adam Markiewicz, manages to balance a really classic fantasy feel but with a smart and contemporary edge, thanks to a very intriguing lead character.

Publisher: Caliber Comics
Writer: Frankee White, Adam Markiewicz
Artist: Adam Markiewicz, A.H.G.
Price: £4.99 from ComiXology

Our story follows Selm, the young ward of a powerful ranger known simply as the Bear. After encountering a witch in a shack in the woods, she makes a Faustian pact with the witch in order to gain her mentor’s strength and power and step out of his shadow. Following this betrayal she heads off to the nearest city in order to sell her master’s armour and there she is drawn into the tyrannical world of local villain Balzur who rules the city with an iron fist. Can Selm help her new found friends or will she be as dangerous to them as she was to her previous mentor.

Broken Bear is a really absorbing mix of classic fantasy, but with a modern twist to it. White and Markiewiz have crafted a really simple story of a girl doing whatever she can to succeed, often at the expense of those around her. It’s an interesting inversion of the classic fantasy lead, not just by making her female, but also making her ruthless and often quite unlikeable. Without this strong lead character to build the story around, Broken Bear could be just another generic swords and sorcery tale, but thanks to Selm’s unique attitude it gives the whole thing a real depth to the book, that keeps you guessing throughout – and also rewards repeat reading as your opinion of Selm is changed once you know how the story resolves itself and the impact on her actions throughout.

The story is told at a very deliberate and careful pace, with the whole thing divided up into simple chapters which help structure the story well. On first reading, it felt like the story began a little clumsily, without much introduction of the character. (It feels as if we have stepped into the story 2 issues in, as we get very little back story to the Bear and Selm), However re-reading it, we realised it was actually quite necessary to get the story moving along and actually balances introductions and exposition well.

Once Selm gets to the city of Balzac’s Bazaar thing really pick up, as not only do we get introduced to supporting characters Kik, Lyn and Daren, but visually the story really takes a step up. The fantasy city is a staple of the genre, but White and Makiewicz do an amazing job creating some truly incredible characters here. It has a very Mos Isley Cantina feel to it, with character ranging from the horned armour dealer Daren (who feels like something out of Saga), to the grotesque, Jabba like Balzur. Not to mention the statuesque gladiators who felt very Kirby-esque. By balancing this familiar with the original it create a really eclectic world and one which is a lot of fun to get caught up in, yet doesn’t distract from the main story arc.

Throughout the whole thing Markiewicz’s visual are really strong. It has a bit of a ‘Vault Comics’ vibe to it, reminding us a lot of the art in the excellent Resonant series as well as Paul Moore’s work on Planet of Daemons. Markiewicz has a really clean line to his work, but compliments it with some excellent shading and fantastic character design to make Broken Bear feel like a really top drawer read.

The colouring is also fantastic with the enigmatic ‘A.H.G.’ using a dirty, grimy palette for the swamp and a cooler more blue mix for Balzur’s tower – combined with a warmish red glow for the flashbacks to how Selm first met The Bear. However the colouring is subtly done and never overpowers the artwork allowing the strong linework to stand out throughout.

Broken Bear was a really surprising read that managed to keep us gripped throughout and ended in a really unexpected way – although not with a blockbuster twist, just a very smartly conceived ending, which in hindsight was hinted at all the way through. Beautiful to look at and packed with some fantastic characterisation, this is going to be one of the most under-rated books we read all year!