By Brandon Graham & Xurxo G. Penalta
After two issues dwelling in Arclight, Brandon Graham’s series leaves its lush, fantasy tinged surroundings for new territory. Kiem is set in the same world as Arclight, and similar to it shares a sense of remoteness. Both inhabit cultures which are very much defined by their environments. However, where Arclight expressed itself through spells and mystical forces, Kiem is anchored more firmly in the realm of science-fiction. Despite this, the book lacks none of Arclight’s wonder or beauty. Indeed, the issue is a fully immersive experience.
The issue opens with a bird’s eye view of The Kingdom of Stone. Stretching out for miles is a barren landscape, nearly bleached of color by the sun. It has the feeling of a desert, only composed of rock instead of sand. Yet, as in a more conventional desert, life has found a way to flourish. Pathways have been cut out of the terrain, roads leading to densely packed cities. Artist Xurxo G. Penalta invests these establishing images with the same sense of ambiance which Marian Churchland gave to Arclight. The personality of the land, and therefore the people who inhabit it, is immediately made clear.
The story by Graham and Penalta centers on a young woman, Kiem, a soldier for the Kingdom. She has spent the last several days isolated in a medical facility, quarantined on account of some unspecified ailment. Kiem is anxious to return to her comrades, restless at the thought of the war continuing without her. Soon, though, her wish is granted and her pod, suspended by a cable, is gliding through the air. Penalta’s art shines in this sequence, conveying not only the grandeur of the pod’s journey, but also a sense of how precarious it is. The pod after all is only a small box high above the ground and dwarfed by its surroundings.
Once back at her home base, or Creche, Kiem is able to have a little time to reacquaint herself before the alarm sounds. Here Graham and Penalta reveal the type of warfare in which the Kingdom is engaged. Kiem is submerged in a neon green liquid which allows her to inhabit the body of her brother out in the field. This process allows the warriors to travel further than they would otherwise, pushing deeper into foreign territory in order “to take what is ours.” The exact nature of their mission is undefined, though the impression is some sort of natural resource. Kiem’s narration claims that her kingdom’s methods are superior to the proxy fighters employed by The Blood House, yet, Graham and Penalta leave that point open to debate. Is not her twin another type of proxy? After all, Kiem, like her antagonists, remains in the Creche safe from bodily harm. Until, of course, circumstances shift, forcing her out into the wider world . . .
Just as Chruchland conjured a distinct atmosphere for Arclight, Penalta does the same for Kiem. His renditions of the cities are bustling with details; each time I examine a page I notice something new. Equally impressive is his handling of the distant battleground. Where the Kingdom is sundrenched, this terrain is all hazy blue, the smooth surfaces replaced with craggy slopes. It is a literal inversion. Up is down, resulting in the soldiers walking, fighting etc. while suspended by their boots. It is a striking illustration of the disorientation of combat in a foreign land. Penalta’s art is not all technical prowess, however. The reader is emotionally remains connected throughout.
Overall, this was a fantastic addition to Graham’s 8house project. I am left not only curious to see where Kiem’s story travels, but also what new corner of the shared world will be unveiled next.