This week the latest issue in Andrew MacClean’s “Quarterly Adventure Comic,” Head Lopper #5, hits stands. It’s another oversized cavalcade of frenzied fantasy, with more than forty pages of story and the usual wealth of pin-ups and bonus material. When MacClean brought his award-winning indie comic to Image over a year ago, he apparently felt the need to justify the forthcoming publishing schedule. As if anyone should have a problem with this much awesome four times a year. In fact, while certainly not the greatest thing about Head Lopper, I absolutely love the fact that each issue is a full-length story in its own right. And the way each of these hefty floppies fits into the overall saga makes it even better.
This new issue kicks off a brand new epic: The Crimson Tower. Norgal, the titular sword-swinging cranium cleaver, is back, still lugging around the head of Agatha, the Blue Witch. He’s reunited with KaKa from the Plague of Beasts story, and we are introduced to three little purple fellers apparently of the same race as the Mapmaker. Together, along with five other intrepid adventurers, they enter the Tower of Ulrich the Twice Damned, intent on battling their way through traps and enemies in order to face off against the master and his Berserker crony. Each combatant seems to have his or her own agenda for entering the ominous edifice. Some fight for glory, others to rescue captive friends. And some, like Norgal, could be there just to chop off some fucking heads. Any way you slice it, this is standard video game fare, one puzzle and one boss monster at a time.
Come for the straightforward hack and slash plot; stay for the brilliant comic book storytelling. MacClean’s art and design has gotten better with each installment of this series; it’s worth checking out Image’s collection of the first four issues, not just for a great introduction to these characters, but to see the evolution of MacLean’s style. He combines clean, bold lines with a masterful attention to detail. Add in a knack for coming up with quirky characters and twisted landscapes and you have something that reminds me of Paul Grist partying in Jim Woodring’s sandbox. He also has been working on his gag panels, with timing and nuance that is reminiscent of early Bone. Seeing a severed hag head mouth off to a burly barbarian is always fun, and in this new arc, he’s got a few other supporting cast members to play with. New to the Head Lopper world is colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire. The prolific artist always accentuates the appropriate mood of any comic she works on, and with Crimson Tower, there’s a distinct vibrancy that adds to MacLean’s dynamic movement and energy.