“My enemies flee! But why?!”
“Because they fear the shadow of death more than they fear you, Spaceknight! This time, however, the devourer will be content with the sacrifice of one soul, Spaceknight… yours!”
In the smashed out remains of Brandy’s laboratory, still littered with the shredded tendrils of the Thornoids, Rom and Brandy stand over Steve, who clutches the body of his friend, Officer Artie Packer. Other employees have gathered on the other side the locked door, trying to investigate the sounds they’ve heard. Brandy tries to get Steve to clear out, but he goes into a rage, blaming Rom for Artie’s death and screaming that they never should have trusted the murderous robot. He says the Wraith had been silent and content in their human disguises on Earth, and only turned to violence when Rom showed up and forced their hand.
Rom gently, but firmly, tells Steve this isn’t so, going into a story about Angelica, a world of peace and tranquility. They were invaded by the Dire Wraiths and the entire population was wiped out by the time the Spaceknights arrived to aid. Rom points out that the invasion of Earth has been quieter, less sudden, but only because the Wraiths are manipulating it from within. When the voices at the door become more insistent, Rom decides it’s time to flee and go in search of his captured Neutralizer… but not before revealing that Artie is still barely clinging to life and that there’s still hope for Steve’s friend.
As Rom flies out the window, the door bursts open and Brandy tries her best to come up with a story to explain what happened. The comatose Artie is driven off to the hospital, Steve and Brandy hoping he might one day be able to back up their story.
Later in the day, a large funeral procession marches through the streets of Clairton, with coffins and sobbing widows and angry neighbors, all for the “victims” of Rom’s “rampage”. Rom spots this from a hill and, using his Analyzer on a broad setting, confirms that the entire procession is made up of Dire Wraiths, and that they’re staging the funeral to drum up the human populace against their enemy.
Inside the coroner’s office, Silas, the coroner, and Andrew, his friend from Washington, spot the procession. Silas laments that there was nothing left of the slain “townsfolk” but ashes. He also makes an odd observation: that the six men, who all looked to be different ages, are on record as having been born on the same date. He plans to take the documented proof out to Washington, to show it to the investigators who asked him to keep an eye out for anything strange, but Andrew volunteers to do it instead. He slips the papers in his briefcase and heads outside. Andrew is, of course, a Wraith, but he’s suddenly yanked into an alley and strangled to death by a shadowy, reptilian being that pledges death to all Wraith kind. Leaving his office, Silas spots Andrew’s briefcase and decides he’ll take the papers to Washington himself after all.
At the graveyard, the Wraiths are out of sight of the populace and drop their act. The priest is revealed to be a Wraith Elder, in town to respond to their distress. He does this by threatening to feed them to Deathwing if they don’t get on with things. Rom suddenly drops into the midst of the crowd, smashing coffins, revealing them to be empty. He tells the Wraiths to return his Neutralizer, or else he’ll genuinely kill them instead of merely banishing them to Limbo. They respond by whipping out blasters.
The Elder rises on a hilltop and uses Wraith magic to summon Deathwing, the winged thing of darkness, shadow-shape of the Queen of the Devourers. Apparently, it doesn’t care what it devours, because Rom picks up the Elder and threatens to feed him to Deathwing first if the location of his Neutralizer is not revealed. After cycling through shapes, yet failing to escape, the Elder reveals the Neutralizer is at Safeguard in Washington. Rom feeds him to Deathwing anyways and the creature, its appetite sated, returns to its place between dimensions.
Momentary contact with Deathwing has sent a numbing shock through Rom’s system and he falls into one of the open graves. He keeps falling when its bottom opens into a deep tunnel. Above, the lizard man steps out of the shadows. He is Serpentyne, and he wants to know who this Rom is that the Wraith fear, and get his hands on this dreaded weapon, the Neutralizer.
Oh, come on. You had a perfect one-off story and tragic end for Artie in the last issue, but you’re keeping him alive? Yeah, I liked the guy, but they can’t just second guess their narrative like that, especially with what amounts to Rom saying a variation of, “No, he’s just mostly dead.” Now you have the convolution of him being in a coma so he can’t back up Brandy and Steve in any of their claims… because it’s totally impossible for them to back each other up, I guess. Not sure why Artie’s word is any better than either of theirs. Especially Steve, given his very vocal and public rants about the menace that is Rom. Speaking of which, him huddled over the body of his (mostly) dead friend makes for quite a haunting image as all that anger pours back to the surface and he just full on rages at Rom. It’s a great moment, followed by Rom calmly bringing him back in line with a story of an entire civilization slain by the Wraiths. A story that’s only 5 panels long, but perfectly conveys the fall of an entire society, capping on the image of proud, brave knights standing amidst corpses they’re too late to save.
The theme of death in this issue is marvelous, most prominently in the Wraiths staging the spectacle of a solemn funeral procession, a simple image that instantly puts the townsfolk on their side and against their best interests in the form of Rom. The Wraith are not only lethal buggers who will kill their own at the drop of a hat, but they understand propaganda and emotional manipulation. Why fight your enemies when you can trick others into doing it for you? And it’s turned people so deeply against Rom that, even though he can clearly see through the ruse, he doesn’t dare break it up in front of the populace because he’s learned by now their perception of him.
So, instead, he waits till they get to the graveyard, then starts smashing through them with the threat of actual death. The Spaceknights are fully within their right to kill Wraiths for heinous crimes committed against their people and others, and currently being doled out on Earth, but they haven’t done so. In a move likely to bite them in the ass at some point, they did the noble thing and merely locked the monsters away instead of eradicating them. As this issue shows, Rom is not above feeding a Wraith to a space monster, even after the Wraith has given into threats and revealed where the Neutralizer is being held. Granted, this isn’t just any Wraith, this is an Elder, and Rom just couldn’t pass up the chance to take out a leader and possibly spread some chaos among the ranks.
This does, though, bring us to another weak bit of this issue. Deathwing has been built up as this major thing, this cosmic beast between dimensions who serves the Wraiths as long as they keep it fed. Here, it’s just a giant bird that swoops a couple times, eats one dude, then poofs away. We’re told it represents and ancient horror known as the Devourers, so, once unleashed upon our reality, shouldn’t it keep devouring and laying waste and be this giant, visible thing that the populace takes notice of? No? As it is, it’s a bit underwhelming, and Rom being legendary for having once taken out Deathwing suddenly has a bit less weight behind it.
But, hey, to go back to positives, we have this mysterious new character: Serpentyne! He looks neat, has a cool(-ish) name, and I love the mystery they’re building around his character. He’s obviously alien and has a history with the Wraith, who he loathes, but he isn’t familiar with the Spaceknights, so I wonder if he’s from an era pre-dating the conflict with Galador. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what happens when he and Rom are fighting for control of the same weapon to unleash upon a shared enemy. Leave it to this issue to put two heroes on the same quest in opposition over which one of them actually gets to fulfil it. There’s something very true to classical knight ballads about that, so I’m eager to see how it plays out.
A few thoughts:
- So nothing more about the Thornoids, then? In the last issue, their seeds were spread all over Clairton, so I expected to hear about mass panic and deaths and people whacking these tendrils with whatever they can find… but no. It was just isolated to that one location. Deathwing follows this trend of something that should have been more broadly experienced instead being a missed opportunity.
- Love the moment of the boy being hushed by his mother when he openly wonders why a Wraith|child in the funeral procession isn’t crying about the “death” of his “father”.
- Gee, Silas. Can’t take 5 minutes to look around and see what happened to your friend and why his briefcase was left abandoned on the sidewalk?
- “Quivering curs” is an insult that needs to be used far more often.
There’s a few hiccups, but this is yet another solid issue with a surprisingly deep theme about death and how one should keep fighting, even in the face of tragedy.