Review: “The Swan King” (Alterna Comics, Monochrome May Special)

Welcome back to Monochrome May, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things colorless and achromatic! Today we’re going to review the black and white bargain buy, The Swan King.

Published in 2020 by Alterna Comics as a “One-Dollar One-Shot”, The Swan King is a 19-page, standalone story written and illustrated by Wentland and lettered by Wes Locher. Set in the same universe as Locher’s Red Koi, (though you’d never know it unless someone told you), The Swan King follows the adventures of a king named Vooran who is haunted by the failures of his past and set on a path to redemption… if redemption is possible, that is!

Usually one to lose himself in thought while canoeing in his swan filled river, King Vooran has discovered that fish were beginning to vanish from the land’s waters. Upon investigating, he learns that the waterways upstream are blocked by a sleeping giant, and he must undergo a quest to find some way to awaken him. King Vooran receives assistance from other mythological beings along the way, ultimately coming face to face with the book’s malefactor. The King must not only outwit this villain, but face the sins of his past at the same time.

At just 19 pages of story, it’s difficult to go into much more detail without spoiling the whole book. The tale is very brief, but the drama itself is fully realized, though it’s streamlined to focus on the characters at hand and doesn’t spend much time on world-building. It also reads very much like a myth, where the more fantastic beings are always at hand to explain unnatural phenomena and keep the story going. As a fan of mythology, I found that this approach works, but I’m sure that there will be readers who find these moments to be too convenient.

Wentland’s black and white artwork ranges from beautiful to basic in The Swan King. The characters are highly stylized, which helps them stand out against the monochrome backdrops. However, there are clearly pages and panels that Wentland put more thought into than others. The backgrounds, when detailed, look fantastic, but there are a few moments where some pages and panels could have benefited from something more dynamic than a blank white box. There were also a few instances of confused action and panel progression, but these cases were rare.

If you a fan of mythology or are looking for a cheap, quick fantasy adventure, The Swan King is a good pick-up. The shorter page count might turn some readers off, but there is a preview for Wentland’s Red Koi book at the end, and that helps flesh out the package. Plus, at a buy-in price of just a buck, The Swan King is hardly a bad value proposition. It is also a good re-read thanks to its brevity, and I enjoyed revisiting it for this review. You can pick up a copy for yourself, either digitally or physically, via the Alterna Comics website here. There are even still signed copies available at the time of this writing for those who are interested!

Thanks for reading!

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