BY THE HORNS, ISSUE #1
Writer: Markisan Naso
Illustrator: Jason Muhr
Publisher: Scout Comics
WHAT IS IT?
No monster, unicorn, or wizard is safe from the bloodlust of the weapon-wielding heroine in this epic fantasy, science-fiction genre mashup comic.
There's violence and monster-killing redolent of Monster Hunter and Skyrim adorned with a Final Fantasy RPG experience.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A year ago, Elodie's husband was trampled to death by vicious beasts – unicorns. As a result, Elodie spends her time traversing the continent of Solothus in hopes of someday finding and slaying every remaining one-horned creature that stole her beloved Shintaro from her. Unfortunately for her, the unicorns have become increasingly untraceable.
The farming village of Wayfarer relies on the help of every citizen to function, and Elodie's bloodthirsty hours hunting unicorns and returning with only slain monster heads to make foul-tasting soup aren't viewed as a favorable contribution. When the community leaders of Wayfarer exile Elodie, her bloodthirsty hunt for revenge leads her to a remarkable and magical discovery.
Will Elodie satiate her burning vengeance to eliminate the unicorn species?
Markisan Nako's fleshed-out characters and elaborate world-building are exceptionally realized for a first issue. The emotional depth portrayed flawlessly balances with the hyper fantasy universe Nako introduces.
Jason Muhr's art is the visually load-bearing foundation in By the Horns. There's a dreamlike feel to the imagery stabilized by original, yet familiar fantasy/sci-fi design elements. Recognizable artistic components ground the surreal narrative.
Andrei Tabacaru's warm, pastel-based colors enrich every panel and amalgamate with Muhr's linework. Tabacaru enhances bold, solid colors with light shading to reinforce the fantasy visuals.
Jason Muhr flowers his letters with soft edges and slants the words, subtly conveying that magical, RPG cut-scene sentiment.
The first page immediately sets the tone for the comic, beautifully juxtaposing gory violent delights with the ethereal fantasy setting. The startling opening image of Elodie standing victorious over a slain unicorn, blood dripping from her axe, will linger in your thoughts as the next 22 pages uncover exposition.
Several pages forgo dialogue with striking results. Muhr and Tabacaru's synthetic art wordlessly progresses the narrative and evoke a powerful ethos.
The intimate scene between Elodie and village council member Haru is an example of operative comic book storytelling. Nako's dialogue is essential and laced with snarky humor while the art adds to the tonal seriousness and sagacity of the situation.
Nako sprinkles in appropriate dashes of comedy, complementing the narrative's earnestness. Readers won't stop thinking about monster head soup after finishing By the Horns!
Character design deserves much praise. Every monster looks terrifying and unique. Sajen, Elodie's half wolf/half deer, has a visually appealing look while simultaneously portraying Sajen's brawn. Elodie herself resembles a character who could easily be a Final Fantasy conception, with her science-fiction reminiscent outfit, bright hair highlights, and cutting facial features.
There's a tender, raw emotion undercutting the engaging, visually stunning narrative about a fierce woman on an adventure, layering the story with thematic complexity.
Relationship dynamics immensely strengthen Elodie as the protagonist. Scenes where readers see the withdrawn Elodie's human connection with Haru or her emotional bond to animal companion Sajen, produce the most outstanding moments in the comic.
Experimental paneling choices superbly pay off in the swiftly-paced action scenes where Elodie must wield her weapons and battle multiple enemies simultaneously.
Fight scenes are a high point in By the Horns, as Muhr's SFX lettering and kinetically rendered art magnify the battles' intensity.
By the Horns includes a RPG evocative page that details the anatomy of each monster and how to defeat them in warfare. The breakdown doesn't take you out of the scene and functions as further world-building immersion.
The red panda is adorable and far too cute for words. That is all.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
The splash page on page 13 is executed flawlessly, but the subsequent, double-page spread on page 14 would have served the narrative better if a splash page hadn't preceded it.
On page 16, the setting text descriptor uses a font that feels distracting. The style matches the font used on page 2, but it feels bigger and the white of "Lycus" is jarring. It could have been more effective if the text was smaller or had different page placement.
As a content warning, there's some violence, carts full of monster heads, and slight gore. Still, none of these images are especially disturbing.
The story slows in the latter half, but the dialed-down pacing does help in forming a shocking reveal on the final page.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
By the Horns #1 is essentially like watching the cut scenes of a fantasy video game play out, except you emotionally tether yourself to an unexpectedly multi-layered character. Adventure stories rely on constant story beats, but Markisan Nako also carefully decelerates the high-stakes action to develop Elodie's character. The protagonist is ruthless and fearless in the face of danger, but she experiences trauma from tragedy.
There's no lack of exhilarating battles in By the Horns #1. The personal and emotional stakes Elodie faces as an individual sets this hyper fantasy, survival comic apart from redundant quest tales. By the Horns #1 uses breathtaking, colorful imagery and well-executed drama in this innovative entry into the magical fantasy/science-fiction genre. Any fan of adventure-based RPG games and watching a flawed, but strong heroine vanquish monsters in epic battles should read this comic. Also fans of soup.
Additionally, the band Arctic Sleep has created an original soundtrack to supplement the By the Horns reading adventure!
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Voracious by Markisan Naso & Jason Muhr
White Ash by Charlie Stickney & Conor Hughes
Ruination by Ryan Bis & Giulia Lalli
If you like the art:
Red Agent #1: Island of Dr. Moreau by Brian Studler & Jason Muhr
Dragonsblood by Nick Burmel & Jason Muhr
Inkblot by Emma Kubert & Rusty Gladd
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Markisan Naso – Writer (@DarthSan)
Multitalented: An accomplished writer, editor, and feature author for comics, magazines, and prose collections.
Dream Team: He wrote and co-created the critically acclaimed comic series, Voracious with Jason Muhr.
Music Lover: He resides in Honolulu, Hawaii and shares his love of Heavy Metal music on his podcast, METALHEADS.
Jason Muhr – Illustrator, Letterer, & Designer (@JasonMuhr)
Multitalented: He works as an artist, designer, and letterer in the comics industry where his work can be found in Marvel Comics, Valiant, and Zenescope.
Dream Team: Co-creator, artist, designer, and letterer for the prolific, three volume comic series Voracious with Markisan Naso from Action Lab Entertainment.
He resides in Chicago and was a comic book retailer for six years before he shared his talents as an artist and designer.
Andrei Tabacaru – Colorist/Effects (AndreiTabacaru)
Dream Team: He is the colorist for Naso & Muir's Voracious comic series.
He has been working as a professional comic book colorist since 2013. His work can be found in the comics POLIS: The Trial of Socrates, Martian Comics, and The Synthetics.
Outlander: Hails from Bucharest, Romania.
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All By the Horns characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Skull Fracture LLC, Jason Muhr, or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED