Review: Liber Arcana: Into the Void of Death

Reviewed by Seán Donnelly

Created by M. Valdemar

Liber Arcana: Into the Void of Death is artist M. Valdemar’s sequel to the first Liber Arcana instalment, Dark Medieval Times. The influence of the heavy metal genre are apparent from the outset. Not only does the title font consciously echo the serrated style associated with the genre, but the titles of both issues reference works by bands Mindlag Project and Satyricon, respectively. These choices herald a work that is unashamedly grim and cynical in its setting and outlook. Liber Arcana is a macabre fantasy that is certainly not for the faint of heart.

The book’s main character Arcana is a product of the occult, like a gothic Red Sonja. She journeys into an unforgiving world of magic, monsters, and mystery, all while reckoning with a past that has left her intertwined with death itself. Overall the comic has a strong pulp fantasy influence in its writing and art direction akin to Red Sonja and other works in the swords and sorcery genre; Arcana wouldn’t look too out of place on the cover of – appropriately enough – Heavy Metal magazine. However what works as an eye-catching illustration on a magazine cover can become gratuitous when spread across several panels. Arcana is sometimes posed in fashions that are forced and unnatural, and thus distracting; when juxtaposed with the extreme violence towards the comic’s end, it becomes gratuitous.

The artwork, while somewhat inconsistent in perspective and occasionally flat, is overall successful. It conveys the dank, bleak mood of Arcana’s world with small, oppressive panels that expand for fighting scenes. This is an impassioned work, and that frenetic energy can be seen in its artwork. Every motion, every swing of Arcana’s blade, feels important and not just action for action’s sake. Consequently, it keeps the narrative moving at a smooth pace. The illustrations employ the same scratchy, weathered pencilling seen in manga like Berserk, depicting a wasteland where hope and charity are thin on the ground. The narration is oftentimes poetic which can be a stark contrast with the gruesome reality of Arcana’s predicament, though this is by no means a bad thing. Indeed the dialogue is altogether more colloquial and adds plenty of colour and character to an otherwise black-and-white world – quite literally in fact. The world of Liber Arcana is rendered in striking monochrome, most notably in Arcana’s hair, adding to its pulp adventure atmosphere while consciously echoing serialized manga. The attention-to-detail often associated with the latter medium helps Liber Arcana capture the grungy pestilence of medieval settings, and it’s in this setting that Valdemar clearly is most at home in. The energy and enthusiasm of this project must be lauded and will only lead to stronger work as the story progresses. With hope, it will.