February 2, 2014

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion, issue 8 "Battle and Betrayal"

Apologies for the delays and scheduling snafus of the last few weeks. Minnesota weather and all that.

Two armies converge on the location of the Hyve: Regent Galken and the forces of the Shining Realm, and Empress Devora and her armies of the Dark Domain. Angry words are exchanged, where it's revealed Galken was himself once a warrior before becoming an administrator, and his knowledge of the hell unleashed on the battlefield is what's made him so hesitant to fight. But today is the day worthy of battle, so the armies clash.

Atop the Hyve, Dargon and his team are distraught. They know the Shining Realm is depending on the powers in the Hyve to tip the battle in their favor, but all of the energy is gone... except for a small flicker Mantor secretly absorbed with his staff. Dargon decides to lead his men down to join the battle, but Mantor stops him, saying they have a responsibility to continue their mission. He points to a symbol carved in the rock, the crest of Dargon's missing father! He stayed true to his goal of tracking down all of the Hyves, and now its Dargon's turn to follow suit.

So our heroes take to their insectoids/Wing Thing and fly off. Spidrax moves to pursue, but Mantor uses the last of the Hyve's power to temporarily resurrect the bones of ancient creatures, which fight the villains off. In the fray, Galken at first was shocked to see his nephew run away, but realizing the prince must have had a good reason, Galken further rallies his forces and they drive the Dark Domain into a retreat.

The day has been saved, but the war for control of this world and its hidden, ancient powers has only just begun.


I peeled back the rather exciting (and ultimately somewhat misleading) cover of this eighth and final issue of Sectaurs with surprisingly mixed feelings. On the one hand, this series has been a bit of a slog, and at times a real chore to get through. On the other hand, we're coming off what was perhaps the series' best issue yet. The latter being a relative bit of praise, to be sure, considering that last week I compared reading its predecessors to eating feces.

Heading into the final issue, I suppose my primary curiosity was: were they able/would they attempt to wrap all of this up and give the series a conventional send-off, or would we get something akin to the ending of Visionaries, where it was clear the creative team were informed of the cancellation too late to tie anything up, and thus only managed to awkwardly slap on a coda which read "But that truth must remain unrevealed, for, sadly, dear readers, this is the final issue of Visionaries"? The answer is kind of both, and the results are, in true Sectaurs fashion, mixed.

Everything starts off a bit rushed. Kind of like a two minute drill with no time outs (that's a football reference, Noel). It's like all of the characters were rushed into place just seconds before the director yelled "Action!" and seem uncertain what to do. It's a little jarring at first, but let's face it, this ain't Shakespeare. It doesn't take long to connect the dots and go with the flow. As it stands, its themes are suitably epic, with lots of thorax-thumping (see what I did right there) and dramatic poses, but something feels off. Galken's sudden turn from cautious, introspective philosopher to braggadocio warrior is a moment I'd been hoping for, but the truncated storytelling here makes it feel unearned. Similarly, Spidrax's sudden caution feels a bit out of place. It's tough to say just how much better all of this would've played had we had more set up.

And just where is our "hero" during all this, you ask? He's watching it all from afar in total emo mode. The Hyve might as well have been a Hot Topic the way he was acting. Hey, Dargon, while you're there, could you pick me up a My Chemical Romance t-shirt?

The finale is rushed and the conclusions all rather unsatisfying as the war to end all wars is wrapped up within a page or two, with the bulk of it happening "off screen", and our band of renegade heroes march off into the sunset on a quest that shall forever remain untold.

I'll save the bulk of my thoughts for our wrap-up, but once again, I have mixed feelings here. Yes the bulk of this series was bad, but it just seemed to be hitting its stride. I definitely feel if we'd gotten to this point more organically, the results would've been much better.


Going into the final issue, I honestly didn't know what to expect. Would it be another random filler story, or the setup of a new batch of ongoing threads that'll never be resolved due to the sudden axing of the series? Surprisingly, it seems someone told the creative team that the axe was swinging down, because they pulled out all the stops and give us a massive finale!


So yes, we have a full on war break out, some key character conflicts reach a head, and the fate of this Hyve's power is ultimately resolved. But we also have a cliffhanger as not all the answers are given and our heroes continue their quest as they ride off into the sunset. I don't mind this. It's essentially the way the tv show ended, with the door left open for additional adventures should a reprieve come in later, but executed with far more skill here as genuine shifts form in the conflict, with a renewal of motivations which lets the series give you the best this franchise has ever had to offer, but in a way that goes out leaving me wanting more. Which, given the slipshod execution of both takes on this series, is really saying something.

The main problem here is that things are indeed rushed, that this was their last chance to play with these characters in this sandbox, and while they do smartly leave some threads hanging, they try to resolve too many all at once. The entire conflict at Prosperon with Regent Galken and Belana, which dragged for multiple issues now, is magically resolved off screen. Not one, but two massive armies are raised in what looks to be the very same day as the events of the previous issue, despite us clearly seeing the leaders and their forces rooted in their kingdoms during that installment. This is all done to give us our war, our big, epic smackdown between the two sides, but that was always such a distant turn for the story to take that it makes absolutely no sense for it to be happening here.

But hey, they didn't have much of a choice given that plummeting axe, so I'll go with it. I'll give them their war. I'll give them Galken instantly turning his doubting public into rallying troops. I'll give them making him an actual warrior who only turned to magisterial concerns because he saw as a young man the horrors of the battlefield. I'll give them the Empress still remaining unseen despite being in an open-air vehicle/insectoid in broad daylight.

Why? Because it's fun, it's thrilling, and it's great seeing the Geiger/Williams art kick into a final, winning sprint, and Mantlo's archaic dialogue finally sinking its footing into the operatic sweeps playing out. After the great moment of the last issue, where Dargon rejected ultimate power, he doubles it again by making the sacrifice to run away from the war, to pursue the next Hyve instead of fighting alongside his loved ones, because it's ultimately for the greater good. The agony he experiences as he makes the choice, the fury with which Mantor argues in its favor, the shock of Galken as he sees the hope of his nation suddenly flying off into the distance, these are all powerful character moments that actually make me regret we won't see what's encountered in the next week.

There are still a few problems, in that Zak suddenly realizes Dargon and Belana have a thing for one another, only to have no real reaction beyond it. Or Mantor having magically preserved some of the Hyve's power, which he blows in an unnecessary bit with resurrected skeletons. Or how this should have been issue four in a lean miniseries instead of issue eight of a bloated, failed ongoing.

But overall, I like it. This has been a frustrating franchise overall, in both incarnations, but this is a strong, moving, ultimately satisfying note to end it on, as we leave the bizarro bugs ew world of Symbion behind.

We'll be back next weekend with a look at the Sectaurs toyline.

In the early 90s, writer Bill Mantlo was tragically struck by a hit-and-run driver and left with a debilitating brain injury and insurance woes, all of which are chronicled in this moving article. If you've enjoyed Mantlo's work and would like to contribute to his ongoing care, please consider a donation.

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