[Editing to add: Shade and sweet water, Elfquest.com visitors!]
So last night Dara said to me, “How caught up are you on Elfquest?”
Not very, I admitted, at which point Dara promptly urged me to get caught up. So I re-read issue #8 of The Final Quest on my iPad, just to refresh my memory of where I’d left off. Then I read issues #9 and #10, which were the next two I had queued up waiting in my Dark Horse app.
Then I went OMG, burned through reading #11, and went and grabbed #12 and #13 off of Dark Horse’s site just so I could read through the rest of what was available as fast as possible.
Because holy crap. This is the most engaged I’ve been with Elfquest in years. And all I can think now is how, if these plot points had happened during the heyday of Two Moons MUSH, the population of the game would have flipped its collective shit over what’s going down now on the world of Abode.
Who else is reading? Tell me about it in the comments! But beware: spoilers and I mean MAJOR SPOILERS behind the fold!
RIGHT THEN, where the hell to start?
We knew going in at the beginning of this story that the whole idea here was going to be gathering as many of the elves all over the world as possible into the Palace, with the implication being that the entire elven species was ready to NOPE right off the world of Two Moons. And all throughout the various issues of this run, we’ve been moving all the pieces into place to set this up. I’d been following along, but hadn’t been engaged enough to leap on each new issues as soon as it came out. Only part of this has been due to a tight band of available reading time on my part; the rest of it has simply been that there’s been a certain lack of focus and gravitas to the story, a lack that has kept me from fully committing to it.
Don’t get me wrong–the art’s been lovely, and I’ve certainly appreciated the stakes of things like Ember and Teir’s Recognition, and how she had to specifically deny Recognition in order to keep her tribe from being discovered by Angrif Djun and his men. I absolutely appreciate the ramifications of the humans developing firearms. And I’ve been sympathetically wincing at the foreshadowing we’ve been getting about how Moonshade is turning away from the Way–and by extension, from Strongbow.
But by the sheer epic scope of this plot, I’ve been feeling like it’s been hard for me to latch onto any particular plot thread. We’ve had repeated instances of years going by in a small number of panels, too. And because time’s been proceeding at that level, because we’ve been getting intermittent glimpses of what’s been going on, it’s been harder for me to really get engaged by the action.
Until issues #10 and #11, where we get a hard one-two-three punch of plot revelations that shake up everything to its core. And then sets it on fire for good measure.
Punch the first: Skywise admits to Cutter that he has feelings for Timmain. All well and good; we’ve seen hints of this in previous stories. He tells Cutter that he longs to hold Timmain, to warm her, to look her in the eyes.
Punch the second: And apparently Timmain clued in on this, though we don’t see her overhearing that conversation either audibly or telepathically. She abruptly reveals herself to the others in a new, shorter form that ever so conveniently puts her right at the correct height to be eye-to-eye with Skywise. And she tells him she loves him too.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE.
Punch the third: Because then, we have Cutter fretting that he’s standing in the way of Leetah and Skywise being able to freely commit to the call of the Palace–because he’s mortal and wolf-blooded, and he doesn’t want to go. But he also doesn’t want to be the one to keep Leetah and Skywise from going. So he frets about this to Timmain.
And she’s all “about that–not actually a problem.” Because SURPRISE, Cutter, Blood of Ten Chiefs! You actually have half of Timmain’s soul!
I actually had to read the page where this reveal drops a couple of times just to make sure I’d read what I thought I did.
And the story barely gives you any time to really appreciate the ramifications here, because Cutter does not cope.
He flips right out, in fact, and flees in panic into the forest. So urgently and violently that he draws New Moon on Leetah when she tries to reach him by sending his soulname.
That, even more so than the actual reveal, rattled me in a way Elfquest hasn’t done so in I don’t remember how long. Because if you’ve been following this comic since its early days, you know how much Cutter’s gone through in all his long life. This is the chieftain whose vision led the Wolfriders to discover the other elf tribes in the world. He’s gone through half a millennium of separation from Leetah and Skywise in Kings of the Broken Wheel. He’s lost Holts and tribesmates to fire and humans and Madcoil and trolls and much, much more.
But he’s never been truly broken by any of it.
This, though? This broke him. And if you know and love Elfquest, you cannot help but understand why. Because this revelation is a hammer blow to Cutter’s very identity. He’s just found out that his core self, everything tied up in the single syllable Tam, is not what he thought it was. It’s tantamount to his being told “your soulname is a lie”.
And I can’t think of a worse thing to happen to a Wolfrider.
Now that I’m caught up through issue #13, my mind’s churning with reactions, too. The panels where we see Cutter fleeing through the woods in feral panic are some of the most powerful I’ve ever seen Wendy Pini do. Set off against this, I’m finding myself stunned at how for the first time in the entire history of this comic, Timmain has turned into a real character–a character who has conversations and desires and who actively participates in the plot, as opposed to just this mystical, magical presence who hangs out on the edge of the action and causes others to act because of her.
And now, too, a lot of things suddenly make a lot more sense. If Timmain and Cutter are two halves of the same soul, well, gosh, this sure says a lot about how Skywise is in love with Timmain, doesn’t it? We even see Timmain talk about this in her conversation with Cutter–how Skywise has essentially Recognized them, but has never been able to have a child from that Recognition, and does this mean Timmain’s going to have his cub now?
(And is that cub going to be Jink?)
Does this mean that Cutter will have access to Timmain’s abilities? Is he going to turn into a shapeshifter?
Because now I’m imagining this mad retreat of Cutter’s leading him to go full-on Timmorn. This is a fundamental tear-down of everything Cutter is, after all. And if his self is going to be shattered so thoroughly, it would make dramatic sense to me if he discovers that he does in fact have access to Timmain’s gifts. Because if this plot’s going to break him apart like that, we have to have a payoff of similar magnitude.
Meanwhile, oh god Strongbow and Moonshade. This plot’s not hitting me quite as hard, just because we’ve had some hints that this was coming. But now we do finally have Moonshade fully committing not only to the Palace, but also to the removal of her wolf blood.
And Strongbow’s reaction to that is just wrenching. No dialogue at all, as befits him. He just looks at Moonshade–and he knows.
(And as soon as I saw that panel, Rillwhisper of the Willowholt woke up in the back of my head and went Oh no WYL. Because I’ve still got roleplay logs from my days on Two Moons where Rillwhisper comforted Strongbow after a huge falling out with Moonshade. Granted, she didn’t bail on her wolf-blood at the time, but still. AUGH. *sniff*)
Nor is this story content to snare my attention with these two huge threads. There’s so much more going on, stuff to which, as I’ve described above, I’ve had a hard time committing. But in the last few issues it’s seemed like even the smaller plot threads are suddenly ablaze with light.
We’ve got Dart and Mender apparently developing a relationship now. We’ve got Shenshen getting the healers to make her look human so she can journey with Shuna and give healing and comfort to the human tribes, and help them deliver their young. We’ve got Windkin getting the healers to shape him some fairy-like wings, letting him fly in his father’s footsteps as it were–while yet doing so in a way that’s all his own. We’ve Korafay showing signs of finally becoming an interesting character on her own, as she inspires Reef (a.k.a. the Broken One) to finally reach the full potential of what he can be.
We’ve got elves from all over the world answering the Palace’s call, glimpses of previously unknown tribes–and a new character who finally comes on camera and raises all sorts of interesting questions as to “who the hell is this guy and what’s his history?” Hi Dre-Ahn! Your poor pony looks like he’s had a really long day.
And we’ve got Rayek refusing to release Winnowill’s spirit into the Palace–because he claims he actually does love her and wants to find a way to let her be with him always. To wit, dude, how exactly is this going to work again? Because we even get a sequence where Rayek’s going full-on hardcore on the humans who have just shot Venka, urged on by Winnie’s vengeful magic, and he even calls her on it and demands to know if she’s just trying to get him killed so she can break free of his body. Winnie’s all maaaaaaaaaaybe.
And the glorious thing about this plot, which Dara brought up? None of what’s going on is in any way, shape, or form Winnowill’s fault. Which is, I gotta admit, a refreshing change of pace. 😀
And of course this leads me to holy shit the humans have firearms now, and we’re seeing a truly terrifying escalation of human ability to hunt down and wipe out elves. It’s almost eerie how this calls back for me, clear back to the original Quest, back to the days when the human tribe in that story burned down the Wolfrider’s Holt while yelling about demons the entire time.
The humans are still yelling about demons. But now their tech has advanced. And now they’ve got guns. And a fully armed war fleet coming to Iceholt on a search-and-destroy mission. How creeptastic is it that Angrif Djun had his own skull placed on the figurehead of the flagship, too? WOW.
(And, speaking as the instigator of the Vraeyans on Two Moons, in which plot we had humans with more advanced tech coming to Iceholt, I see all sorts of deeply alarming ways this can go, I can tell you!)
In short: HOLY CRAP. Issue #14 can’t get here fast enough now.