Little Bird #2 Review: I am the Land
There’s a revolution to be fought, only Little Bird is dead.
And then things get weird.
Story: Darcy Van Poelgeest
Art: Ian Bertram
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Design: Ben Didier
Publisher: Image Comics
Second issues are hard, but Van Poelgeest and Bertram don’t falter in “Little Bird” #2. We travel with Little Bird to speak to her mother, and in the most spoiler-free terms possible, she learns a little bit about where Tantoo comes from and why she and her mother both are the way they are. Similarly, we dig into Bishop’s past, meet his odd son Gabriel, and learn that there’s more at stake for him than the mantle of leadership. Or is there?
Van Poelgeest and Bertram are clever in how they work in character detail and teach us about Little Bird’s world. It’s decidedly cyberpunk of them to drop us into the middle of a conflict and spoon-feed us details, especially as there appears to have been some sort of social apocalypse that’s led us to shun the “mods” and embrace some good ol’ Crusades-style zealotry. It’s a matter of taste for sure, but what Van Poelgeest chooses to reveal as we go provides more than enough flavor to keep us from reaching for tangential world-building that would slacken the pace and derail Little Bird’s journey thus far. The iconography is enough. The landscape is enough. The grim determination is enough. Keep reading.
Bertram’s art is out of this world. Bishop’s sweaty, feverish and fanatical face is at odds with his serene, gaunt robed body, and Gabriel’s mysterious figure is laden with menace, dread and sorrow. The tech that peppers the universe is so delightful odd and Moebius-esque in its serene detail that it almost takes our breath away. The ascetic wonder of the projected image of the empire runs right into the ragged edge of its cruelty and abrupt violence in so many ways. Every page boasts a myriad of these moments, and you can spend several minutes poring over panels to devour every little aspect. Or, you can flip through as fast as Bertram’s tightly paced action demands, because there’s never not a moment where absolutely everything is at stake.
One thing in particular that stands out in terms of layouts is how deft Bertam is with narrow horizontal and vertical panels to highlight details and build tension. Stacked panels can feel oppressive, and sometimes it’s difficult to pick the correct angle or moment to convey a visual in a thin slice of the page, but Bertram uses them in multiple ways to draw out moments for peak encapsulation. One such moment is Tantoo’s journey into darkness, which ends with a series of small black panels that trail off to the edge of the page like the end of a film strip or the flutter of an eyelid. The farm that flowers into gentle, pastel life below is the exact emotional hit the story needs in that moment to pause, draw breath, find Tantoo rooted in her gentleness – and have it wiped away a page later with brutally measured acceleration into dreamy madness. Bertram expertly plays with our emotions and provides some very cool visual variation in other action scenes in the book with small, irregular or unique stackings that never sacrifice that careful, regimented feeling that pervades the book. Order stalks us through “Little Bird” much as Bishop and his Holy War stalk free thought and difference, and Bertram’s skill at play evokes an entirely appropriate level of discomfort.
The scene where Tantoo stumbles into brief refuge is intense and beautiful as it stands, but Hollingsworth’s work brings this scene, and this book, to another level. Hollingsworth takes Bertram’s precision and populates it with delicious, visceral, heartbreaking life. We travel through the dim, horrific wasteland of putrid color that is Tantoo’s existence and escape, with a brief portent of what’s to come in the vibrant colors of the “mods,” and when Tantoo happens out of the darkness and into the light of the farm … well. It’s a moment for pastels, gorgeous foliage, bright hits of color and some peaceful, rooted introspection before the sickness, blood and fire of the regime come knocking. Hollingsworth knows how to blend a rainbow of colors down a page, how to intersperse a minimal palette with darkness and how to bathe the brutality of Bishop’s world in just the right cold blue glow of pious certainty.
Bidikar’s work in the first issue was gorgeous, but this issue sees some more playfulness despite the heavy subject matter. There’s a beautiful action scene in the second half of the book that features some very cleverly-placed sound effects, and it is still astonishing how well Bidikar blends those effects with what Bertram’s drawn in. The choice to make Gabriel’s balloons just a little rough suits the mystery of the character very nicely, and both the dialogue font and Little Bird’s narration somehow manage to convey youth, hope and brutality all at once. The drone “speech” styling is unique, and the way Bidikar handles adding dialogue to Bertram’s narrow panels, especially in burst balloons, is delightful. Lettering is an art form, and Bidikar demonstrates and elevates that in “Little Bird.”
What else is there to say? With stunning craft and care, “Little Bird” isn’t quite like any other book you’re reading, or have read before, or will probably read again. The Axe is revealed, the revolution poised to explode and the journey Little Bird finds herself on is fraught with more than just personal peril. Van Poelgeest and Bertram are setting up stakes that are far deeper than political ideology or ego death. This is the land, the root and the true self against the brutal forces of the neutered, uncaring and twisted godhead of civilization.
It doesn’t get much more dire than this.
Pick up “Little Bird” #2 this Wednesday at your LCS. The first issue is now in its second printing, so pick up a copy of that while you’re at it. You won’t want to miss getting your hands on this gem.