REVIEW: 'Helm Greycastle' #1 by Henry Barajas, Rahmat Handoko, and Bryan Valenza

New Latinx fantasy by HENRY BARAJAS, author of the critically acclaimed LA VOZ DE M.A.Y.O.: TATA RAMBO! The last dragon prince has been abducted-kept prisoner by an unknown threat: AZTEC MEXICA! Helm Greycastle and his outsider comrades are here to save the prince-but are recruited by a resistance plotting to overthrow Montezuma. Will Greycastle help save the people of MEXICA...or rescue the dragon prince and flee?  

BONUS! HELM GREYCASTLE #1 includes a Latinx one-shot RPG (5E compatible) written by TRISTAN J. TARWATER (Rolled & Told) and art by JEN VAUGHN. 

HELM GREYCASTLE #1

Writer: Henry Barajas

Artist: Rahmat Handoko, Bryan Valenza

Publisher: Image Comics

Release Date: April 28, 2021

Cover Price: $4.99

Score:

★★★1/2 (3.5/5)

With a name like Helm Greycastle, the new Image comic named after its protagonist, is undoubtedly a fantasy adventure series. Written by Henry Barajas and illustrated by Rahmat Handoko with Bryan Valenza, it offers familiar fantasy characters in an exciting adventure encompassing some Mesoamerican history and mythology as an added bonus. 

The issue wastes no time jumping into some swords and sorcery battle as they retrieve a sacred scroll from a bunch of living skeleton warriors. It's also a clever way to introduce some of the characters, Helm, his wife, a dwarf, and an elf. An eclectic group of fantasy staples that look and move great thanks to Handoko and Valenza. They're trying to heal a comrade who was ambushed and the Dragon Prince he was protecting was kidnapped. It sets up a risky rescue mission that will pit one kingdom against another. 

The Aztec Empire depicted here never lost to the Spanish Conquistadors allowing Moctezuma to continue to rule. That is a point of contention as there's an insurrection bubbling and that lends to the drama and Shakespearean tragedy that seemingly awaits its emperor. It's a refreshing inclusion of Mesoamerican culture, along with its mythological aspects, that gives the underused mythos some much-needed exposure as a powerful empire as any in history. Even as an Mexican-American myself, I wasn't taught much about the Aztec era of Mexico beyond the calendars we used to get from the carneceria featuring an Aztec warrior carrying a beautiful maiden in his arms. There's a lot to learn even in fictionalized tales like the gods they looked to (even if I have trouble pronouncing their names in Nahuatl). Hopefully, Mesoamerican folklore will get more appreciation and folded into more mainstream storytelling. 

The emergence of the Aztecs in a  D&D-style fantasy can be a little jarring. There are two energies at play in the issue because the pacing and action with Helm and his group is more gung-ho and ready to fight. The Aztec side is much more mired in royal decorum and discussion. There's a lot going on and perhaps too many characters being introduced without more context.  The sudden reveal of an uprising seems rushed and conveniently executed. There's a lot of fleshing out still to do and perhaps subsequent issues will better blend these two worlds and provide the character work needed. 

The 'Sacred Armor' RPG at the end of the issue provides a lot of value for readers. It's a full-fledged tabletop game ready to play. 

'Helm Greycastle' #1 is an ambitious fantasy series incorporating traditional swords and sorcery with Mesoamerican folklore. It stumbles out out of the gate with plotlines that just need some refinement and context. There's enough here to glean for what's sure to become one big sprawling adventure pitting one kingdom versus another. It's a fresh fantasy series set in a world we haven't seen enough of. 


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