In part one, I looked at some of the reasons why Sojourn was CrossGen’s most successful title and then reviewed the prequel and the first 18 issues. By the end of the 18th issue, Arwyn had successfully retrieved two of the five arrow fragments that she needed to complete her quest. However, in gaining the second fragment, she had lost her comrade-in-arms Gareth who had been thrown off of a cliff by the orc captain Bohr.
Issues 19-24: The Desert Spiders of Oudubai
Ron Marz likes to break up his longer story arcs with done-in-one tales. He did this most effectively in issues 12 and 13 with a confrontation between Arwyn and Neven and then a spotlight story on Bohr. Now, he does it again. Issue 19 takes us back in time telling us the tale of how Arwyn first fell in love with Darian. It’s a touching tale, made more poignant because Darian and their daughter died in the opening sequence of issue 1.
Following that excellent solo story, Arwyn continues her journey south from the cliffs of Ankhara, passing through some scrubland on her way to the desert country of Oudubai. She meets some highway robbers and manages to defeat them, but it still seems like her quest is becoming more and more dangerous.
Then, Sojourn makes its first major mis-step. When Arwyn arrives at the border town of Aldinal Gareth is there waiting for her. This is the same Gareth whom we and Arwyn saw thrown to his death at the end of issue 17. Gareth’s death had been a significant moment for this series. Arwyn’s quest had already proven dangerous with the death of the dragon in the second arc. But that death hadn’t affected her- or us- as personally as the death of Gareth. His death brought an emotional impact to the series that hadn’t been there before. Yet here he was, sitting and drinking a beer as if nothing had happened.
This non-death was bad enough for the individual title of Sojourn. It was also bad for the larger company. CrossGen had never promised that everybody who died would stay dead. The sigil-bearers were powerful beings who would often escape death. Sojourn itself opened with the resurrection of Mordath. But there was an initial sense that most of the characters who died would stay dead. Scion’s Ethan lost a brother. Meridian’s Sephie lost a father. That sense was irrevocably removed at this time. It wasn’t just Gareth’s survival. Characters in several other books died at this time only to come back a couple of issues later such as Javi in Negation and Thraxis in Crux. And for some characters, especially Thraxis and Gareth, the explanations were weak and improbable.
I had liked Gareth and was saddened by his death. His improbable return disappointed me so much that it took me a little bit to get into the next story. However, subsequent readings showed me that this story wasn’t as bad as I had initially thought. Furthermore, it’s Gareth’s return that makes this particular story so much fun. For the first three arcs, Gareth flirted with Arwyn, pursued her and seemed to be falling in love. Arwyn didn’t reciprocate his feelings at all. She rebuffed him and called him names. But with Gareth’s apparent death, Arwyn realized that she had been developing feelings for him. Arwyn’s anger at his return was anger that he had put her through so much emotional distress. Yet despite their reunion, Ron Marz contrived a way to keep the two characters apart. Marz introduced Cassidy, a thief and a former lover of Gareth’s. Suddenly, the roles are switched. Cassidy is openly flirting with Gareth while he tries to keep her at arm’s length so as to not offend Arwyn. And Arwyn is angrily jealous even though she can’t openly admit that she even likes Gareth. This particular love triangle is so much fun that I have to forgive Marz for bringing Gareth back from the dead. I just wish that he hadn’t handled it so improbably.
Issues 25-30: On Land and Sea
Issue 25 marks the debut of a new writer, Ian Edginton. Ron Marz’s duties at CrossGen had been expanding and after two years on the title, this was the assignment that he chose to give up. However, Marz left Edginton a nice little spider-web to unravel. At the end of the Oudubai arc, Bohr had finally captured Arwyn and was leading her back to Mordath’s fortress. Meanwhile, Cassidy had apparently betrayed Arwyn and stolen the arrow fragments- now numbering three- for herself. Edginton treats the conundrum as an opportunity. He opens with a solo story in which Bohr tells Arwyn about Mordath’s history from the orc’s point-of-view. Then, Bohr’s platoon is beset by vicious desert lizards. The orcs are devastated. Bohr and Arwyn are the lone survivors. Through the battle, they gain a begrudging respect for each other and Bohr agrees to let Arwyn go.
After that opening one-shot salvo, Edginton began to put his own stamp on the title. Overall, it was a move sideways as some of the changes worked well while others didn’t. One move that worked was Edginton’s decision to give Mordath a more active role. Throughout Marz’s run, Mordath was confined to his central fortress while his orc minions did the dirty work. Edginton creates a coup against Mordath. The coup fails, but it spurs Mordath into leaving the fortress and taking the fight to his enemies. It was a good move. However, it was accompanied by two bad ones. The big Mordath moment came in issue 26 and it wasn’t a good idea to follow the new reader friendly highly promoted and discounted issue 25 with an issue that focused on the villain instead of the hero. It’s understandable in that issue 26 was a scheduled artistic fill-in, but it still undercut some of the momentum that the previous issue had created. The other mis-step was more significant. Edginton introduced a pair of sorcerers who were setting themselves up as rivals to Mordath’s rule. The idea is interesting. It gave us a villain meddling in Arwyn’s life as a counterpoint to Neven. And it added an extra threat to Mordath. Unfortunately, the two sorcerers debated and acted from afar, undoing the energy that had been gained from putting Mordath in motion.
Edginton’s arrival did bring another positive change in terms of pace. Sojourn, like most of CrossGen’s books, was accused of moving too slowly. I always thought that the complaint was unfair as more real change tended to happen in a CrossGen series than in one from another publisher. Yet that didn’t stop Edginton from proving me wrong and picking up the pace. His first story arc had Arwyn, Gareth and Cassidy hiring a boat to take them from Oudubai in the south to Skarnhime in the north. In the space of four issues, he included a pirate attack, a shipwreck, a mad scientist, a living island, a second shipwreck and an island full of beautiful women who happened to be dragons. It still makes for a trade-friendly six-issue travel arc, but it seems like more than that.
Meanwhile, Greg Land continues to shine as the series artist. The introduction of Cassidy had given him two beautiful women to draw on a regular basis. And with these last two arcs, Land was given a chance to delve into exotic locations as well. First, he drew an enchanting desert and then, he drew an exciting sea. And of course, it didn’t hurt that the new writer had him draw his second harem of the series.
Issues 31-34: The Cold Wastes of Skarnhime
This is the end of Sojourn, though not the end of the story. With this arc, Arwyn and her allies reach the cold north of Skarnhime. It’s home to the fourth fragment of Ayden’s arrow (though we’ve been to all five lands as readers thanks to Bohr and Mordath’s journeys to the forests of Grimbor) and a race of trolls that are cousins to the orcs.
By this time, Ian Edginton has shifted the focus a little. The big complications no longer center on the relationships. Arwyn has her quest, while Gareth and Cassidy have each other. I like this resolution. Sojourn could have dragged the romantic triangle on for a long time, but didn’t. Instead, they played with it for an arc or two, then resolved it and moved on to new complications. The new complications, however, are not of the romantic sort. Rather, they’re political. The new sorcerers reach out to Arwyn as an ally against Mordath. Meanwhile, Mordath re-enlists an orcish witch who had helped him three hundred years earlier. And the trolls of Skarnhime seem as ready to oppose Mordath’s rule as the winged Nubians of Ankhara. The political landscape seems to shift every couple of issues as characters find new allies in unlikely places and these are the complications that keep the story moving forward.
Unfortunately, that forward movement is cut short. CrossGen filed for bankruptcy and Sojourn ended on a cliffhanger. Arwyn defeated an abominable snowman at the end of issue 33 but apparently blew herself up in the process. Issue 34 focused on Mordath’s movements and on the surviving couple of Gareth and Cassidy. The series ends, not only with Arwyn’s quest unfinished but with the heroine of the story supposedly deceased.
There are a couple of ways to look at this ending. The obvious one is disappointment. Though Sojourn was never the most innovative of fantasy tales, it was still a great driving epic story. It’s disappointing that the story didn’t end, that Mordath was never defeated let alone confronted. It’s disappointing that things just sort of stopped. But there’s also a sense of relief. Some of the other CrossGen titles had more warning of their end. Most of those titles rushed to unsatisfactory ending and didn’t finish well. Perhaps it was better for Sojourn to be cut off abruptly then to try and wrap a three-year epic up in a single issue. At least our imaginations can finish the tale.
Anyway, Sojourn was easily CrossGen’s most successful title. It was the company’s best-seller for years and even experienced a successful transition between writers. Plus, it was a good, fun read that was simply gorgeous to look at. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Originally Published at CaptainComics.us, on June 15, 2007
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