Rivalries may be fleeting … but family is forever.
Writer: Dave Franchini
Artwork: Alessio Mariani
Colors: Juan Manuel Rodriguez
Letters: Kurt Hathaway
What They Say:
It’s Belle vs. CHIP as Belle becomes public enemy number one to the cryptid hunting organization. Everything is on the line here. Lives will be lost and everything Belle’s come to know as her life will change forever. Don’t miss the last chapter of Belle: Oath of Thorns!
Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):
The twisted truth behind Patricia’s obsession for power has finally been revealed, and thanks to the Casket of Thorns this former leader of C.H.I.P. now unveils literal ugliness, which was hiding in plain sight, disguised within the illusion that she had shown Belle and her friends. With the help of her four cohorts transformed by the relic, Otts knows there is but a single obstacle who stands in her way, and she is named Belle – the Beast Hunter. And yet this indomitable young woman will not be intimidated by creatures who now stand before her, the calming voice of a person who she once considered a friend is as corrupted as the gruesome face from which her now grating speech is projected, kind guidance has now been perverted into unsettling and very real threats. There is no option in negotiating with this abomination, what humanity she once had has been consumed by a monstrous hunger to conquer others, with a sickening grin taunting any attempts in trying to gain her redemption. Whatever chance there was to save the woman has been consumed by the curse of the beast that now subjugates her, and if Patricia wished for salvation, the madness that she displays against DiMarco amplifies her murderous ambition, closing off any chance that may have ever existed.
Belle knows if she or any of her family wish to survive, she must first defeat the coldness within the eyes of Otts, and yet even as she leaps into what seems to be a one sided fight, the pleading voice of Mel continues to save her even as they stand by watching helplessly. Each powerful strike could have easily cleaved mindless foes before, but as this battle continues DiMarco finds these transformed beings are no ordinary monsters, and while her skills has a beast hunter may have served well before, they are now essentially useless against the one who supplied her deadly equipment as these foes brush off each lethal yet annoying strike. Patricia takes great pleasure in witnessing the frustration of her former protégé, easily side stepping every clumsy technique with a brutal counter of her own, ceaselessly taunting the naïve girl with menacing remarks as her allies continue to envelope and intimidate those who were considered companions. With Mel, Uncle Louis and a now fully human Alex surrounded by these brutish soldiers, Otts delivers her ultimate threat – DiMarco will watch as her family dies, all while knowing she can do nothing to stop this cruel pronouncement. As she apologizes to her closest friend, Mel confidently states she believes in Belle and she must never give up, but with the odds this fully stacked against her … how can she ever hope to save those she loves the most?
Although Belle: Oath of Thorns does start slow by burdening the reader with a lengthy exposition to ground Otts’ foundation for the betrayal of Eleanor into feeding for her thirst of power, writer Dave Franchini still manages to weave this explanation into a compelling narrative to expound upon our heroine’s tragic backstory, and eventually a scathing rebuke of her father Joseph. But at the same time, while crafting the narrative Franchini does fall into an unfortunately overused method of creating tragedy for our hero – the passing of a parent which causes their mate to retreat within themselves and allow someone else to step in to take on the role of guardian or caregiver, such as with another nocturnal crime fighter. While this vulnerability does strike a chord of sympathy within the audience, one cannot get past the sense of déjà vu and thus draw comparisons as where else the author may try to mirror similar instances of emotional pain. However it is due to this technique that we whereby immediately draw an affinity toward Belle, seeing her not as the poor girl who had just lost her mother and became separated from her father and foster brother, but watch her grow into a strong and independent woman who is determined to live up to her matriarchal legacy. The introduction of Mel allows for a sister-like bond to grow between them, permitting her suffering to engender a new family bond, and even after we watch the supposed passing of Uncle Louis and his eventual return, it makes their partnership all that much stronger when she is trusted to take care of him within C.H.I.P. And yet even within all of these remarkable narrative moments, one cannot but have the same nagging feeling that when the truth behind Patricia’s betrayal is revealed, her motives are too banal by falling back onto the most basic needs, and as such her transformation reflects that primal urge. This straightforward reasoning seems to debase the complexity of a villainess who has ingratiated herself into the DiMarco family, become invaluable in their fight against the darkness, and yet in the end she succumbs to those same desires all in an effort to gain superficial desires such as wealth and power. Even with this shallow reshaping, Franchini attempts to balance karmic scales with the surprise appearance of the negligent father, but at the same time one cannot but question why Joseph would chose this time to come back, after how many years of ignorance and we will not blame Belle for her reaction and subsequent rejection in his want for redemption. However with all of the surprises that have been lavished upon as readers within this title, the one which I wish could have been brought to the forefront was a meaningful reunion with Alex, and yet he hardly has any words within the story until the end. Sister and brother have not seen each other since he left to find Eleanor, and when they finally are able to see each other in human form, he is too weak to speak plus the timing inopportune to allow for a heartfelt meeting with the one person she felt closest to aside from Candlestick. All in all, this series does have its high points in elaborating the history behind the Beast Hunter and how one person was able to create a rift with the DiMarco family, but at the same time, it falls a bit short in crafting a satisfying story which does not feel formulaic in its structure of standard character drives, thus resulting in an ending which is predictable in our understanding of a fundamental premise: Evil never wins and Good will always triumph.
This title was a bit shaky visually from the start due to artwork that seemed more concerned in reflecting the beauty and softness of our heroines Belle and Eleanor, but this was appropriate in its static portrayal of stoic characters and sterile conditions within C.H.I.P. However as the narrative became more frenetic and less concerned with allure by displaying women who were boldly confident in their actions within the second half, it allowed the calm refinement of Alessio Mariani’s amazing illustrations to lend true definition for a character who we admire due to her dedication of fighting against evil and for her family. And yet this finale has a definitive richness in both textural and grounding colors thanks to the somber and immersive palette of Juan Manuel Rodriguez, granting every panel an ominous depth of foreboding, emphasizing the sensational imagery and granting it an overt ugliness even within the beauty of Belle’s fight. The opening page immediately grabs your attention: allowing the reader to submerge themselves within the stern reflection of both sides – unyielding determination of the Beast Hunter versus the unfeeling coldness of someone who is lost to a savage hunger. The fantastic focus upon each set of eyes makes the standoff that more pronounced, with each magnificent panel made all the more intense thanks to Mariani’s concentrated effort in creating such remarkable delineation of each detail, thus allowing Rodriguez’s application of minute shadows and subtle color differences to amplify the contrast between the two opponents to an utmost degree. One cannot but feel a chill between them, plus witnessing DiMarco’s hand tremble before she leaps into the menacing demonic fray makes the following double page all the more stunning, watching her seductive catsuit cling to each captivating curve as she prepares to face indomitable foes within tattered rags. Barely visible action lines draw your attention to the center of the stunning piece, and yet what makes the contest all the more pronounced are paralleling frames of teeth with the corners: human – where you can almost hear a smothered breath being taken in before the strike, versus a primal depiction of evil in its mocking expression, imperceptibly allowing the audience to hear a chilling cackle echo from its fang filled confines. And yet even within this one sided battle one cannot but admire how innocent beauty of Mel shines through to help her friend with meaningful encouragement, all in the midst of suffocating shadows which seem to discourage any longing for success … even as readers silently cheer for the Beast Hunter to prevail within this hopeless fight.
While the legacy of Belle: Oath of Thorns at times seemed predictable, there is still a sense of originality within the telling of our heroine’s tale as we witness a young woman finally come to terms with her past and present, settling upon how she will face an uncertain future, and made all the more refreshing thanks to a simplistically driven villain who hides in plain sight, yet still helps as long as her goal remains viable. However it is the outstanding artwork and immersive colors which captivates the audience with the audacity of the story, magnetizing our attention to a series that is willing to take a chance to tell such a straightforward tale. And yet even as one finds a fulfilling satisfaction within the familiar, we still wish for more to see how our dynamic yet captivating heroine will come to terms with the meaning of absence against the gravity of betrayal.
Series Grade: A-
Rating: T (Teen)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: April 01, 2020