For some readers, seeing the creative team for Step By Bloody Step #1 will be enough for them to buy it, and with good reason. Writer Si Spurrier and artist Matías Bergara are skilled creators in their own right, but when working together, they’ve delivered some of the most evocative and imaginative fantasy comics of the last few years. Coda, a high fantasy adventure, felt like a reset in many ways, a reminder of what fantasy comics can be when given access to deep emotional beats. Along with Aaron Campbell, Spurrier and Bergara breathed new life into John Constantine with a Hellblazer run that was rooted firmly in the character’s past and England’s present, sadly canceled before they could tackle everything they had planned.
There’s a lot of pressure that comes along with having a reputation for excellence and innovation, but Spurrier and Bergara don’t just rise to the occasion with Step By Bloody Step—they leap over it as if the expectations were on the floor. The issue is oversized at more than forty pages, and features a number of double-page spreads that would easily serve as art pieces on their own. What really sets Step By Bloody Step apart is that it’s almost completely devoid of dialog, and what little it does feature is in a language that is definitely not English, and may not be alphabetic at all.
It takes a lot of trust and communication between a writer and artist to pull off a story that doesn’t use language but still tells a rich and inviting story. Comics are an inherently visual medium, but it’s disappointingly common to see pages awash in text, covering up valuable real estate that could’ve been better utilized by art—so it’s not just remarkable, but gratifying, to read a book that does the opposite. Bergara’s art is as lush and detailed as ever, his creature designs continue to leap off the page, and his skill with facial expressions and body language gets a chance to shine when devoid of dialogue. Colors by Matheus Lopes make the work pop, bright and dynamic while still utilizing muted color washes that sometimes leave the adventurers adrift in lovely mystery.
For the first few pages of the debut issue, the story feels tight and straightforward, focusing on a small child protected from monsters, the elements, and sometimes herself by a giant armored guardian. The layers peel back slowly as the unnamed girl and her chaperone move into new territories and encounter new dangers, each of them dealt with handily by the increasingly worn-looking robot, who is far from immune to the damages that each encounter leaves on it. The girl continues to grow and push at the boundaries that her escort has provided for her, ultimately exposing them to entirely new dangers and revealing secrets about them both.
Though the core of the plot feels familiar and simple, it’s the exacting skill and precision of the execution that make the book incredible to read. It’s reminiscent of The Last Unicorn or Mercer Mayer’s East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, stories that respect and prize our ability to recognize both beauty and fear, even as children. There’s no guarantee of the character’s safety, no promise that everything will turn out alright; but the danger feels like it belongs, the internal logic of the world already strong and compelling. Step By Bloody Step is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Spurrier and Bergara’s previous work together, but it’s also worth picking up on its own merit. A visual feast with real stakes and unique world building, it’s the perfect reminder of what comics can be.