PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


A World Is Born in Blood in '8House: Arclight #1'

Royals, monsters, and everything in between.

8House Arclight #1

Publisher: Image
Length: 22 pages
Price: $2.99
Author: Brandon Graham, Marian Churchland
Publication date: 2015-08

One of the key elements to any effective work of speculative fiction is the authenticity and believability of the world being built within it, what J.R.R. Tolkien described as instilling the work with the “inner consistency of reality.” Even the most fantastical realms when adhering to their own logic and rules can feel real and three-dimensional to the readers; it’s ultimately what allows extravagant worlds such as Westeros from Game of Thrones or the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe to feel so genuine to fans, even when the rules of such worlds permit White Walkers and talking raccoons. And the earlier the readers are pulled into the world, the more likely they are to continue believing it.

This kind of worldbuilding is what makes works such as Brandon Graham’s 8House: Arclight a delight: their capacity to bring us directly into a fictional reality and keep us there. As the first of three mini-series detailing a land ruled by eight royal Houses, Arclight tells the story of how a royal lady of one of the houses finds herself trapped in the body of a hideous creature. The story told in this first issue is not only gorgeously rendered, but pleasantly moving and sincere.

The issue begins with the titular character, Sir Arclight, traveling through the woods with a plant-like creature that is holding the spirit of a royal lady to whom Arclight is loyal. The two are attempting to track another strange creature through the woods, walking along the borders of the “Blood House” lands that contain the eight houses. They stumble upon a wounded, bright red eel-like creature, and the Lady insists they need it alive to determine what wounded it. Arclight visits a small farm plot just outside the woods and purchases a goose for a sacrifice. The Lady then uses a vial of blood she’s carrying to perform a spell that permits the spirit of the eel creature to enter the body of the deceased goose, turning it the same bright red. The new creature then accompanies the group on their journey.

These opening scenes introduce what seems to be a dominant theme in the comic: that of bodily fluidity. The fact that the Lady and the eel creature have magically had their souls transferred into other bodies implies a world where the boundaries between bodies are very thin. This is further emphasized by the fact that Arclight seems purposefully androgynous or genderqueer, making a bodily designation difficult. It’s an already fascinating aspect of this world that leaves us curious how much this fluidity affects an individual’s place within it.

The Lady tells Arclight that they must return to the city, so Arclight may return home and so she may look further into the creature they’ve been tracking. They reach and begin traveling across a Bridge called the Kainek Tekniki, a “single stone artery” that runs through the entire Blood Lands. The group approaches a statue along the bridge that permits entry into the city of Cserce-Miasta, and that requires blood to allow entry. Arclight pricks a finger on the statue, and the group continues into the city.

This scene establishes the other main theme of the story: blood. Whether it’s used in spells or as a key to a city, or even used metaphorically to describe a bridge, it’s clear this is a kingdom literally shaped by blood. This is not only a clever approach to the typical hierarchies of royalty and monarchy, in which politics and status are determined by blood, but also a fascinating contrast to the aforementioned theme of bodily fluidity. How solid a social determinant is blood when a body could be just a temporary vehicle housing different souls?

Back in the city, the Lady stations herself in Arclight’s quarters, located under a bridge. What follows is a solemn scene showing the Lady’s adjustment to her new life, looking at a holographic picture of her old self and old life, only to place it down and continue to research the creature she’s tracking. The accompanying narration reads “no point in dwelling.” Even in its brevity, it’s a moving scene of a strong-willed woman consigning herself to her fate.

Meanwhile, back in the city, Arclight is busy enjoying the nightlife when another Knight named Sir Nowak steps up to denounce Arclight’s nobility for traveling around with “bloodless nothings,” seemingly unaware of the body transfer. When Arclight threatens Nowak for this accusation, Nowak reveals his loyalty for Arclight’s old master, the Lady Kinga. The final scene of the comic shows Arclight returning to the Lady, revealing that her possessed body has returned to the city.

Though the story is light on dialogue, Brandon Graham paces it expertly, gradually revealing the story of the two main protagonists as he pieces together their world for the reader. He has also definitely shown a talent for this kind of creativity and construction with past works, such as the within the expansive world of Prophet. Despite the odd rules of the world of 8House, he lays it out for the reader with enough consistency for it to be believed. The brilliant artwork of Marian Churchland helps tremendously, which is detailed, colorful and striking enough to leave an impression of a reality all its own. The combination creates a story that is light on backstory or history, instead allowing the pieces to fall in place for the reader.

8House Arclight #1 is a wonderful exercise in concise storytelling and world building, and is not to be missed by anyone seeking to feel transported by their fiction.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.