Review by Ian Keogh
Black Beth is an obscure character even by the standards of British comics, which at one time turned out dozens of serialised adventure strips every week. Her story was commissioned from Spanish artist Blas Gallego for a subsequently cancelled comic, and only saw print ten years later when inventory material was dredged to fill a one-shot special in 1988. Despite some stunning art, a mere 22 pages originating in the 1970s is hardly prime material for revival.
However, one of those who read and really rated the story in 1988 was a young Alec Worley, who still remembered Black Beth when he became a comic writer. This collection supplies the original story so loved by Worley, followed by two shorts and a longer serial produced by Worley and Greek artist Dani.
Reading Gallego’s story it’s easy to see why it impressed Worley at a young age, and the surprise becomes that it’s not better remembered. Gallego starts with a tyrant consulting a witch who predicts his downfall at the hands of someone called Beth. In order to prevent it he locates her and slaughters her entire village, which in true Shakespearean fashion makes him the author of his own downfall, as Beth survives and hungers for revenge. Gallego’s plot is stock fantasy, which may have been a little more original when created in 1978, but still hits all the right beats. It’s elevated, though, by the phenomenal art, which is rich in character and detail with a fine eye for dynamic panel composition.
Dani’s regular art is very much a throwback to the full panel diligence of old British weekly comics, and while not quite as accomplished as Gallego there are few younger artists who’d put in the effort with the costume and background detail as she does over the first story. Beyond that, as seen on the sample art, she experiments a little, increasingly influenced by the unique crosshatching and colour of Sergio Toppi. Incredibly, while not slavishly imitating Toppi, she pulls it off, and her pages become more impressive with every page turned.
Worley continues the path Gallego took, and is a little more inventive about the sword and sorcery environment, although that’s not greatly apparent until the longest and finest story. Beth is now an accomplished warrior and also consults the witch, actively seeking out tyrants to depose and supernatural threats to end. Worley modifies Beth’s relationship with Quido from the original story to make it more of a partnership and becomes more aware of what Dani can do, feeding in threats that have a memorable visual aspect.
A few pages of filler at the end by Andrea Bulgarelli are more ordinary, but they’re not what people are going to remember. The stories hit the spot, but the art stuns.