Review by Win Wiacek
Pseudonymous creator Mitsuhisa Kuji continues her richly researched historical re-enactment of the legend of William Tell as collected in this second English-language volume of Wolfsmund.
Set in 14th century Switzerland, the saga is titled after the forbidding fortress situated mountain passes controlling so much of local life. Wolfsmund 1 introduced Wolfram the Bailiff, a sadistic sentinel with a dark genius for ferreting out insurrection, disposing of freedom fighters and crushing the people’s hopes. So far nobody has survived falling under his excoriating gaze.
A horrific murderously medieval passion play resumes with ‘Hans and Eva Part One’ as another would-be rebel dies from torture and the aging innkeeper of Uri again publicly rows with his lovely and extremely young wife. Gossip is rife amongst the villagers and for once it’s all true: she married him for his money while he wanted her for her body. The area’s resistance fighters are more concerned with their impossibly bad luck. Somehow, valued, experienced men keep falling to Wolfram’s agents. It’s almost as if someone is informing on them…
The dark fable concludes in ‘Hans and Eva Part Two’ as with their cover blown the innkeeper and his repentant bride seek safe passage from Wolfram. The pair are left to the tender mercies of the rebels, so will they survive?
This increasingly dark and shocking volume saga then relates the appalling story of ‘Cedar and Juwel’. With the struggle intensifying and Wolfram’s reprisals hitting ever harder, an itinerant street performer and her little girl arrive at the pass. The debased woman Cedar wants to return to her home in Germany and will happily ply the tricks of more than one trade to get there, and she doesn’t seem to care whether her daughter Juwel comes with her or not. However, after seducing a Bishop she comes to the attention of Wolfram – a far harder audience to impress. The savage games he plays with both mother and child lead to a concatenation of tragedies that compel the mysterious Madam of the Inn to blow her own cover, heralding the foreboding return of the land’s inevitable liberator… the last son of William Tell.
This stunningly bleak and breathtakingly vicious examination of the human cost of national liberation is rendered with astounding skill. Stark, uncompromising illustration perfectly compliments the daunting milieu, adamantine scenery and cruelly brutal episodes wherein heroes of “the Eternal Alliance” repeatedly try and fail to pass through the Wolf’s Maw or fool the brutally deadly cherub in command.
This unhappy saga is best enjoyed by older readers, who realise that not every ending is a cheery one, and it continues in Wolfsmund 3.