Off The Shelf: Sam reviews Step By Bloody Step


 

Step by Bloody Step #1-3
Story by Si Spurrier, art by Matias Bergara and Matheus Lopes

Reviewed by Samuel Blair

Step By Bloody Step is a challenge. It’s not only a challenge to read, it’s a challenge to the comics world overall. This wordless drama is a real masterpiece, leaving you often in the same emotional space as the female protagonist: confused, awestruck and ever curious.

Step By Bloody Step is a four-issue series by the creative team of Si Spurrier, Matias Bergara and Matheus Lopes. The equality of the team is given on the cover credits, as the three trade top billing for each issue. This is quite a turn though for Spurrier, who is an award winning novelist and comics writer, as this series has absolutely no text or narrative. There’s not even a “POW” or “GLUTCH!” or “sssch-LUKK!” added to the art. It therefore demands more of you as a reader. You have to pay attention to details and take your time with each page. Without introduction or prologue, readers find themselves thrust into a world of beauty and violence where things simply are what they are. The only setup to the story is provided of all places on each issue’s back cover “A girl wakes. She has no memories. No name, no language, nothing…except a giant.” In that way we are in a very similar situation to the series’ protagonist.

Which each issue, we watch the girl grow up and begin to assert herself more and more against the iron giant. The giant is constantly on guard for danger while it tries to comfort and please the child, which leads to some funny and touching scenes in the story, such as when the girl tries to pick a flower while the giant fights a kaiju-sized wolf creature in the background.

Issue #3 sees the girl now as a teenager whose independent streak is pushing back against the giant as they both come face to face with a new culture. The language spoken in this world is rendered in glyphs, but our protagonists remain silent throughout, leaving us again in a similar place as they are as we try to understand and piece together meaning from repetition and gestures. This issue sees the girl wooed by a prince of some sort, who we see has his own reasons for courting the girl. As a war rages outside the palace, the prince and his consorts dance and drink with the girl who has left the giant on the outside looking in. At one point the giant is fooled into thinking the girl has been killed in battle as a duplicate is thrown out of the castle. It’s here that we see the prince’s real reason for bringing the girl in, as the giant decimates the attacking army in mad revenge. However, when the giant realizes that she has been fooled, it pays a terrible price.

Spurrier and Bergara collaborated previously on Boom! Studios’ series Coda. Bergara’s work on that title earned him an Eisner Award nomination in 2021. He was also the EW artist of the year in 2019. His work is fantastical and surreal. At times his landscapes remind me of the fantasy worlds pictured on the covers of 70’s Yes albums, with vibrant colors and towering flora. His pages in this title are filled with minute details that demand time and attention to fully appreciate. Glance over a two-page spread and you might miss the creatures bathing in a hot spring or the pixie examining the footprints of the giant and the girl passing through their forest. Matheus Lopes does an amazing job of adding a great deal of life and drama to Bergara’s art and helps visual flair to the story.

For me, it’s hard to tell where Spurrier’s storytelling and world creation ends and Bergara’s begins. Both are finely tuned to each other’s sense of style and drama. Their ability to pull a wordless comic off so well in such a short time is frankly astounding. It stands quite in contrast to another title which I used to enjoy a great deal, Department of Truth. While still a great series, it has become almost totally reliant on long narratives and expositions to tell its story. The art serves more as a secondary backdrop than an actual part of the story itself. Step By Bloody Step stands as a pure collaborative effort, with the trio revealing the narrative and the world in such a way that it seems seamless. Bergara and Lopes also pair seamlessly together to create a vibrant and rich visual language for the title. Both artists hail from South America – Bergara from Uruguay and Lopes from Brazil – and you can see the influence of the lush and mysterious South American landscapes in their collaboration.

For all of the violence here, this is really a very touching story. It’s a story about an adult trying desperately to guide and protect a vulnerable child from a dangerous world, while the child responds with varying degrees of indifference, fear, ennui and resistance. Whenever the pair stop for any extended period of time, the world itself pushes them forward towards an unknown destination, or maybe no destination at all. Inside the massive iron hulk of the giant, we see the pain and weariness of the human inside, a testimony to the tough exteriors that hide our true, vulnerable selves. It’s a story that any parent would understand, as well as any teenager. After all, what are parents to young children but giant, lumbering hulks that do strange things and seem so bent on keeping them from doing anything fun? And what are children to parents other than beautiful, selfish things that don’t see the pain and suffering we go through to try and keep them alive?

So, is Step By Bloody Step a metaphor for the relationship between children and parents? Yeah, maybe. However, this is not a story that is handed to you. It’s one that you have to work for. In this way it’s more demanding of its readers than your typical Marvel or DC title. This allows readers to take away much more than what’s simply offered them on a silver platter. It encourages readers to explore and take it in, not simply move on to the next panel. It allows you to fill in backstory and imagine what kind of a world this might be, what forces are in play, and what motivates them. I strongly encourage you to pick up this series. Issues 1-3 are out now, and with the concluding issue 4 due by the end of May, you’ll have just enough time to get the whole series.

As always, thank you for listening and geek be with you.

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