Review: ‘Black Beth: Vengeance Be Thy Name’ – Sword And Sorcery Across The Decades Never Looked So Good
by Richard Bruton
Rediscovering a long-lost British comics fantasy adventure and rejuvenating it 30+ years later, the complete Black Beth by Blas Gallego, Alec Worley, and DaNi is the absolute personification of how to lovingly bring back the old and sympathetically update it with new stories. In doing so, all concerned have made something fabulous, old-school sword and sorcery, fabulous artwork, evocative, amazing, stunning stuff.
As I’ve already told you a couple of times now, both in the preview of this collection and the review of the Devils of Al-Kadesh one-shot comic, Black Beth was first brought to life by the Spanish artist Blas Gallego for a 23-page adventure originally drawn in 1976. It might have been written by Gallego as well, we just don’t know. But we do know it took another 12 years for the strip to see print, in the Scream! Holiday Special 1988.
That first 23-pager is reprinted here for the first time thanks to the great work of Rebellion and the Treasury of British Comics, who acquired the IPC comics archive in 2016. When they did that they promised a lot, bringing old favourites and forgotten classics back into print and sympathetically reimagining old British characters for the modern audience with the very best talent at the helm.
Personally, I don’t thing that promise has ever been fulfilled more perfectly than here in Black Beth: Vengence Be Thy Name and that’s just part of what makes this an essential read.
Here, we get the original 23-pager by Gallego and all of the Alec Worley and DaNi material published in the last few years and, as I said in the preview, it’s something that you simply can’t tell contains material published some three decades+ apart – full credit to Worley for that, a huge fan of Black Beth and the driving force behind bringing all of this work into print.
First, going back in time to 1988 and the original Blas Gallego-drawn Black Beth, it’s just the epitome of a certain style, the fine linework, the perfect figures, the character-full faces, the packed pages, it’s very typical of the work of the Spanish artists of the time of course. But there’s an added litheness and sensuality to the figures, something no doubt coming from Gallego’s time first working for UK publishers in the 70s across a rather eclectic mix of publications including illustrations Women’s Realm, Woman’s Weekly, and the softcore mens magazine Men Only – the unifying artistic style here being a necessity for Gallego’s attention to rendering the female form, something he does so very well.
Although, of course, as you can see, his figure work, male and female, is just so strong. He went on to have a long career through the ’80s with European titles such as Zona 84 and Totem on the strips Astraxy and Dolly, the Ben and Kate newspaper strips in the Daily Star and Savage Sword of Conan covers for Marvel Comics.
In the Gallego-drawn, possibly Gallego-written origin of Black Beth, we have a classic fantasy tale, the whole “warrior with a name born of the black rage that filled her heart,” sort of thing. It’s hardly original stuff here, family slaughtered by the tyrant Rassau and his army, lone survivor training themselves to be able to take bloody revenge – that’s the stuff of fantasy novels, stories, and comics throughout the ages. But the idea of the hero actually being the heroine, well that was rather different for the times, as Beth becomes a self-trained knight with the aid of her blind sidekick Quido.
So, with everything in place, the training montage done, the blind sidekick by her side, the stunningly rendered black armour, and a very sharp sword, Black Beth heads out to seek her revenge, which of course she gets, in brutal and bloody fashion.
This really was an origin story that did everything by the numbers, with everything slotting into place in obvious fashion. Yet the skill of Gellago elevates it far above the simplicity and predictable story, whoever it was by, with the artwork, glorious in black and white, so full of life and energy, just a perfectly glorious thing to see back in print and looking as though it were drawn just yesterday.
The original Black Beth ends with Beth riding off into the distance, Quido by her side, with that tantalising ‘The End?’ vaguely promising more from Gellago and Black Beth…
But of course, that ended up being all there was, just those 23 gorgeous pages and a character that would be lost in the mists of British comic history.
Thankfully, along came the Treasury of British Comics and Alec Worley, the former making good on the promise to bring back lost classics such as this and the latter with an abiding love of the character and a burning desire to bring Black Beth back.
And that, of course, brings us to the other material in the volume, four stories written by Worley, three of which are drawn by DaNi, one short three-pager by Andrea Bulgarelli. Worley immediately takes things into darker territory, bring the sorcery to the fore to make this a real sword and sorcery character. The first tale from Worley and DaNi, The Magos of Malice, has hellspawn, ancient cults, dark sorcery and child sacrifice for Beth to swing her sword at, something she does with aplomb and style…
DaNi’s art here is just a sublime melding of her own art that we’ve seen before and the black and white finery of Gallego, evoking the previous story and making the transition of 30+ years seem effortless.
Then, in the second Worley/DaNi short, The Witch Tree, things get darker still, with Beth finding herself on the wrong end of the hang-woman’s rope, accused of being a demon thanks to her growing reputation for dishing out violent death.
It’s also the short where DaNi’s art shifts just subtly into something almost chiaroscuro, the use of her line and white space, minimal backgrounds alluded to by a few sparse lines… it’s simply gorgeous to see, moving away from the Gallego-influenced style of the first short.
And finally, the longest Black Beth storyline thus far, Worley and DaNi really going above and beyond in making something so damn good, the absolute coming good on all the promises of the Treasury to bring lost classics back and bringing us new stories from modern creators.
I fully reviewed Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh back when it was released as a one-shot comic, and you can see that here, but thanks to a server move or some other modern-day sorcery the images have gone the way of Black Beth’s foes, so I’m going to repeat a lot of what I said there – it’s all still absolutely valid and needs saying to show you just how incredibly good it all is.
Beth, her curved blade, and Quido, her blind aide, are off in search of the evil witch Anis-Amuun, off on one of those great, stand-alone sword & sorcery epics, unhindered by continuity, no attempt to subvert the genre, just good old-fashioned, brilliantly done adventuring.
Just looking again at those full-coloured pages of DaNi’s – incredibly, her first-ever job of colouring her own work – takes my breath away once more. This is, as I said before, a revelation, full of beauty, abstraction, incredible detail, lush, evocative colours, and incredible panel and page constructions. Seriously, just look at this monumental page…
It’s just so full of so many disparate elements, a different style again – there was plenty of press comparing it to the great Sergio Toppi, and with good reason as well – but everything contributes to making the page not just beautiful and striking but a perfect example of creating readable flow through a page and panels.
You can see it in the whole page, the wonderful panel layouts, the whole sweeping flow to it all. Just look at the dagger in those first two panels, such a simple but such an effective way to guide your eye across to the dominating figure of the Seer, before moving across to take in Beth once more, fabulously detailed and rendered this time, until following the curve of her blade to the final panel. Simply wonderful stuff.
But then you look at the individual panels and you see so many more fascinating details. There’s a sense of abstraction of the background contrasted so well with the stark, yet still minimal, figure work, and that happens all through, mark making to give the impression of buildings, structures, vegetation, not to mention the plentiful monsters Beth meets along the way.
And then there’s DaNi’s expressionistic colouring, used for mood rather than realism, those lush purples, pinks, and blues flooding the page, just so evocative and amazing. All of it, the draughtsmanship, the linework, the use of shape and colour – magnificent.
And then we get another artistic shift as we’re guided down and across the page, to that closeup of Black Beth, all that exquisite detail on the armour, yet still the open line, the use of colour to define space and a sense of light, highlighting Beth against the backdrop.
It’s a stunning thing, beautifully done, always in service to the flow of the story but creating page after page of incredible beauty – in fact, DaNi, Alec Worley, the Treasury of British Comics, and everyone involved in Black Beth need congratulating on just how good a book this is, how seamless the transition from old to new is, how they’ve honoured Blas Gallego’s vision and expanded upon it, bringing a lost classic back and celebrating it in fine style.
Black Beth: Vengence Be Thy Name
Contains the stories Black Beth drawn by Blas Gallego; The Magos of Magic, The Witch Tree, Black Beth & the Devils of Al-Kadesh all written by Alec Worley, art by DaNi, letters by Simon Bowland; Fairy Tales written by Alec Worley, art by Andrea Bulgarelli, letters by Sam Gretton.
Originally serialised in Scream! Holiday Special 1988, Scream! & Misty Specials 2018 and Scream! & Misty Specials 2020, and Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh.
Published by Rebellion and the Treasury of British Comics on 7th June.