Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Dalton Rose
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: August 21, 2013
Sacrifice is an odd beast. This hardcover collection of the self-published series is neither traditionally indie (too much punching) nor exactly mainstream. It might have fit well in Alan Moore’s former America’s Best Comics line due to its historical focus, mild psychedelia, and innate feminism. The six-issue story of a young epileptic of the contemporary age transported through time and space to the waning days of the Aztec Empire is a grabber if you’re even a little bit of a history nerd. The aesthetic and mythology of the Aztecs have been underexploited in pop culture, and writer Sam Humphries and artist Dalton Rose really dig into them. The writing and art work together well; neither feels like it’s in competition with the other, producing a stronger result.
Humphries doesn’t set up the characters all that well, perhaps because of limited pages, and the narrative skips large hunks of time without exposition. How can time-hopping protagonist Hector communicate with the Aztecs? Who exactly is present when he arrives in their world? It’s one thing to make a fresh start, skipping six months or a year in time with the equivalent of a new season; it’s another thing to do it repeatedly in such a limited format. The device can be frustrating. When (SPOILER ALERT) Hector suddenly decides to use his knowledge of history to enable the Aztecs to defeat the Spaniards, it’s a thrilling moment, but a year of preparation vanishes without the reader seeing any of it. It’s like watching Kevin’s light-bulb-above-the-head moment in Home Alone before watching Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern getting creamed in various ways the very next scene. Without the set-up, the pleasure in a well-laid plan is limited.
Rose has a great time with the pageantry and costumes of the culture, and there’s some fun when Hector incorporates a Joy Division reference into his ceremonial tattoos. The artist has some weird issues with legs, though. It’s as though the art can’t decide where it fits either—cartoonish or realistic—and without a strong style in the characters, the reader ends up focusing on their clothing and the backgrounds.
Nonetheless, Sacrifice explores some interesting intersections. The book addresses the idea expressed in its title repeatedly, without running it into the ground. The back-and-forth between ancient and modern eras is expressive and brings out both visual and thematic connections. Rose’s use of a different visual style to convey history lessons fits in nicely and calls to mind the d’Aulaires’ series of mythology books for kids. Sacrifice is an interesting, if not 100-percent successful, work that deserves credit for its ambitions and attempts to innovate.