Let's be honest, fantasy and adventure series are a dime a dozen. Occasionally, a few stand out series make their way into the wider consciousness of comic book fandom (Derek Laufman's Ruinworld and Si Spurrier/Matias Bergara's Coda, are two standout examples), but there is just so much of that genre within comics nowadays that many of the stories just fall into obscurity.
Canto by David M. Booher and Drew Zucker, will not be that comic.
In a single issue, the creators have not only fleshed out a fantasy world that is unlike any other in recent memory, but they have created characters, established relationships that are meaningful, and developed dangers that feel real. All of this was done in the span of a single issue.
The dynamic between the small tin slaves and the Minotaur-esque slavers immediately communicates to the reader the danger that these lovable tin-people face on a daily basis. Forced to chip away at trees that are presumably in the way of the Minotaur Kingdom's expansion (this is just an inference here, nothing in the story confirms this suggestion), they are refused names and disallowed any form of meaningful emotional contact.
This is what makes our hero special. He has been given a name against the slaver's will by another tin-person with whom he shares an emotional connection. Both of these things mean that Canto and this tin-girl are in danger, and the stakes are set for a confrontation between them and the slavers that kickstart the adventure of the series.
Truthfully though, the most impactful element of the comic is the heart... I mean that both literally and figuratively. While a backstory is not fully explained in issue one, we learn that the tin-people have had their hearts replaced by clocks by the slavers, and are meant to slave away until they "run out of time". Metaphorically, this would suggest that they are incapable of love since the primary organ responsible for emotion (colloquially, anyway) had been removed. Yet, Canto and the tin-girl do love each other, which means that when Canto is forced on a quest to find his lover's original heart, it literally plays out the metaphorical symbolism within the story; since he loves her, and she needs the heart to survive, by retrieving her heart (literally) he saves his own (metaphorically). It is a powerful and affective metaphor that Booher and Zucker have crafted.
Speaking of craft, the character designs could not be more perfect.
One would think it difficult to express emotions and make affective gestures with small tin-people in comics, yet somehow Zucker nails every moment. That said, there is a moment within issue one where Canto offers to sacrifice himself to save the tin-girl, that genuinely choked me up. It is amazing how powerfully these iconic characters, so devoid of realism, can impact the reader when masterfully crafted.
The slavers and the Malorex are also well designed. These characters are more traditionally monstrous, and so don't seem to stand out quite as much as the tin-people do. I would suggest that this is an intended effect though, as the nameless slavers and monsters of the story are far less meaningful (for now at least), compared to the tribe of tin-people that we have very quickly fallen in love with.
In no uncertain terms, Canto has quickly become a must follow comic for me. I am excited to follow the narrative and watch this journey unfold! The back matter informs us that the story was inspired by L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz stories and Dante's Inferno. If those stories have anything to tell us, the tale that Canto spins for us will be nothing short of epic.