What’s it all about?
Widowed, retired schoolteacher Bonnie mourns the murder of her husband Harry by the Minneapolis sniper/serial killer as well as the early death of her father and her mother’s passing at the age of 63. Now at age 78 and nearing the end of her life, Bonnie fears dying in the stroke ward of the local hospital.
When she gets to the other side, however, Bonnie discovers that it’s not Heaven and Hell that awaits her, but a world where you have to fight to survive against evil from the past-twisted into horrible creatures beyond recognition. As the savior of Adystria, it is Bonnie’s job to destroy Lord Golgotha and his plans to open a portal back to the old world with his powers. The stakes only double when she realizes that Lord Golgotha was the serial killer who took her husband from her in her previous life. Bonnie bands together with her father and old friends to vanquish evil and find her own place in the dangerous and different new world.
The story opens in 2002 in Minneapolis. The sniper/serial killer lies in wait on a rooftop and methodically picks his victims off, one by one. These victims, one of whom we later discover is Bonnie’s late husband Harry, wake up in Adystria and are immediately asked by a young warrior woman to join the battle against an army of creatures. Through Bonnie’s narration, we learn that it’s now 2016 and her husband was murdered fourteen years ago. Her father died young, burned to death in a workplace accident at the steel plant and her mother died of a heart attack just after her 63rd birthday.
At the age of 78, Bonnie tells her granddaughter Felicity that she’s terrified of dying in the stroke ward and that she’s not yet ready to let go of her life. In speaking with a nurse, Danita, Bonnie says that she’s never forgotten how her best friend Estelle chose to embrace what came next when she passed away six months previously. Estelle said no to chemo and trusted that her faith in God would bring her to her husband again. Bonnie, on the other hand, holds no such beliefs and thinks that it’s all just fairy tales that God wouldn’t allow the suffering and tragedy we endure. “I only believe what I can see with my eyes,” Bonnie tells Danita, “Family and friends, children and grandchildren. Anything promised beyond all this was just made up to get us through the night. Do you think any of us really make a difference?”
Danita counters that every life is a constant series of random interactions, with each one changing things a million time a day and that the longer someone lives, the more they have an impact. She tells Bonnie that the world would be a different place if she wasn’t in it, which touches Bonnie.
Unfortunately, later that night, Bonnie suffers another stroke and while on the operating table, goes through flashbacks of her life from playing football at age 7 with her father and celebrating with Harry at age 22 after being accepted as a teacher, to feeding their infant daughter at 26 and tutoring adults in her retirement at 77. As Bonnie codes, she is transported to Adystria, 53 years younger at the age of 25.
She’s dropped in the middle of a fire fight against a dragon and as the evil creatures flee, Bonnie questions the local people who are picking themselves up after the fight on why the creatures ran at the sight of her. The people tell her it’s “because they feared what you’d do to them, of course. The savoir of Adystria is hardly going to stand there while her people get hauled off to the dark lands.” Meanwhile, an older, mustached warrior asks his faithful wolf companion, Roy Boy (Bonnie’s dog in her previous life), if she’s really Bonnie and as the wolf runs to her, Bonnie realizes the warrior is her father.
The story picks up where their reunion left off and Bonnie’s father, Tom, tells her that here in Adystria, they are as real as they were before, just living in a different place. He tells her that everyone who comes to Adystria comes through at different ages, regardless of when they died back on Earth and this is where they live now.
As they disembark the flying boat inside the main town, Tom tells her daughter that she’s the one to save them from the Dark Lands. He tells her that Adystria has been at war with the Dark Lands for as long as everyone can remember and that the Dark Lands are where bad people go when they die. The creatures of the Dark Lands have been raiding Adystria lands more often but they’re running scared now because legends say that Bonnie is the one who will defeat Lord Golgotha. Bonnie has another joyous reunion with former high school classmates, neighbors and even her husband Harry’s cousin. However, when she asks where Harry is, no one seems to know. Her father tells her that Adystria is ten times the size of Earth and he’s been searching all his life for Bonnie’s mother, without a trace.
According to Tom, animals from their previous lives made the journey over as well and it’s the animals that help them track down their former owners. Roy Boy, as Bonnie’s dog, may be able to help her find Harry. The villagers hand Bonnie her sword that they had been safe keeping for her and her father says that “the old world was just a dry run for this one. If you were good there, you’re strong here. If you were kind to everyone, you’re reborn unbeatable.” Bonnie questions her purpose in Adystria as she was previously just a grade school teacher. But her father says that she lived her old life doing the right thing, putting others before herself, so this is her reward.
During the celebratory feast that night, Bonnie tells her father that she can’t dive into the fight against Lord Golgotha and his forces while Harry is still out there. So, the pair make the decision to take a month to go out into the wilderness of Adystria to search for Harry.
As they leave, Tom tells his daughter that their first port of call is the Queen of the faeries. When Bonnie inquiries about the queen’s power, her father tells her that while the queen is powerful, she’s been neglecting her duties and has locked herself away, which is why Golgotha’s forces have been getting bolder. The Queen of the faeries has only spoken to her own servants in months and Tom cautions his daughter on what she says as the faeries are everywhere and notorious gossips. When Bonnie asks why her father is so adamant that the Queen of the faeries would help her, he tells her that the queen is Estelle. But because Estelle lived such a religious life previously, not finding God or her husband on the other side caused her to become bitter, cynical and shut herself away from the world.
After fighting their way through the queen’s security forces, Bonnie reunites with Estelle but the reunion doesn’t go as planned. Estelle says that she remembers full well who Bonnie is but she just doesn’t care. “I was raised to care about everything and everyone, but it was all just bullshit and I realize I was fed a lie. There’s no heaven or hell or Jesus or Satan. My parents’ entire belief system was nothing more than a fairytale.” When Bonnie tells Estelle that it was her faith that she gave Bonnie that helped her get through Harry’s murder, Estelle only seems to get bitterer. “I’d rather have nothing instead of all this. My husband dead by the time I got here. My faith completely shattered. I’ve prayed to the Lord for guidance all these months, but the skies are empty, Bonnie. What possible purpose could I have in life now?” Estelle then sends both Bonnie and her father away.
In the Dark Lands, General Frost, a large cat creature and one of Golgotha’s right hand men questions why the master is bleeding the Adystrians they captured and Nettlebed tells him that Golgotha has his own plans. When Lord Golgotha tells the general that Bonnie has arrived in Adystria, it comes out that General Frost was once Bonnie’s pet cat whom she had neutered and he now wants revenge. When Golgotha questions if General Frost has the skills to stop Bonnie’s new abilities, General Frost answers by sending several ice spikes through the dungeon master’s servants, impaling them. After the demonstration, Golgotha tells him to assemble a team.
Now it begins with the death of Ernie Barbieri, an old friend of Bonnie’s father’s. Distracted while greeting Bonnie and her father, he is eaten by Arimathea, king of the dragons from the Dark Lands and Lord Golgotha’s lover. Bonnie and Tom run into the woods to hide and they come across the memorial site for Estelle’s husband, known in Adystria as the Faerie King. As Bonnie tells her father that she’s still in shock about Estelle’s attitude, Tom reminds her of what her old friend has been through. “The more wedded to the old ways, the harder it is to adjust,” Tom solemnly tells his daughter, “He (her husband) came through years ago, but he was old when he arrived and died before she got here. That always makes it hard, too.” As Bonnie tries to understand her friend’s perspective and tells her father that she’s not sure what she would do if something happened to Harry, her father asks if her mother ever re-married. Bonnie makes it clear that her mother was always devoted to him and not to worry.
Wrapped up in their conversation, Bonnie and her father are ambushed by a gang of thugs from the Dark Lands. In the ensuing struggle, Roy Boy is seemingly tossed off a cliff to his death. Both Bonnie and her father are knocked out and taken to the Il Mago’s territory in the Dark Lands. Trader Koti, one of Lord Golgotha’s slave traders, greets father and daughter as they are momentarily trapped, tied to a large pole. “You wouldn’t believe the price the Master’s put on your heads,” he gloats. “He’s got everyone out there looking for Adystria’s warrior Queen. How grateful do you think he’ll be to get his hands on your magic sword?” Trader Koti taunts them by telling them the binding spell keeps them from breaking through the chains before he calls General Frost, who tells him to keep the information from Il Mago in order to stop him from taking all the credit.
Trader Koti guesses that General Frost is trying to curry favor with Lord Golgotha and tells the big cat that Bonnie doesn’t have any of her warrior skills yet, his men subdued her easily and that she won’t be escaping any time soon. Plus Trader Koti has his own bone to pick with Tom. “I’m a man who knows how to have fun, especially when I’ve got some asshole who’s caused me a lot of trouble,” he says, glaring at Tom. “Do you know how many raids you interrupted over the past couple of years? How much money you cost me? I used to work for the I.R.S. in my old life. I enjoy the sight of pain.” In response, Tom head butts Koti, breaking his nose. Bonnie and her father use this distraction to uproot the pole they’re tied to and make their escape.
As they fight their way out, Bonnie notices that her fighting abilities have started to return to her. She makes short work of Koti’s henchmen and she and her father take off through the shanty town. The duo are then duped by a mysterious figure in a black cloak into entering a portal that takes them to Black Wish Mountain, Il Mago’s dungeon for, in Tom’s words, “people who piss him off.” The chapter ends in a confrontation with Il Mago’s dungeon master and his henchmen.
Starts with Bonnie and her father cornered by the dungeon master and more of Il Mago’s henchmen. Bonnie tells her father that her fighting skills are kicking in as she knows exactly what to do. She aims a kick to the master’s solar plexus, causing his machine gun to fly out of his hands and into her own. She then lays waste to the enemies in front of them, flipping effortlessly off their heads and on top of ledges for a better vantage point. As the political prisoners beg to be freed, Bonnie naively believes that having more people on their side can help. As she frees them, the prisoners instead turn on her and her father, believing that if they help capture them, Il Mago will show them mercy. The master jailer shows his appreciation of their treachery as Bonnie and Tom are once again knocked out. “You treacherous sons of bitches,” he says, admiringly. “You shock even me sometimes.”
As Bonnie and Tom wake up tied up again, Bonnie asks her father why the prisoners attacked even though they were their only option for escape. “I already told you. This is where bad people come,” Tom says, “Even if you’re trying to help, they’re always going to do the wrong thing.” Her father tells her that they’re going to be killed to make Il Mago a little stronger as there is power in human sacrifice and Black Wish Mountain is the root of magic in this world. Everyone they kill creates another wish but it only works if it’s something negative, Tom tells his daughter, you can never wish for anything good.
He tells her that Il Mago is a powerful sorcerer in his own right and one of Lord Golgotha’s trusted lieutenants. On Earth, he was a former mob boss who took out 18 cops before they shot him and he took 10 more down before they could kill him, so he is a formidable opponent. His wife, Ruby, Empress of the Stars celebrated their wedding by burning 1000 babies on a bonfire. As luck would have it, Ruby was Bonnie’s former high school classmate who hated her on Earth and the hatred seems to have carried over. “How great I get to kill you now and gain a magic wish for it?” Ruby snarls at Bonnie, “not to mention pleasing Lord Golgotha. Have you any idea how happy he’ll be when we take out the woman they said was going to kill him?”
Tom tells Ruby that their plan is doomed to fail because it’s been prophesied that Bonnie will kill their boss. When Ruby asks him if the prophecy extends to his ‘fat ass’, Tom tells her it doesn’t matter because Bonnie’s getting out of it and she’s going to die.
General Frost arrives with Trader Koti and his men and kills Il Mago along with Ruby and their henchmen with Bonnie’s sword. He mocks Bonnie when she asks if her father was responsible, claiming “You really are as stupid as I remember, Miss Bonnie.” When Bonnie questions how General Frost knows her, he tells her that he was her cat when she and Harry first got married and he wants revenge for being neutered. But, he’s willing to spare Harry as he had always been kind to him and voiced some opposition to Frost’s castration. “I could find him for you were I so inclined. Pets can do that, you know. Find their missing masters here in the next world. That’s how all this might have played out, if only you had been blessed with basic human decency,” General Frost taunts Bonnie.
As Bonnie and her father try to run, General Frost forces her to pause and look him in the eye and apologize as part of his quest for revenge. Instead, Bonnie makes a wish that they were all dead, which results in the demise of General Frost, Trader Koti and two hundred of their henchmen. Bonnie tries to wish for a reunion with Harry but her father reminds her that it needs to be something negative such as wishing the chains would crumble into dust, which frees them as soon as Tom says the words aloud. Bonnie then tells her father that she feels like even when she’s in danger, something unexplainable is holding her back, to which Tom says getting used to the world and their abilities just takes time.
Tom tells Bonnie that they need to get moving and that there are serious battles at Spider City, Dead Man’s Rainbow, Hooligan’s River and Ghostville just to get to the border. Bonnie grabs her sword and they leave.
Meanwhile, Lord Golgotha is being updated on the deaths of his lieutenants Il Mago, Ruby and General Frost as he soaks in the pool of blood. He tells his second in command Nettlebed that they died because they were lazy and underestimated the challenge. He wants his people to concentrate on filling the pool with more blood, as the ritual that will allow them to open a portal back to Earth is almost complete. Confident his plan will work, Golgotha has Nettlebed leave him and Arimathea to celebrate.
Begins with Bonnie narrating her past life. She mentions being a little girl at a family wedding, then getting married herself, to participating in her daughter’s wedding. Then she talks about being part of the old persons’ table at a wedding and wondering where the time went. Just a few short weeks ago, Bonnie narrates, her life was spent in the antiseptic buzz of the hospital with every day exactly the same. No matter what happens as they fight their way back to Adystria, she states, ‘this is better than what I had.’ During this narration, you see Bonnie and her father fight their way past several creatures on their way back to the border. As Tom encourages his daughter by stating that they can find Harry themselves, that they don’t need Estelle’s help, Bonnie has a flashback about advice Estelle gave her when Harry was killed. “You can’t question God’s big plan for us, Bonnie. You can’t let losing Harry mean you give up on your faith. You should turn your grief into something positive. Just because you’re a widow now doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a role for you.”
Bonnie feels a flash of bitterness towards Estelle for turning her back on their friendship and her beliefs as she and her father continue to traverse the rough terrain. As Tom and Bonnie sit by the campfire, they reminisce about their past and how Bonnie’s daughter Barbara has her grandfather’s eyes but her grandmother’s mannerisms and the fact that Bonnie’s granddaughter Felicity watches old movies with her at her place. The conversation then shifts to the father-daughter duo reminiscing about their love for football and the secret codes they had during the games. Bonnie brings up the possibility that her mother could be Lord Golgotha as her father hasn’t been able to find her after all of these years, but Tom immediately dismisses that possibility. They’re given a good surprise for once when Roy Boy shows up, unscathed from his previous ordeal as he landed in a river and had been searching for them ever since.
Roy Boy tells them that he’s found Harry in a village less than fifty miles away and as they make the trek, Bonnie tells her father that she forgot what it was like to be 25 years old again with the energy and no pain in her joints. She even hopes to have another baby with Harry. However, as they make it to the village, they discover it’s been razed by Arimathea and his forces. As Bonnie desperately questions the survivors on her husband’s whereabouts, they tell him that the dragons took him and a hundred other local men away. The dragons left a message that says they’ll execute Harry if she and her father don’t surrender to the Dark Lands alone. Bonnie makes the decision to go after her husband, even in spite of the odds being a thousand against one.
Suddenly, the young warrior woman we saw in the introduction introduces herself to Bonnie as Sarah, Harry’s wife, whom he’s been married to for the last nine years and their two young sons, Eddie and Bobby. Sarah explains that Harry was young when he made the journey and that it’s a long, long life to be on your own. They tried to fight it but new relationships and marriages happen frequently in the new life and they didn’t mean to hurt Bonnie. Sarah told her sons that their father’s first wife as the savior of Adystra will save their dad for them. Bonnie’s father attempts to comfort his daughter but Bonnie needs a moment to gather her thoughts. “It’s always there in the back of your mind, but I thought I was just being stupid,” Bonnie tells her father, “I guess it was easier for me. I was just an old woman watching her soaps.” She tells him that she understands that Harry was lonely and he wasn’t actively trying to hurt her. Bonnie then tells Harry’s sons that she’ll bring their father home and that everything will be OK. Sarah thanks Bonnie for her courage and sacrifice and both women share an embrace.
Tom tells his daughter how proud he is of her for doing the right thing and re-iterates that they’re going up against a million different monsters. Bonnie tells her father that she’s not afraid to die and “besides, if the prophecy is true and I’m the one who’s going to kill this guy…” as she states, “he’s the one who should be nervous.”
Lord Golgotha shows a chained up Harry the portal he created from the blood of good Adystrians, that he will use to bring them back to the old world on Earth to wreak havoc. He also tells Harry to not expect his ex-wife to rescue him as they’re more than ready for her. Harry is flabbergasted that Lord Golgotha talks as though he knows who he is and Lord Golgotha reveals that on Earth, he had been the Minneapolis sniper/serial killer who shot him to death. And “now, I get to kill you all over again,” Golgotha gloats.
Begins with a flashback to the Minneapolis sniper/serial killer, whom we now know to be Lord Golgotha, on the roof. He records all his murders and tells the authorities that he killed 28 people in a row and that his only regrets are that he didn’t get to kill more people before turning the gun on himself.
Lord Golgotha gloats to Harry that he will bring war to the light, crush the good people and find a way back to old world. The demonic lord claims that “the worse you were, the stronger you are here. The better you were, the more we have to fear.” On their journey back into the Dark Lands, Tom asks his daughter if she’s truly ready for the battle ahead and Bonnie tells her father that if everything else in this world has been real up to this point, why should her stopping Lord Golgotha be the only thing that isn’t real?
Lord Golgoth stands above Bonnie on a terrace and mocks her for being the little teacher from Minneapolis. “The worst people who ever lived are standing here around you, all tooled up. All desperate to hurt you. Do you really love him that much, Bonnie Black?” When Bonnie states that she does, Lord Golgotha tells him that she should have left Harry to die and now every drop of her blood will be fed into his portal machine. As Arimathea takes to the skies, Estelle shows up to the battle and seizes the lion headed dragon out of the air, yelling for Bonnie to go after Lord Golgoth herself.
Bonnie engages in a one-on-one battle against Lord Golgoth as Estelle disintegrates Arimathea. But, all of a sudden, Bonnie is distracted by a vision of her daughter and granddaughter in the old world visiting her in the hospital following her latest stroke. Lord Golgotha takes advantage and shoves Bonnie into the pool of blood. Lord Golgotha taunts Bonnie, telling her that he was the one to murder Harry in the old world and that he will ruin her life for the second time, before proceeding to drown her. Her father tries desperately to come to her aid but is trapped. Lord Golgotha continues to pontificate that he and his people will go back to the old world and use their powers on anyone who pisses them off and that it will be Bonnie’s sacrifice that will open that door.
As Bonnie lies dying in the Dark Lands and the portal starts to open to the old world, her daughter and granddaughter call frantically for the doctor thinking that Bonnie is waking up from her stroke as her consciousness is momentarily transported into her past body. In the Dark Lands, Tom prepares to face off against Lord Golgotha to avenge his daughter. Bonnie finally realizes what’s been holding her back from fulfilling her destiny in Adrystria-she needs to fully let go of her past life. As her past body goes into cardiac arrest, she realizes that as much as she loved her husband and her daughter in her past life, no one has ever needed her the way her father and Adystria needs her and she makes her choice to go to them.
Bonnie rises from the pool of blood and her father uses their old football play to toss Bonnie her sword. Bonnie then destroys Lord Golgotha and the portal to the old world explodes. Lord Golgotha’s forces scatter and flee and Bonnie prepares to meet her former husband again. Husband and wife embrace and Bonnie forgives Harry for moving on before they’re called on by one of the faeries to see a mortally wounded Estelle. Bonnie begs Estelle to hang on, tells her they can fix things but Estelle is ready to go, now that she knows Bonnie and Harry are alright. “It was nice to have a little meaning again. Thank you for giving me something to believe in, Bonnie. I’m sorry I haven’t been a good friend. You found your husband. Let me find mine. He’ll be waiting in whatever’s after this.” Estelle and her husband are reunited in the next life.
The survivors reunite with their families and Harry reunites with the new wife and his children after thanking Bonnie for being amazing. As Bonnie and her father ride off, he admits to her that he and her mother always thought that she could do better than Harry. Narrating one final time, Bonnie notes that “even the most random act has enormous significance. Both in this world and the next. That’s the lesson I’d pass along to those I leave behind.”
Back on Earth, as Felicity and her mother mourn Bonnie’s passing, her attending physician tells Felicity that Bonnie was ready and no longer afraid to die. Bonnie takes her rightful place as Adystria’s queen and protector in a coronation as Felicity and Barbara take comfort in the fact that though Bonnie has left them, she’s in a better place.
I enjoyed the alternative, sci-fi fantasy take on the afterlife and how we can retain our individual souls, memories and the essence of who we are in this life in the next world. But, I think Mark Millar and Greg Capullo made the world of Adystria inherently tragic. No one has any control of what age they are when they cross over and because of that, they may never have an opportunity to reunite with their loved ones. Estelle’s story is one example of such a tragedy where she and her husband simply passed each other by in Adystria. Similarly, the ongoing question of who Bonnie’s mother Daisy is in this lifetime and where she is, is also tragic as she and Tom had already had their lives together cut prematurely short in the old world.
In spite of her father’s warnings and teachings about the world of Adystria, it was a little off putting to see Bonnie’s naiveté, lack of spatial awareness and overall optimism nearly get them killed-and cause her pain, more than once. I realize that because it’s only Vol 1, we as readers do have to cut Bonnie some slack because this new life is completely different from her old one and she still has a lot to learn. I hope she continues to grow as a fighter and a leader and her perspective becomes a little more balanced. In a world where evil literally has a horrifying face, I would hope that she would learn that some caution, overall preparedness and skills in assessing her environment will help her stay alive. Overall, I enjoyed the sci-fi fantasy take on the afterlife.