Wednesday, March 31, 2010

COMIC REVIEW: Dragon Age #1 (IDW)


Dragon Age: Origins was one of the major videogame hits in 2009, a brand new franchise in an original fantasy setting from legendary RPG developer Bioware. The setting, the continent of Thedas, is rich with potential for storytelling in multiple media, far more than can be contained in any single comic series, novel, or videogame. I was thrilled to hear that IDW, publisher of some of my favorite current comics (such as G.I. Joe: Cobra) had the comic license, and I couldn't wait to read the first issue. Unfortunately, Dragon Age 1 met only one expectation; that video game tie-ins are a bad idea.


What went wrong with this comic? Everything, that's what. First of all, aside from the following words - Chantry, Templar, Circle of Mages, Ferelden, Hurlock, Blood Mage - there was nothing that made this comic feel like it belonged in the Dragon Age world. Names and terms are window dressing, and in this comic, I'm frankly not entirely sure that the writers know what they mean or what some of the Dragon Age types, specifically blood mages and hurlocks...are actually capable of. Templars, in this comic, are a one note "all mages should just probably be executed" stereotype. The religion of Dragon Age...the fact that the actions of mages led to a perpetually vengeful, absentee ripe with complex storytelling possibility. Instead, what superstar writers Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston give us is a tired cliche about forbidden love (or lust) between two characters who are given zero motivation and zero development.

What do I mean by this? I would say that if you've played Dragon Age, really thoroughly explored its setting and know the world, and you drew up a list of "most cliched stories we can tell in this setting," love between a Templar and a Mage would be very high on the list, yes? I know it would be for me. Probably tops, in fact. And that's the story we're told. Characters who act without any apparent motivation are poor characters, period. When they act without motivation in a tired, cliched story...and are clearly doing what they are doing simply because the plot demands they do it...that's bad writing. Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston are not bad writers; Card has written some genuine classics. What happened here? I don't know. I do know that our main characters in this first issue...Sadatt and Veness...have no reason to fall for each other. None. I know that we know nothing about them except one is a Mage, one is a Templar, and they have a relationship because that's the story. We know nothing about their personalities. It's entirely possible they engage on their relationship based on adolescent hormones; great stories have been told that way (e.g., Romeo and Juliet) but this isn't one of them.

In the comic medium, great art can save a mediocre or even a bad story. But this art, by Mark Robinson, is so heavily stylized that I simply cannot stand it. In some panels, characters have no mouths. And I don't mean background characters. I mean characters in the foreground. Who are speaking. From behind a featureless wall of flesh, apparently. This is a problem for me. I also find the lack of visual continuity from one panel to another very distracting. In one panel, a character on horseback has a torch in one hand and the reins of his horse in the other. Next panel, the reins of his horse are tied around the scabbard of his sword, which would be distractingly dumb even if it didn't contradict what I just saw. When characters do have mouths, they are capable of two expressions; sneer and surprise. Mostly sneer. The swordplay is incredibly static and lackluster, as is the magic, which apparently always occurs in giant swooshy loops, instead of the balls, clouds, bolts, clouds, or bursts that happen in the game.

I cannot recommend this comic for anyone. I consider myself, honestly, as big a Dragon Age fan as there is; I've played the game to completion 4 times (and am still playing it). I've voraciously read its entire Codex. I'd bought every piece of DLC, would love to play the RPG, and plan to read the novel tie ins. This comic isn't a good comic or a good Dragon Age comic. You'll have to be a more devoted fan than me to love it.

Dan Ford
Staff Reviewer

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