2019/03/16

D&D comics history part 8 - War of the Gods ! Avatar (DC)

   Between February and May 1991, along with their D&D licensed ongoing series, DC will issue a standalone mini-series set in the Forgotten Realms :

War of the Gods ! Avatar


   This 3 issues series is the comic version of the three 1989 novels composing The Avatar Trilogy written by Scott Ciencin (Shadowdale, Tantras) & Troy Denning (Waterdeep) under the shared pen-name Richard Awlinson

The Avatar Trilogy - French novels version (Fleuve Noir, 1994)

   It's been adapted here by Barbara Kessel and a bunch of artists worked on these :
   Pencils : Dameon Willich (all issues)
   Inks : Monika Livingston & Tom Romano (issue #1)
            John Nyberg & Todd Hamilton (issues #2 & 3)
            Jerry Acerno, Jan Harpes, Pamela Eklund & Mickey Ritter (issue #3)
   Colors : Eric & Linda Kachelhofer (all issues)
   Letters : Elliot S. Maggin & Kim Yale (only credited in issue #3).

   The events told here depict what will be called the Time of Troubles. The deities of Faerûn are exiled from the Planes after the theft of the Tablets of Fate until these are recovered. Banished by Ao, Overgod of Abeir-Toril, to the mortal world, the gods are now roaming the Realms as avatars. Mystra, goddess of Magic (known as The Lady of Mysteries) will charge Ariel Manx (human wizardess more known as Midnight) to recover the Tablets and protect them from the other deities. The magic-user, now in possession of a mysterious amulet given by the goddess, will soon team up with Kelemvor Lyonsbane (human fighter), Adon (human cleric of Sune) and Cyric (human thief) to fulfill her mission. (Note that these four fellows are often and wrongly considered as being the Company of the Lynx which is in fact the band Midnight was working with and betrayed -for good reasons- before she met her actual companions)

From left to right : Kelemvor, Adon, Cyric and Midnight

   The story will take our heroes in many known places and they'll encounter an amazing number of characters during their quest, including (aside gods... XD) über-famous ones as Elminster or Khelben Blackstaff... It would be too long to list all the references here, but for those interested in these, each novel (so as a result each comic book) has its dedicated AD&D 2nd edition module (in which you'll find among tons of info, the stats of our protagonists...) :

FRE1 Shadowdale, FRE2 Tantras & FRE3 Waterdeep by Ed Greenwood (TSR, 1989)

   Patently this adaptation tends to respect the unfolding of the story as it is told in the novels, only sacrificing some passages by taking narrative shortcuts. In the whole if we can respect the idea behind its construction, the story-telling in the comics is far from being as fluent and understandable as in the novels. Not sure if a reader who's not aware of the universe or the plot would really get it... 

   More on that, the drawing, instead of helping the narration, is some kind of melting pot of -let's say- audacious but badly-rendered and disharmonious artistic choices, which makes the whole a thick soup you have great trouble swallowing... It also sometimes looks like a (basically) colored sketchbook... and the quality is not often there (and even being particularly awful at some point).

 Pages from book one (left), book two (middle) and book three (right)

   Despite the obvious desire to do well and some hard work we can't deny (282 pages in total !), the final rendering is far -very, very far- from being up to the expectation... It's really a shame as the story adapted here depicts one of the best epic moment that forged the history of the Realms... Now, it remains a viable materials source... but kinda a fail that marks the ending of the DC era within the D&D comics history.

(o_O;)

2019/03/12

D&D comics history part 37 - Evil at Baldur's Gate (IDW)

   In 2018, IDW continues releasing the adventures of Minsc and his crew in this 4th series dedicated to them once back in Baldur's Gate after their wanderings in the North (cf Frost Giant's Fury) :

Evil at Baldur's Gate

TPB cover (IDW, 2018)

   This will be a 5 issues series, all written by author Jim Zub. But, contrary to the previous ones, this time each issue contains a short story focusing on one (or two) character(s) with different team of artists working on each.


Part One : Minsc the Mighty

Issue #1, cover B

   Art by Dean Kotz, colors by Stefani Rennee and lettering done by Neil Uyetake.

   In this first part our bunch of adventurers are finally back in Baldur's Gate, tho still considered as outlaws. After their safe arrival in Krydle & Shandie's hideout, everyone is going about his/her own business. We're then following Minsc in his desire of acquiring back the fame he once had as the Beloved Ranger, former hero of the city. To do so he's heading to some tavern to get hints on any evil to fight. After having considered The Happy Joust "too jovial", The Drunken Lout "too inebriated" he finally enters The Gibbering Gizzard (these places being seemingly special creations for this comic). There he gets to know some local self-proclaimed hero of the people : Krigar the Courageous. This one having no desire to partner with anyone, Minsc will spy on him while he's confronting the Blades of Burgust, a band of thieves and assassins... 

Who's cast Control Weather ?? :P

   This part's art is pretty nice and if we're not in a thrilling scenario, this lays the foundation of the next issues and a possible upcoming story arc as Minsc is making here a new powerful enemy...

 Part Two : Krydle and Shandie

Issue #2, cover B

   Art by Steven Cummings, inks by John Wycough, colors by Jordy Escuin and letters by Neil Uyetake.

   This time we're following -as expected in the title- Krydle and Shandie, who, wandering in some undercellar, will encounter a certain Heltur they know... This one is accusing them to have participated, under the command of Burgust (cf part 1), in the kidnapping of an information broker known as The Fetcher. Claiming that he is in some deadly conflict relation with his former boss, Krydle decides to help free the informant and deal with Burgust once for all... 
   We learn here some aspect of Krydle's past : He was teaming up with Burgust and two other fellows (Dorjo the Jabber & Lili Swift) living of robbery -in some Robin Hood ethic- when Burgust wanted more and decided to create his own Thieves Guild. In his quest of power he ended totally paranoid and made imprison Lili, murdered Dorjo as well as Krydle's mother as this last one managed to run away...
   When freeing The Fetcher, our heroes learn the Blades of Burgust are planning to attack a secret meeting of the Parliament of Peers whose Coran and Ulder (cf Legends of Baldur's Gate) are part of...

Evil at Baldur's Gate #2 - Art by S. Cummings

   Note that at the end of this short story we have the discreet appearance of a certain Magister Mearls. It seems more than obvious it's a wink to Mike Mearls, senior manager of the D&D research and design team. He's credited in Murder in Baldur's Gate campaign guide as D&D Group Manager and we know that Jim Zub did use materials from this module before. (cf Legends of Baldur's Gate).
 2019 Gary Con XI - Epic Play with Mike Mearls as DM (left) - Magister Mearls & Ulder in Evil of Baldur's Gate (right)

   If Jim Zub gives us here a very nice and interesting background of one of his characters, I am personally a bit troubled on Cummings' art, especially on the characters' faces as they're not very recognizable in regards of the previous issues. On the other hand, we have some great smoke and light effects here and there which make the whole a still pretty nice-to-read issue.

Part Three : Delina in "Wild Ways"

Issue #3, cover B

   Art by Harvey Tolibao, colors by Juan Manuel Rodriquez and letters by Neil Uyetake.

   This issue is focusing on Delina who pays a visit to her friend, the Wizard-Librarian Matrikay at the Knowledge-Hold in order to fix her wild-magic controlling issue... to do so, the wizard teleports Delina in "a place of absolute order" where she might find answers, giving her a Recall-Stone for its safe return. Delina will end up in the Mechanus world -home of the Modrons- at Regulus (Cog 42 Region 16...) where she'll encounter who must be Primus (unnamed in the comic) and will have to face a trial before the Fraternity of Order...

Modron's quanticum logics... XD

  
Delina & Primus (left) - Delina & The Fraternity of Order (right)
 
   For a more indeep overview of Mechanus and the Modrons, both Dungeon Magazine #186 (Jan. 2011) and Dragon Magazine #414 (Aug. 2012) include very interesting articles :

Mechanus & Regulus - excerpt from Ecology of the Modron by Brian R. James (Dragon Magazine #414, 08/2012)

   This is a very nice issue Jim Zub & Harvey Tolibao offered us here, as much in the telling as in the art. We somehow find here the same oddness and inexorability that can only be found in Planescape's worlds in some sort of echo of the 1996 comic The Unity of the Ring.

Part Four : Beyond Death
 
Issue #4, cover B

   Art by Ramon Bachs, colors by Jordy Escuin and letters by Shawn Lee.

   Centered on Nerys Kathon, this issue tells how she will, with the help of the crew, deal with her lycanthropy issue she's facing since she was bitten by a werewolf in Shadows of the Vampire. Now aware of the curse, after her shapeshifting during a tavern brawl, our heroes will seek a cure at the Temple of Kelemvor where they'll inform Father Alby of the situation...

Ooops...

   We will note that Shandie makes some use of a dagger coated with Oil of Taggit, a powerful poison that makes its victims unconscious...

Oil of Taggit - Dungeon's Master Guide (p.258 - WotC, 2014)

   Nice issue where we assist on a somehow surprising and fluent conclusion of Nerys' narrative arc... it is still possible -if another series about these folks is ever published- that some unexpected plot twist may occur afterwards... but this is a story that remains to be told...Ramon Bachs' art is very pleasant and once again we're given a more-than-decent piece of work here.

Part Five : Hamster Quest

Issue #5, cover B

   Art by Francesco Mortarino, colors by Jordy Escuin and letters by Neil Uyetake.

   To conclude this mini-series, we are granted with a solo adventure of the cutest familiar ever : The Miniatiure Giant Space Hamster Boo ! While our heroes are deeply sleeping in their hideout, Boo wakes up and goes or a ramble on the cities' roofs. There it catches a bunch of adventurers having a conversation on the possible location of the hideout... This team of peanut brains is composed of Crimbo (male half-elf Wizard), Baden (male human Thief), Marrrue (female half-orc Warrior) and Shawneer (female human Sorcerer). Facing this unfortuitous threat against its companions, Boo will take care of the danger in its own way...

Far from A and not even B or C... here comes the Z-Team : :P

   Boo first appears as an "inventory item" in the video-game Baldur's Gate (Bioware, 1998) :

Boo "item" description - Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition (Beamdog, 2012)

   He's described as a Miniature Giant Space Hamster, which is not Minsc's invention as it is an existing variant of the species as described in the Spelljammer's Bestiary :

Giant Space Hamster - AD&D 2nd edition's Spelljammer Monstruous Compendium (TSR, 1990)

   On a trivia aspect, we can note that Neil Uyetake used a lorem ipsum to fill a dialogue bubble... which is not strange in itself as the text font is so tiny, the bubble being not meant to be read... but the troubling thing is that, apart the beginning, it doesn't correspond to the classic version...
   And here is the thing : Do we have here a randomized text created by some tool/program or... as could be the tradition... could there be some funny hidden meaning inside... The hard part here is to get a clean and fully readable version of this miniaturized text... and then to be able to translate that from latin... I'll let the brave and the reckless deal with that riddle... waiting for your comments ! :P

LOREM IPSUM DOLOR SIT AMET, ILLUD VERITUS PRO E, EX... 

   This last issue of Evil at Baldur's Gate is without any doubt the funiest of the whole series. Franscesco Mortarino's art fits totally the spirit of the narrative, his style -especially on the characters faces- reminding me of Monkey Punch's works (Lupin III).


   In the continuity of WotC cross-media marketing (cf Legends of Baldur's Gate) and as advertised on the single issues' covers, each one contains a code that can be used in the steam version of Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms to get some bonus chests. To my knowledge, these are no longer valid at the time I am writing these lines (FYI, no code in the TPB version of the series). Here they are for a record :

MINS-CBAL-DURS-GATE
KRYD-LEAN-DSHA-NDIE
DELI-NATH-EWIL-DWAY
NERY-SKAT-HONC-URSE
ABOO-HAMS-TERQ-UEST

    It is a very nice and entertaining series Jim Zub and his bunch of artists offered us here. We have our heroes recovering from their past adventures, finding answers and getting back on their feet. The optimistic (and often funny) tone of these short-stories acts like a balm on the reader's spirit in an echo of the narrative... Now the question is to know if we're on some happy ending here or can we hope to see our heroes back on the road soon ? Time will tell I suppose...

o_O

2019/03/01

D&D comics history part 36 - Frost Giant's Fury (IDW)

   In 2017, IDW issues a new mini-series depicting the adventures of Minsc and his companions after their escape from the Demiplane of Dread at the end of Shadows of the Vampire. This third story of our heroes from Baldur's Gate will be part of WotC's ongoing event : Storm King's Thunder and will be released under the title :

Frost Giant's Fury

2017 TPB cover

   As for the 2 previous series, author Jim Zub is in charge of the writing. This time he associates with artist Netho Diaz. The coloring will be done by Thiago Ribeiro and Milen Parvanov while the inking will be by Glauber Matos and J.B. Neto. And as usual, Neil Uyetake will be in charge of the lettering and collection design.

   We find our heroes caught in a snowstorm, lost somewhere in the middle of the Frozenfar, west-northen region of the Spine of the World. Badly injured after their battle against the master vampire Strahd, they find refuge in a cave. But soon, their shelter is discovered by a group of ogres passing by that they will have to confront. Hopefully for our bunch of broken adventurers, they'll be helped in their fight by a certain Saarvin, a scout dragonborn that will then lead them to the mining city of Fireshear. And from there it becomes obvious Jim Zub once again based his story on the WotC's module issued for the eponymous ongoing event.

 Map of the Frozenfar

Storm King's Thunder adventure module (WotC, 2016)

   Saarvin is a character that appears briefly in the Storm King's Thunder module as a random wilderness encounter proposal (cf pict below). But, even if he has just a few lines describing him there, he will be added as a playable character in the upcoming and still work-in-progress android game : Warriors of Waterdeep by Ludia.

Saarvin - Ranger random encounter, Storm King's Thunder (p.71 - WotC, 2016)

Saarvin first appearance, Frost Giant's Fury #1 (IDW, 2017)

Saarvin in Warriors of Waterdeep - design by Gwen Houzelot (Ludia, 2018)

   After a few time spent in Fireshear healing, resting and equiping themselves with appropriate winter gears, our heroes, back on their feet, have to deal with a frost giants' raid on the city. Minsc and his crew will help defend the town adding their strenght to the Griffons' aerial support lead by Dasharra Keldabar. Krydle, on his side, will play an unexpected asset by releasing a White Dragon, captive of the giants, named Licanthe. This is barely the suggested encounter found in the module's description of the city (cf pict below)...

Firesheard description & suggested encounter - Storm King's Thunder (p.83-84 - WotC, 2016)

   The raiding giants' leader is a certain Lord Gryttmort who's heading to a peak named Cold Crag  willing to reach Licanthe's secret lair in order to seize a Dragon Orb. This artifact would allow him to get control on dragons and then to get the power to overthrow Storvald and take his place as a Jarl (and conquer the rest of the North from there...). To have Licanthe obey him and extort the hidden lair's location, he took the dragon's eggs in hostage. This is an interesting scenario Jim Zub constructed here as he mixed up different elements of the module. (cf extracts below). If Jarl Storvald is in the center of the module's plot elements that inspired the comic's narrative, he's replaced here by Gryttmort but however still being evocated once.

White dragon's eggs plot elements, SKT module p.11

Orb of dragonkind plot element, SKT module p.12

   As well, Gryttmort's headquarters (where our bunch of adventurers will finally end to achieve their goal - saving the North and all...) are a pretty unique floating iceberg fortress that is described in the module as being Svardborg (cf upper map of the Frozenfar) :

Gryttmort's Fortress

Svardborg map - Storm King's Thunder (p.160 - WotC, 2016)

   Jim Zub definitely excels in his put-a-module-in-a-shaker-and-get-a-story processing. He really has an eye to select the plot elements that will set his narrative up and the talent to bring credibility to his characters via the wide range of emotions they go through. Netho Diaz did an amazing work here, his style fitting perfectly the narration with the use of ruggish lines emphasing the decrepitude of our heroes and the hostile environment they are facing.
 
   And bonus (!) : we're granted at the end of each issue (as well as in the TPB) with our five heroes' chara-sheets. These are meant to be used by roleplayers (cf disclaimer at the bottom of each) and are freely available in pdf on Wizards' website. Here's Nerys' one for an insight :


No doubt... within the D&D comics world, IDW rules and we can only hope it will last for long !

°-°

2019/02/26

D&D comics history part 35 - Shadows of the Vampire (IDW)

   IDW pursues the adventures of Minsc and his mates started in Legends of Baldur's Gate and publishes in 2016 a 5 issues mini-series, part of WotC's Curse of Strahd event, entitled :

Shadows of the Vampire

2016 TPB cover

   As in the previous series Jim Zub is in charge of the writing. The art will be fully done (coloring included) by Nelson Daniel. Neil Uyetake will remain in charge of the lettering and collection design.

   The story starts with our bunch of heroes (Minsc, Boo, Delina, Krydle and Shandie) looking for some mercenary job after their victory on the evil Dragon Cult. The party, still being considered as outlaws by the city guards and therefore keeping a low profile, pays a visit to the Temple of Kelemvor (god of the dead and the dying) which is having some trouble for the last few nights. There, they meet Father Alby, the priest in charge, who asks them to investigate. They'll be joined by Nerys, a female cleric, servant of Kelemvor who's not that glad to have to assist these bunch of faithless mercenaries. During their first camping night surveying the Temple, intruders (skeletons lead by Sangin and his two werevolves accolytes Dron & Utna) will pop in to steal some magic artifact. Then, trying to save Nerys (who's been kidnapped during the assault) and to retrieve the stolen magic items, the full crew -as well as the villains- will all be teleported via some magical myst in the well known Demiplane of Dread : Ravenloft. They end up in Barovia (description and map below), the domain ruled by the uber-famous and redoubted vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich...

Map of Barovia (including Shadows of the Vampire's plot locations)

Barovia as described in Ravenloft campaign setting : Realm of Terror (p.63-65 - TSR, 1990)

   As expected at the end of Legends of Baldur's Gate, the party is added a cleric. Nerys Kathon is a creation of Jim Zub and Max Dunbar. As for Minsc, Boo and Delina, Nerys will be too added as a playable character in Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms in late 2018. (cf Jim Zub's tweet)

Nerys' first appearance (left) & her chara-sheet in Idle Champions (right)

    Regarding the storyline of this mini-series, it's obvious Jim Zub and Nelson Daniel used the Curse of Strahd module (WotC, march 2016), issued during the eponymous event, as their main source of inspiration, and that for both plot's intrigues and illustration designs. Curse of Strahd's adventure is kinda an enhanced and enriched remake of TSR 1983's D&D adventure : Ravenloft (I6) where Barovia was first ever mentioned.

Curse of Strahd - cover art by Ben Oliver (WotC, 2016) & I6 Ravenloft (TSR, 1983)

   Just after their arrival in Ravenloft, our heroes visit a Vistani (local Gypsies) camp where they'll meet a fortune-teller known as Madam Eva (stats below). If not mentioned in the comic, this place is known as the Tser Pool Encampment. And there is no doubt artist N.Daniel respected the map provided in the module to draw it as it's fitting almost perfectly :

Tser Pool Encampment - Art N.Daniel + Curse of Strahd's module map (p.36)

    Madam Eva is there the first named NPC the party encounters. She's a major character in the domain of Barovia as, apart from being a powerful medium and fortune-teller, she appears to be Strahd's half-sister.

Madam Eva as drawn by N.Daniel, with her infos & stats from CoS module (p.233-234)

   Madam Eva will use a Tarokka deck to tell Minsc his future. In 2016, GaleForce Nine issued a Tarokka deck to use with Curse of Strahd (or remotely as some kind of poker via the Prophet's Gambit's rules) and we can see here that Nelson Daniel used the exact same design of the cards (original art by Chuck Lukacs, who worked on many D&D modules as illustrator as well as on Magic : The Gathering cardgame) in the comic :

 Tarokka Deck Box (GF9, 2016) and its cards as used in Shadows of the Vampire

    Leaving the encampment, our adventurers will save another named NPC mentioned in the module, a certain Adrian Martikov who's being attacked by a horde of ghouls. This one will then propose the party to help him guard his wagon full of wine barrels until he reaches his destination, the Wizard of Wines Winery (owned by Davian Martikov, Adrian's suspicious father), where our heroes would be allowed to stay as a reward for their efforts. This subquest is directly inspired by the Special Events proposed in page 180 of Curse of Strahd :

"Wine Delivery" quest

Wizard of Wines Winery - Art by N.Daniel & CoS module map (p.175)

   In the meantime, the villain Sangin is taken back at Ravenloft Castle where Strahd summons the Three Bride to "discipline" him... and there the comparison between the module's illustration of these characters and Daniel's art suffers no doubt at all :

The Three Bride, N.Nelson & Curse of Strahd (p.93) versions
From left to right : Anastrasya Karelova, Ludmilla Vilisevic & Volenta Popofsky

   After that, Sangin will pay a visit to his former comrades at their home, the Werewolf Den. There we'll witness the confrontation of Dron & Utna with their pack leader, Kiril Stoyanovich after the fail of their escaping attempt. As there is an exception to every rule, Kiril is drawn by Daniel as bearded and bald-headed while he has black thick hair in the module's illustration.

Werewolf Den - description and map (Curse of Strahd module, p.201-202)

   Meanwhile our heroes will finally manage to arrive in the town of Vallaki. (Tho, when looking at the map of Barovia, it's very unlikely that they could have reached The Wizard of Wines without passing by Vallaki prior to that, especially considering they departed from the Tser Pool accompanying a carriage that had no means but to follow the road... just sayin' heh... :P)

Town of Vallaki - description and map (Curse of Strahd module, p95, 97)

   There, they will arrive in a middle of a Carnivale which theme of the week is "Parade of Purple" and will encounter the Burgomaster, Baron Vargas Vallakovich. Once again this NPC is directly inspired from the module in his traits :

Baron Vargas - N.Daniel & CoS module illustration (p.105) versions

   And soon, the great villain and ruler of Barovia Strahd von Zarovich will make some badass stylish entrance to finally confront our heroes...

Once a badass, always a badass...

Strahd's description & stats as in CoS module. (p.239-240)

   Strahd's background is vaguely and briefly evocated a fisrt time by Sangin wondering if Tatyana (Federovna) could have been the previous owner of the magic necklace. Tatyana was the betrothed of Strahd's younger brother Sergei von Zarovich (who briefly appears as a ghost at the end of the comic - second evocation of Strahd's past). After Strahd murdered Sergei by jealousy (and in order to gain eternal youth via a ritual of the black arts) on what was to be their wedding day, Tatyana, refusing to succumb to the murderer, threw herself off Castle Ravenloft into the chasm below. These events, which are at the origins of his curse, are told in the 1993 novel I, Strahd : The Memoirs of a Vampire by P.N.Elrod.

I, Strahd - The Memoirs of a Vampire (French cover - Fleuve Noir, 1997)

   Using the most recent Ravenloft materials as bedrock of their work, Jim Zub and Nelson Daniel offer here a great, coherent and, as we saw, very documented story. The more time our adventurers spend in the Demiplane of Dread, the more desperate they become. Ravenloft is a dark gothic setting where hope, faith and good feelings don't belong. Far from the comedy tone of the first series, we're experiencing here the pangs of the tragedy. It's only the second time a comic is set in Ravenloft in the whole D&D comics history (the other one being the short-story The Rigor of the Game from the Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons collection by DDP). And once again it worked like a charm. N.Daniel successfully followed up the work of Max Dunbar, respecting what his predecessor implemented and did great bringing the visual despair this narrative needed.

   Note that, for some reason, the first issue of Shadows of the Vampire as well as the TPB version contain the Tyranny of Dragons short story that was previously released online on WOTC website.

O,..,o