2020/07/14

D&D comics history part 38 - Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons (IDW - Oni Press)

   Within its history, D&D had some official crossovers (most often as RPG modules) with existing licensed settings such as Conan, Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser, Ptolus, Diablo, Magic : The Gathering or even World of Warcraft. When these worlds had all the fantasy environment potential to be adapted/linked to D&D, some were less obvious as Infestation 2 comics or the recently red box adaptation of the Stranger Things' Netflix series. In the same vein, in 2018, will be published the unexpected crossover comic :

Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons

TPB cover

   Rick and Morty is an animated sitcom created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon that premiered on [adult swim] in december 2013. It's an adult cynical science-fiction show depicting the adventures of the Smith family which is composed of the parents, Jerry & Beth, their children Morty & Summer and Beth's father Rick Sanchez. The anime is mainly focusing on the duo Rick and his grand-child Morty as one could expect.

From left ro right : Morty, Summer, Jerry, Rick and Beth

   Rick is without a doubt a selfish, alcoholic and misanthropic sociopath as much as he's a genius scientist suffering of abyssal boredom who is able to travel to space and other dimensions. To bear his world(s)-weariness, he'll bring his grand-child (and later other family members) with him on his trips that often turn to some cataclysmic disasters.
   Morty, on his side, is a beta 14 yo boy, fearing his own shadow and totally submit to his grand-father's will.
   The duo is clearly inspired by Marty McFly and 'Doc' from the Back to the Future movie franchise and most of the episodes will have winks to pop & geek culture's elements (when they are not fully inspired by such) and built on elaborated SF concepts.

Marty & Doc from Back to the Future

   The success of Rick and Morty will be such -around 25 awards-nominations and winner of a third of these- that it will be adapted on different supports as comics, issued by Oni Press from april 2005 (60 regular issues plus a 20ish independant ones as of june 2020), video and family games as well as various other goodies.

   And so in 2018, the idea to do a comic crossover between Rick & Morty and Dungeons & Dragons germinates within the Oni Press staff. Against all odds, WotC validates the idea and an agreement is taken for a collaboration between the respective publishers : IDW and Oni Press. To do so, the chosen team will be composed of writer Jim Zub (who greatly brought his stone to the D&D universe by his works on the recent Baldur's Gate comics by IDW and his contribution to some RPG modules). He will be joined in the writing by epic fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss while the artwork will be taken in charge by cartoonist Troy Little. The coloring will be done by Leonardo Ito and the lettering by Robbie Robbins.

   This mini-series, as first planned as a one-shot, will be released in 4 issues from august 2018 to january 2019 before being compiled into TPB and HC and even later in a box set with exclusive variant covers. And here we come to the alternative covers thing... It is kinda the norm that comics are issued with variant covers, often A & B, sometimes some Retailer Incentive (RI) or Retailer Exclusive (RE) and more rarely Convention ones. We saw in the past that IDW was on the trend when they released their first D&D comic in 2010. At that time the issue #0 introducing both Fell's Five and Dark Sun was findable under the impressive number of 7 different covers. But here... heh here... we're far past this point as issue #1 of R&M vs D&D will have no less that 24 alternative covers... yeah, no typo... 24 damn alt covers !! (o_O;)
2nd and 3rd issue will be in the average, having respectively 4 and 5 ones when 4th and last one will still have 8 alts ! To these, add 3 TPB versions, 2 hardcovers and the box set release... Ouch for the collectors' wallets !! Yeah... OUCH !!

   Below is a visual checklist for those who would be on the insane compulsive Mortymon mood to catch them all... (I can proudly say I bravely resisted the mermaid's song that very one time ! XD)

Nah, don't thank me for that... get an appointment with your banker instead... I mean, just in case... you know... XD

   For sure the release of this particular crossover was a thing then ! To have a better understanding of the phenomenom here is a pict Jim Zub published on his twitter well showing how amazing its success was. If he didn't put numbers, the graph is still speaking for itself. o_o

A picture's worth a thousand words they used to say heh...

   So... so many covers and versions released. When most of these have the same content we will here do our best to list the ones that bring something more (cover art apart obviously) than the regular issue.

1. Sneak Preview Edition, aug. 2018 (cheklist line 3, last position)
It only contains the first 11 pages of first issue. Bonus : 2 pages of behind-the-scenes with a word from Sarah Gaydos, Oni Press Editorial Director of Licensed Publishing (and former Editor for IDW !) and pictures of page 5 in its different steps (first sketch, final sketch, inked page before coloring). Mix of rubber and glossy paper textures on cover.
Thoughts : Not a must-have but for the cover and the last 2 pages. For collectors only.

2. Director's Cut Edition, 2019 (cheklist line 3, 7th position)
Here, if we have the full first issue story, final colored pages alternate with final sketch or before coloring inked pages (sadly, no raw sketch page as we could had a glimpse in the Sneak Preview ed.). As bonus we will find a few alt covers arts, characters sketches, pages 15, 18 and 20 in different steps of processing and the interview with Jim Zub, Patrick Rothfuss and Troy Little that came with issue #1.
Thoughts : Honestly, I was waiting more from this edition, maybe core/building research sketches etc than only sketch pages before lining/coloring... but well, still brings a little something.

3. The 3D cover (cheklist line 3, 1st position)
Well, red & blue lenses glasses to enjoy the cover in 3-D. That had to be mentioned, no ?
Thoughts : If you've lost your 3D glasses from the 80's...

4. Normal TPB (checkist line 8, 3rd position)
Contains the whole story with almost all the single issues alternative covers (full colored versions only) except for the Sneak Preview Ed. and the exclusive box-set ones. Has also the interview and a page showing 4 before-colors pages as well as Jerry's character sheet.
Thoughts : Nice TPB with covers gallery. The cheapest for sure.

5. Barnes & Nobles Exclusive Edition TPB (checklist line 8, last position)
Said to contain the covers gallery (I guess as in normal TPB) with an introduction from Patrick Rothfuss, commentary from Troy Little and a bonus poster.
Thoughts : The TPB in a deluxe edition with a poster and a nice golden cover. A very nice pick for sure.

6. GameStop Exclusive Hardcover Edition (checklist line 8, 2nd position)
Has all the contents found in TPB (plus a page grouping the 5 characters found on chara-sheet covers), the interview is here too. The main addition to this version is a 12 pages adventure module for 4-6 level 1 characters entitled The Temple of Glorb written by Adam Lee (not mentioned) and of course the exclusive cover featuring Tiamat by Mike Vasquez.
Thoughts : The ultimate edition with RPG materials as bonus. I mean, run. Run for it ! Clearly the must-to-have if you can get it.
 
The Temple of Glorb map

7. The boxed set (checklist line 7)
Well, singles issues come in a box... with exclusive charasheets covers you can't find elsewhere.
Thoughts : For collectors only or as a nice present.

   Other variants may have some particular or unique addons that I'd be glad to mention here if I get the info. Let a comment or email me if you're aware of such !

   Now, it's time to have a look at the comic itself.

   The plot is taking place when Morty overhears a conversation about a D&D tabletop gaming session. He realises he knows nothing about D&D while it seems to be common knowledge within his schoolmates. After some digging on the web and other spying, he somehow comes to believe that "Gamers get laid"... Well decided to not miss the chance, he ends up in a retailing store, meets a girl-gamer who invites him to play on the next saturday as he's bragging to be an active roleplayer. Having brought back home all the basic manuals, he falls in desperation in front of the amount of rules and complexity while there are only few days left before the meeting. He will seek his grand-father's help and Rick will reveals his own D&D player's past... Pandora box opened.

Gamers get laid...

   After some unsuccessful tries on classic tabletop play with some old friends, Rick will bring Morty into a D&D simulator in a certain Greyhawk world... and later on, followed by the rest of the family, in a dimension known as The Forgotten Realms... Nothing will go as originally planned as you can expect...
WE DON'T. TALK. ABOUT. FOURTH.

   Jim Zub is a smart guy, no doubt considering how he managed to build entertaining stories using available materials. He's also a social-media guy, and seems at ease while it comes to socialize in his professional circle. As a result he quickly adopted the codes of the D&D world and industry and made himself a part of it, working on side projects for WotC, being an enjoyable guest in Conventions, participating in livestreamed gaming sessions, etc. And icing on the cake, he clearly understands what the audience is waiting for.

J.Zub & M.Mercer as Minsc & Boo on D&D LIVE (May 18, 2019)

   And here he succeeded to mix all the elements needed to avoid the main risks inherent to any crossover : disappointing both sides' fans (and incidentally be part of a financial/company image failure). Except the few that is said in their interview, I honestly have no clue on the working process between Zub and Rothfuss. But I would still bet that Zub is at the origin of a good part of the winks that will finally do the job by creating a known -and subconsciously intimate- environment easily recognizable by the audience. If it feels like home, if it smells like home, if it looks like home, that must be home...

   So we have here and there elements linked to the D&D history (1st and 2nd edition books, cartoon characters from the 80's show, etc) that will evoque memories to a generation born in the 70's, very alike the nostalgia you can feel watching a Stranger Things episode.

These beggars look somehow familiar...

   We have also elements from the actual D&D "star-system" and their dedicated medias (ie. Critical Role and Acquisitions Inc websites) appearance of famous D&D staff (as Chris Perkins or late Gary Gygax) or third-parties performers (as Matt Mercer, Satine Phoenix or Mazz) and other winks that will speak to the youngest fans.

A bunch of Dungeons Masters

   And last but not least, the profusion of lore contents, rule evocations, quests and RP situations will surely delight any roleplayer.

Roll for your life !

   On the Rick and Morty's side, we are in a typical scenario construction, respecting the clich├ęs of the show as in the plot outcome as in the interaction between the characters. The art mastering of Troy Little on this comic is such as you totally forget it's not the original artist's work you're looking at.

   Tho, I tend to think that the D&D audience will slightly recognize itself more than R&M's one in this crossover but no doubt that fans of both will greatly enjoy the work done here. I guess that the tone has deliberately been put on an almost "family-friendly" level to enlarge the possible audience (some episodes of R&M being pushed far beyond any morality / ethics...). On this point, even if some R&M's fans could be a bit disappointed, I find it particulary and smartly well-balanced considering the context.

   To celebrate this amazing crossover, Oni Press will release an enamel pin from the first issue A cover that you could order on their site for 15$. It is actually sold out.

The enamel pin on its chara-sheet cardboard

   The success of the comic will be such that a second series entitled Painscape will be published from september 2019 and that, on fans request and in the vein of the GameStop edition, the adventure module box "Dungeons & Dragons vs. Rick and Morty" will be released 2 months later.

Now it's D&D vs. R&M ! Many thanks Santa btw ! :P

   Kinda an archetype of a success story we've been granted here. Wondering how far it will all go...  Wubba Lubba D&D !! o_O

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