Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chronic Review: Dungeons & Dragons # 0!

Dungeons & Dragons # 0
IDW Comics

Scripts: John Rogers/Alex Irvine
Pencils: Andrea Di Vito/Peter Bergting
16 pages for $1.00

This is a specially priced preview of two books: A Dungeons & Dragons title with the typical Tolkein-inspired swords + sorcery, and a Dark Sun story with similar elements set in a more physically punishing environment.

I sometimes wonder how much crossover there is between the role-playing community and the comic book herd. Nerds of a feather? I've certainly indulged in both, and it isn't unusual to see RPG supplies sold under the same roof as comic books. I guess in that sense, and Dungeons & Dragons license makes more sense than say, Gears of War. Even though video games carry a much larger built in audience, what are the odds that you buy them in the same joint as your comics?

The first half of the book, written by John Rogers and pencilled by Andrea Di Vito is mostly tolerable. If the introduction is any true barometer of what they plan to do with the series, expect a train of non-stop action punctuated by attempted wit and winks at old school gamers.

The party consists of a human fighter, a dwarf, a halfling, an elf, and the group picks up a female mage while slashing through the dungeon crawl. These are all very comfortable icons, and this comic rarely strayed from the expected.

The only item that pushed the needle toward interest for me was a scene in which the tough as nails fighter Adric was able to read secret runes off a door frame. Everything else is quite stock, by-the-numbers, and well-travelled. Khal the Dwarf and Varis the elf banter in the exact same manner that you'd expect Gimli and Legolas to spar with each other.

This isn't just a Tolkein retread, though, the comic is littered with nods to the AD&D gaming experience. The thief detects the trap and lies about how much treasure is on the bodies. The magic user wears no armor and like to chuck "old reliable", the magic missile. The group plows through a dungeon as if they're playing through an old module. The only thing missing are captions at the top telling you who won initiative for the round. I think those were smart moves. If you're going to use the license and hopefully attract the source clientele, it's probably best to demonstrate that you know the trappings and culture.

In fact, they even tossed in a little treat for us old folks. Bree Three Hands actually climbs up the statue featured on the old Players Handbook and pries off a ruby eye!

And while that did make me smile, that's only treasure enough for me to wish somebody else would buy this book and show me appropriate panels from time to time. For me, there isn't enough story here to warrant spending the $3.99 is will certainly take to buy an issue.

While there were some appreciated trinkets for crotchety old bastards like myself, I think that Dungeons & Dragons is actually in a younger gamer's wheelhouse. Once you've plowed through enough books and movies to understand that everything inside this comic has been done before and better, the magic is gone. But it's fun, paced quickly, and I think a young gamer will find enough of themselves and their gaming experiences inside to relate and hook into it.

Incidentally- the less said about the Dark Sun half of the book, the better. I call it "The Hot Goodbye", because of the similarities between the vengeance story here and the first arc of Sin City. The difference being that Marv said and did interesting things, while Grudvik simply repeats that he "isn't a slave" over and over again while hitting things in the least visually dynamic way possible. Hoo boy.

This comic wasn't even trying. I can forgive sketchy art and a straight vengeance plot - there's nothing new under the sun, fine, and I'm not really qualified to be an art critic. But what the hell is this panel? No emotion or real information is conveyed because we can't see the speaker. And why? WHY??? So we can get a good shot at that awesomely detailed cart? That luscious cityscape? It's an embarassment in comic storytelling. Yech.

So that's that. Dungeons & Dragons appears to be a serviceable and fun but uninspired fantasy adventure that should probably play well to a young gaming crowd. And I'm giving a radioactive warning on Dark Sun.

The truly scary thing is that this is an intro comic. They priced it dirt cheap as a loss leader to get into as many hands as possible. You know this ahead of time, so you prepare to put your best foot forward. It's like a first date, or a job interview. Dark Sun decided not to shower, then went to its interview with sweat pants and a dried booger on its t-shirt. You sir.....are not hired.

- Ryan

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