Robot 6

The Middle Ground #27: Maximum Damage On My Preconceptions – Or Something

I am not a Dungeons and Dragons fan. This is, in fact, putting it mildly; fantasy of almost all sorts brings me out in nervous hives – I was that one person complaining that the Lord of The Rings movies were too long and kind of dull! – and so, you can imagine my reaction when I got the first issue of IDW’s new D&D comic in the mail. How, then, did I end up deciding that it was the model for the ideal opener for any debut comic?

Here’s the thing: I really, really shouldn’t have liked this comic. On paper, it was almost entirely a loser for me. Not only am I on the fence-slash-actively against elves, dwarves and magic-doers teaming up for epic quests that may involve swordsplay and/or a greater good, but I’m also not a fan of series artist Andrea Di Vito, whose work has often seemed more like a bland Paul Pelletier than anything else when I’ve run across it. The only glimmer of hope, I thought as I picked the book up to read it, was the presence of writer John Rogers. I liked his Blue Beetle, and I love his Leverage TV show. Maybe he’d make the whole thing a little bit better.

Spoiler: He didn’t. He made it a lot better (I should also defend Di Vito, whose work here may still have some of the tics that I don’t like about his art, but it’s also a lot looser than I’m used to from him, and with much nicer layouts. I wouldn’t call myself a fan just yet, but I’d definitely like to see more development along these lines). And it’s really all down to two things that seem remarkably basic in retrospect: Comedy and familiarity.

Firstly, this is a funny book (Surprisingly so, for a D&D newbie like myself, who was expecting overly florid speeches and Gaiman-esque poetry from the Elves in between Conan-esque “By Crom!”s and skull-crushing). I knew I was enjoying the issue by the second page, where two – admittedly dumb – jokes had me laughing and realizing: These characters are just like regular people. The humor undercut whatever negative expectations I had, but also let me know that this wasn’t something that was taking itself too seriously and – much more importantly – wasn’t something that was unapproachable just because I didn’t know my Dungeons & Dragons lore. That second thing, the sense of not being entirely lost at sea in this new world and franchise, was underlined by the choice of threat for the opener: Instead of going for anything too invested in the D&D world that’d stand in the way of newcomer enjoyment, it’s zombies that’re the immediate threat in the first issue. There’s something weirdly comforting about that, a small piece of information that doesn’t need explanation when everything else (Including the characters, society and even the laws of physics in a world where magic exists beside elves and halflings) still does. Instead of coming across as overused, it’s like equivalent of a security blanket – albeit a dead one that wants to eat your brains – while you’re still getting used to your new surroundings.

What won me over, and made me think that this is a model of a perfect debut issue for a licensed comic, was that this is just a very smart comic that manages to make everything look effortless. The humor is the spoonful of sugar disguising the work that Rogers has put in to ease new readers into a world that’s still true to existing D&D rules (There’re even combat stats for one of the lead characters in the back!), and a tool to say “It’s okay to think some of this is funny, because it is.” But at no point does the humor snark at the franchise or the fans, or write above them. It’s well-considered, inclusive and faithful to where it comes from without being slavishly controlled by its past, and best of all, it’s so fun and fast-paced that none of that seems evident until you’ve finished the issue and want to read the next one already. More comics should be this good.

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8 Comments

If I’m not mistaken, that image is a Wayne Reynolds piece ( I know his work from Magic the Gathering), was his art per chance in the D & D comic?

Aww man, I avoided this exactly because it might be some too-serious pamphlet into the world of D&D (and this is coming from a fantasy and D&D nut). Such a glowing review is making me regret not picking this up!

As a D&D player, my interest in the comic adaptations has always been “but how will they use (this or that game rule) in the book?” which is perfectly valid, just like how the main interest in superhero comics is arguing how Superman can beat Thor etc. But just as that doesn’t stop comics from also having great stories, a D&D comic can be anything from a comedy to a drama and be very good on those merits. Just don’t forget the game rules and concepts- otherwise it WOULD be just another comic about elves killing undead.

i wonder if this is going to be first issue of a D&D comic that features a party that would actually exist in a D&D world? And I also wonder if this is the first licensed property produced with a D&D name on it, that might actually be written by someone that has played the game (the cartoon, previous comics and movie clearly didn’t have anybody that play the game involved in their production)

I’m glad to hear the good review, might have to pick it up, as a gamer(coming from the opposite viewpoint that you did) I’ve been tremendously disappointed with everything that has the D&D name on it, to the point that I didn’t even consider looking at the book.. As a D&D fan, I’m not saying that they need to make the rules apparent in the story, but there should be some consistencies. The party should resemble a D&D party (not have a centaur or minotaur on the team or whatever other crap that DC comic had) Should have the basic monsters from the game, should show the characters improving the more they adventure and at some point in time should have both a Dungeon and a Dragon(although don’t make the Dragon an easy slay). Beyond that, fun should be something that is shown in the comic, it’s after all based upon a game, and if you aren’t showing fun, then you are missing the point of any game.

Hmmm, this reviewer is very very different to me. The only reason I picked this book up was coz of Di Vito’s art as he’s one of my favourites in the industry right now.

I might have to consider giving this a look. I gave up on D&D comics with the Kenzer & Co. run. The videogame-like mechanics of the newer editions of the game have our group locked into its old AD&D campaign (we did give 3rd edition and version 3.5 a try, but no joy).

I’ll pretty much echo the reviewer’s sentiments–this was definitely not a book targeted for me, but was a hell of a lot of fun. I’d be curious what fans of the franchise will say about it.

YESSSSS!!!! If a non-D&D fan find this comic book very cool, then, this comic book is very cool!!!!
It may stupid to say that, but it’s important to have a reaction of a non-fan of one of the biggest RPG (else if I don’t very like the 4th edition!).

We, readers and players, have in mind the previous (to not say “old”) D&D comic books series (my preferred was/is DragonLance) and we are “in the game” (what the edition is) and we think “through” the game. Our approach for a D&D new product is not at all an “objective” one, but a “subjective” one.

A non player review of the first new comic books series of the D&D universe is important for us.

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