It’s been over 15 years since I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s a testament to the original designers that I still remember the weirdness of the “Dark Sun” campaign setting. A desert-baked land isn’t too out of the ordinary, sure, but this is one with magicians who suck the life out of the planet, huge flying manta rays, a sea of silt rather than water, and much more. Think Mad Max meets Cthulhu’s nephews.
It’s that general sense of a crazy land that is actively trying to kill you at any given moment that Alex Irvine and Peter Bergting bring to life in “Dark Sun” #1; at any given moment main characters Grudvik and Aki are besieged by all sorts of monsters and harsh terrain. It’s this harshness that makes the world of Athas stand out from so many other D&D settings, and I like that every time our characters stop to catch their breath for more than five minutes, they’re back in the thick of disaster.
The actual plot is just all right, as escaped slave meets slave hunter, but of course the two form an uneasy truce as they make their way back to the city-state of Tyr with hints of hidden riches to be found. There’s nothing objectionable about it, but this first installment feels like it serves more as a function to serve up some of the “Dark Sun” deadliness rather than a particularly gripping plot. I’m all right with that, though; Irvine has come up with enough nastiness to attack our heroes that it’s entertaining the whole way through.
I absolutely love Bergting’s art, though; it’s rough and jagged, and Grudvik in particular manages to look both archetypal and unique. More importantly, a lot of the smaller details sing from Bergting. The ship sailing on the Sea of Silt has a ragged, thrown-together look that makes it fit its surroundings well, and the tentacles of the silt horror that slither up out of the sea’s depths show just enough to make it dangerous without having to reveal everything. The world of Athas is supposed to be dangerous, and that’s exactly how it looks thanks to Bergting.
As an ongoing series I might be slightly worried that “Dark Sun” doesn’t have a lot of plot going on, but as a mini-series it works perfectly. There’s enough here to make me want to read the remaining chapters, and that’s what a first issue needs to deliver. I might not play the game anymore, but it is fun to get another trip back into the realm of “Dark Sun.”