For a slick single dollar, you get yourself a couple of prelude tales that will lead into the IDW “Dungeons & Dragons” line of comics, coming later this fall and in the early weeks of next year. You also get creature stats for a Young Black Dragon, 4th Edition style, and a couple of creator interviews. It’s a marketing package clearly designed to hook new readers and draw in the gaming crowds. And it’s a pretty good little comic for doing just that.
The first story is a heck of a lot better than the second, though.
The comic opens with a John Rogers/Andrea Di Vito tale of “Fell’s Five,” a gang of classic adventurer types engaged in a dungeon crawl and a descent into the Underdark. Rogers gives us a fighter, a paladin, a ranger, a rogue, and a warlock. It’s an almost embarrassingly cliche cast of characters, but Rogers shows that he knows that, and his characters don’t fall into the faux-high diction of so many other Tolkein-lite comics. No, this is a knowing adaptation of the Dungeons & Dragons mileu, with a smart approach that treats the whole story like a fun weekend at the gaming table. Rogers’ characters make fun of the more ridiculous aspects of their adventure: “We’ve been going down for two hours. Who builds these dungeon mazes, anyway?” asks the grizzled veteran fighter. And the Halfling rogue talks to herself about flanking and back-stabbing, with a wink to the in-game advantages to such maneuvers.
But it’s not all silly jokey ridiculousness. Nope, this is high-adventure and drama, but with characters who live in the “Dungeons & Dragons” world, which means they aren’t medieval recreationists, or renaissance anachronisms. They’re D&D characters, made flesh (or, um, ink). And that mix of drama and comedy and surprise that Rogers showed in his “Blue Beetle” run, well, it makes an appearance in this ten-page story here. His upcoming “Dungeons & Dragons” comic seems to be the one to check out.
The “Dark Sun” six-pager near the back of this issue seems less enticing.
It’s drawn by Peter Bergting, an artist who is a lot better at quiet suspense than he is at action, and it’s written by Alex Irvine as if he were following a paint-by-Troy-Denning outline. Dark Sun is a D&D setting that combines a post-apocalyptic landscape (an apocalypse caused by magic, rather than technology) with gladiators and sorcerer-kings and terrifying creatures beneath the desert. But the Irvine story (in its admittedly short six pages) is full of every Dark Sun cliche, and without the knowing and ironic tone of the Rogers tale. It’s just slaves and gladiators and gladiator/slaves and a guy sitting on a stone outcropping full of sadness. It’s certainly not as successful at selling the upcoming “Dark Sun” miniseries as it might have been.
IDW has declared its plans to reprint some classic D&D comics in addition to producing its original comics based on the property. Most of those “classic” D&D comics are about the same quality of the Alex Irvine/Peter Bergting attempt, from what I remember. But the John Rogers story in this issue bodes well for the future of the IDW D&D relationship. It looks like a comic that has appeal outside the gaming fanbase, and it looks like it will be plenty of fun.