We live in a time when Dungeons & Dragons is experiencing a huge resurgence in popularity -- so much so that it's inspired popular actual-play podcasts and streaming programs. An animated adaptation of one of those streaming programs, Critical Role, even broke a Kickstarter record for the most-funded film or television project ever. On top of that, the final season of HBO's Game of Thrones is perhaps the most-discussed TV series in the world. So, the public is hungry for the fantasy genre and thankfully the comics industry has noticed. This article will take a look at some of the titles, being published by Marvel, IDW and Image Comics, and why fans should be very happy those titles are out there.
The first, and perhaps most visible, fantasy project is Marvel Comics' current War of the Realms event. The storyline, which brings to a close writer Jason Aaron's six-year run on the Thor titles, chronicles what happens when the other nine magical realms of Asgard invade the mundane world of Midgard. It's a story that offers significant payoff for long-term readers, but it's also accessible for new fans who just want to see what happens when their favorite Marvel superheroes collide with the worlds of elves, dragons and trolls.
That collision point between the magical and modern worlds is really what the Marvel Universe is all about -- a contrast that becomes even more profound and special when the fantasy crosses paths with super-science and superheroes. So, War of the Realms is a chance to showcase what's great about Marvel Comics to new and lapsed readers, and it's doing so with a popular genre that isn't always represented in mainstream comics.
Outside readers might also be interested in the War of the Realms tie-in books as well. Especially, the War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery miniseries written by the McElroy family (Patriarch Clint, and sons Travis, Griffin and Justin), the stars of the hit Dungeons & Dragons-inspired podcast, The Adventure Zone. In the series' first three issues the McElroys, and artist Andre Araujo, tell a humorous tale that features current and popular Marvel characters, like Kate Bishop and Miles Morales, but also plays with some deep cut continuity in ways that are fun for long-time readers and new fans alike.
The other major Marvel fantasy development is the reacquisition of Robert E Howard's iconic sword & sorcery hero, Conan. The new volumes of Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan give readers stories with a classic feel. These books are especially enticing to fans who only know the Cimmerian's prose adventures because there are bonus serialized prose shorts in the back of each issue. Plus, Marvel has begun testing the waters for things like Conan spinoffs with books like the current Belit: Queen of the Black Coast miniseries.
Conan has also interacted with some of Marvel's iconic superheroes. The Cimmerian's Marvel Universe-set adventures kick off in the miniseries, Avengers: No Road Home, and continue in the recently launched, Savage Avengers series, where he'll clash and team up with infamous antiheroes like Wolverine, Venom and the Punisher.
The iconic characters of War of the Realms and Marvel's Conan books are pretty potent tools to get non- comic reading fantasy fans into the medium. They aren't the only fantasy comics available to entice new readers though. IDW publishes a licensed Dungeons & Dragons comic that features the heroes of TSR's series of Baldur's Gate novels and video games. They also collaborated with Oni Comics to publish a Rick & Morty vs Dungeons & Dragons miniseries, the sequel of which was announced at the recent D&D live event. Dark Horse Comics also has published a comic miniseries based on Critical Role.
Fantasy has always been part of creator-owned comics, but it’s experiencing a resurgence, too, especially at Image Comics. The Portland-based publisher launched a number of titles last year revolving around secret magical realms and the adventurers that explore them, like Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans' Die, which debuted in December.
That series, which finds a group of adults trapped in the fantasy world they were imprisoned in for several months as teenagers, will of be of interest to both fans of fantasy stories and tabletop RPGs. Because Die is very much an examination of the themes and tropes that drive things like Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons. In Issue 3, the characters travel through a realm that combines elements of Tolkien style fantasy with the World War I conflict that the celebrated author fought in. Gillen is also finishing up the rules for a Die tabletop RPG where players will create a social group of characters and then create the roles said characters would play in the fantasy realm of Die.
Fans looking for more modern-day fantasy should check out Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel's Blackbird, which tells the tale of a young woman who discovers a secret underworld of magicians in Los Angeles. In order to survive and save her sister from a demon, she must confront the truth about her past, her mental health and the nature of magic. A trade collecting the series first six issues is available now, and Issue 7 has not yet been solicited.
Blackbird and Die are just two examples of great fantasy comics being published by Image. There are plenty of fantasy comics out there, both from major publishers and independent ones. In fact, there's something for almost every type of fantasy fan. That's good, too, because the visual, serial and limitless-budget nature of comics means it can tell fantasy stories better than almost any other medium.
We as comic fans know that, meaning it's up to us pass along that news to others who may not be as clued in. The fantasy genre is exploding in popularity right now and comic publishers are responding. We can help them by ensuring new and lapsed readers find these books, thereby ensuring the medium we love grows and become more diverse.