Dungeons and Dragons I: Shadowplague
by John Rogers
Art by Andrea Di Vito
“Adric, let's be frank. This town has adventurers. I expect a certain amount of murder.” Lord Warden of Fellcrest
You don't expect much from a commercial tie-in, as a rule. Sure there are exceptions, notably in the Transformers and GI Joe comics, but usually tie-ins are rather dismal. On top of that, while DnD is a fun game, there are issues trying to make a comic out of it. DnD doesn't have a singular setting or cast of characters, in fact the game itself discourages that in my view. I've run DnD games (said the guy with a book review series, shocking no one) and I've usually made up my own settings to do so. It feels more rewarding and less constraining that way. This comic series started publication in 2010, this was during the time of the game's 4th edition. Which has a... contentious reputation among gamers to put it lightly. This is a book review series, not a game review series so I won't get into it. Let me just say briefly that 4th edition showed up very close to the heels of 3.5 and introduced major gameplay changes, many of them were rather unpopular in a number of circles. The comic uses the 4th edition cosmology (which I honestly kind of like) but creates a setting out of whole cloth. Who’s the guy they convinced to do all the heavy lifting here?
John Rogers is a veteran writer of comics and screen, when I look at Mr. Roger’s career I find myself both impressed and horrified. This guy is the co-creator of Jamie Reyes aka my favorite Blue Beetle, he co-created the cartoon Jackie Chan Adventures (which I'm a bit old for honestly but a number of my younger friends loved it) and the television show Leverage. On the flip side he co-wrote the Michael Bay Transformer movie in 2007, the Core in 2003, and perhaps most shockingly he admits to helping write the Catwoman movie of 2004 (yeah, that one, you know which one). I believe in forgiveness, but Catwoman? That said, I'm willing to believe that Mr. Rogers was drowned out by his co-writers on the movies or that he just played a minor role. On the other hand we have the artist Andrea Di Vito, a Roman born Italian who got his first major start in the ultimately doomed Crossgen comic company. I was a fan of a couple of Crossgen’s comics so someday I hope to discuss this. Mr. Di Vito however would survive Crossgen and start working for other companies, most notably Marvel Comics. Now let's get to the comic.
D&D Shadowplague introduces us to our heroes, a group of adventurers that have been dubbed by fans Fell's Five. This group is led by the human fighter Adric, who has a complicated past to say the least. It's clear that he has some military experience and has fought orcs at some point. He's also capable of coming up with plans very quickly and is rather fearless. These are very important talents to have. That said he also keeps a number of secrets about his background. Adric's best friend seems to be Varis the elven ranger, who can't go home again. We don't find out a lot of Varis in this graphic novel other than his unwillingness to allow Adric to die and the fact that he gets a bit nervous when around dark magic artifacts that run on the hearts of fey. There's Bree three hands, the amoral halfling rogue. As a result of tthe amorality Adric doesn't really trust her that much but keeps her around because someone has to find the traps...and it's better the he knows where Bree is at all times. Bree is an example of what seems to be the new halfling stereotype of sneaky, underhanded, stab-happy half pints who are tired of your shit. It's kind of enjoyable but I do think we're going to have to dial it back a bit. I'm not saying that halflings can't be bad-ass, just that some of them must give a crap about something besides themselves. If nothing else someone has to raise the next generation of light fingered halfling thieves. The next member of the group is actually my favorite, Khal the dwarven paladin and poet! Khal actually decided to become a paladin both to do good and prove himself worthy of the love of his life. Her family disapproved of their romance due to him being a wild and degenerate poet, who writes about things like thinking about disobeying your clan but not doing it! I like Khal because he's actually a good guy who tries to be better instead of the stuck-up fun-police that paladin's often get characterized as. Lastly is Tisha, a Tiefling warlock. Tieflings are a race of people whose ancestors interbred with well... demons, and has a result have less-than-human appearances (tails and a horn for example) and reputations that could use a Public Relations firm or three. It doesn't help that warlocks are a group of magic users who get their powers by making a deal with dark and dangerous things from beyond the pale. Tisha herself is a driven character, she is looking for the murderer of her parents, who also happens to be her sister.
The graphic novel does a good job introducing us to these characters and a number of supporting cast. We don't spend a lot of time in Fellcrest but we do get an interesting introduction to the cosmology of the world and a fair bit of the world itself as well. We learn there are two alternate worlds alongside the main world, there's the Feywild: the green wild home of the elves and other fey creatures and the Shadow: a dark place that seems to spawn zombies and other dark nasty things. We get a brief lesson on this in the graphic novel when our heroes stumble over a changeling using a dwarven artifact made using dark magic and the previously mentioned fey hearts. From this we have our group fighting everything from orcs to cyclops in an attempt to prevent bad things happening to good people. It's actually a pretty good adventure. The dialogue is fun and snappy (it's everything I can do to keep from littering this review with quotes), the violence is rather raw and full throated, and the characters interact with each in believable but different ways allowing the writers to showcase a variety of different personalities and relationships (for example we have Adric and Varis cracking wise at each other, Khal's supportive actions towards Tisha and Bree... Well Adric can vouch that she is indeed a halfling). That's a great thing to have in a team book, a variety of personalities is good, but it’s also important to change up the relationships. Bree and Tisha have a different relationship than Adric and Khal and so on. This creates a believable group dynamic. More importantly enough of these characters seem to like and trust each other that I believe they would not only voluntary spend time with each other but throw themselves into dangerous situations in each others company. Something often lacking in team books, especially ones who like to be “gritty” and “realistic” with dysfunctional teams that hate each other. Sometimes you want to read a book about people who don't hate each other and will help each other kill monsters, fulfill quests. and go about the dirty dirty business of making the world safe for others. Unfortunately, the story ends on a cliffhanger so it doesn't get an A. Instead I'll have to give Dungeons and Dragons: Shadowplague by John Rogers and Andrea Di Vito an A-.
Next week, we're going to read about elephants.
This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen