Oct 13, 2011

Spelljammer Comics (Issue 10)

Exile on Taladas

We take a slight break from the regular Dragonlance comic reviews to take a look at this interesting little gem I recently uncovered. While I was an avid reader of the Dragonlance comics, I also dabbled in some of the other TSR/DC comics of the day.

I read the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons comic for at least the first year, and the Forgotten Realms comic through it's entire run. Some of the other titles, like Spelljammer and Gammarauders, I only read a handful of issues before moving on. So I was very surprised recently when I learned that this issue guest-starred Riva Silvercrown, the only ongoing character in the Dragonlance book.

If you're not familiar with the Spelljammer setting and concepts, check out the wikipediia page for some reference information.

The story starts off with a spelljamming ship crash landing on the Krynn continent of Taladas. Riva and Ktarrh see the burning ship from the skies and investigate. On the ground, a lone human male defends himself against attacks from a group of bakali (taladian lizardmen). Riva joins in and soon all the lizardmen are defeated and the strange man introduces himself as Sir Giles Warwick.

Sir Giles, while not looking like a mage, is able to conjure up a magical feast tent, complete with manservant and fully stocked larder and wine cellar. Sir Giles begins to tell his tale.

Sir Giles came from a world called Astrylon that prized art and beauty above all other things. They took to Spelljamming as a way to contact other worlds, and bring back the best they could find for artistic inspiration. This world was also in regular conflict with a sister planet, Barrara, and regularly went to war against them in space.

Amidst this backdrop, Sir Giles found himself distract by a beautiful woman named Nimone. She was on the planet to convince the ruling body to join several other planets in a war against Barrara. But in turns out the other nations were already aligned with Barrara against Astrylon.

Soon Sir Giles found himself a prisoner on a Barrara pirate galleon ship. As was his right, he challenged his captors to combat, and after defeating 12 men, joined the pirates. Sir Giles rose in rank among the pirates, till he was their captain, and was leading several ships in raids against the Barrara.

Now Sir Giles fights for the time when he will free his home planet from the puppet leader currently on the throne.

After telling Riva his story over food and wine, she agrees to escort him to the League of Minotaurs, where she thinks he will have no problem earning the money and magic needed to once again return to spelljamming among the stars.

Commentary

This ended up being a tough story to review. Since I wasn't reading Spelljammer at the time, I don't know if this was the beginning of an ongoing storyline in the comic. The fact that the issue ends with an "end" tag and not a "too be continued" makes me think this might have been a one and done story, or maybe the beginning of plot that would have been picked up much later (it couldn't have been too much later, the Spelljammer comic only ran for 15 issues or so).

Either way, I'm forced to review the comic just on the 20 some pages here. In that regard, it could have been an interesting story, but the execution was horrible. First is the writing. I see in the credits that the author Don Kraar is listed as guest writer. I have no idea what other comic writing credits he has, but this clearly feels like an inferior work. Here's some of the opening text, to set the stage for the character of Sir Giles.
Fate beckons and not even the boldest can disobey
For even the boldest know that they are not immortal
And if fate beckons the bold, then there is none bolder...
Yikes, I get it, he's Bold, and he's Beckoned! There's more of these literary gymnastics throughout the rest of the book, and that leads to the next issue, the format.

The issue starts off like a regular comic, with sequential art, word balloons, etc. But when Sir Giles tells his story, we instead get pages that look like like an illustrated book--paragraphs of text and a single illustration per page. Only at the end, when Giles has finished his story and Riva and him are talking, does the book return to a typical comic book presentation.

The illustrated story layout certainly allows the author to tell this long tale in just one issue, as opposed to a whole slew of issues if this were presented any other way. The down side is that the writing has to carry the weight of story telling, and as I point out above, the text isn't strong enough to do that.

As for the art, we only have a few pages to judge, but from those few pages, it is mostly impressive. What's interesting to note is that the artist of this issue is listed as Joe Quesada, who would later have a very famous career at Marvel, being named Editor-in-Chief, and now Chief Creative Office of Marvel comics.

Back to the art, except for depicting Sir Giles spelljamming chair as looking like a Lazy-E-Boy, most of the art is dynamic and captivating. The fight sequence between Giles, Riva, and the bakali is exactly the opposite of what I was complaining about in the last Dragonlance comic issue. Here we see swords clashing, lizardfolk being run through, and even one being decapitated by Riva. Granted their blood is neon green, but I'm sure that was a concession to the CCA. This made what is basically a framing sequence just as interesting as the story Giles tells.

The last way to review this story, especially on a Dragonlance specific blog, is to look at how it fits in with the established setting as well as with the then-current Dragonlance comic. In terms of the former, it's depiction of Taladas, what little is show, is accurate. Riva and Ktarrh look like they do in the other book, and the bakali are the taladanian versions of lizardfolk. I appreciate the attention to those details, especially since the main book sometimes misses those basics.

What's harder to do, is the second criteria, that is, to see how this issue fits in with the continuity of the Dragonlance comic. Riva mentions that she is new to this land, but we already see her first appearance on Taladas in the Landfall story in issue 22. Also, she knows about the League of Minotaurs, so she's not that new. Secondly, she's alone. If it's after Landfall, where are the rest of her companions? Why doesn't she mention them, especially since the elf casters might have some idea on how Giles can create a new Spelljamming ship? If it's after she parts ways with the rest of the characters in the main book, then clearly she is not new to this land. Lastly, in the main book, she's constantly being hunted by the League of Minotaurs, why would she recommend that Giles join up with that lot, and why is she taking him there?

These are all the little nit-picky things that continuity junkies like me obsessive over, and shouldn't be held strongly against this issue. Overall, I liked the story, I just wish they told it in a traditional format, so that the Quesada artwork could help lift up the Kraar script.

Next time, we return to reviewing the last few Dragonlance issues in the original DC run. See you sometime next month.