Nov 3, 2011

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 30) - Sword of the Kinslayer (Part 1)

After last month's slight departure to the realm of Spelljammer, we return to the regular ongoing Dragonlance comic. This issue finds us back in time, just after the War of the Lance, when Riva was still on Ansalon and not yet a knight of Solamnia.

The story opens with a splash page and text (from Astinus, no less) that sets the time frame for the story. This is a pretty good idea since for the last 8 issues (since issue 22), we've been following her adventures in Taladas several years after the War of the Lance.

The story opens in northern Solamnia, during winter. A group of neidar (aka hill dwarves) are in route to Castle Silvercrown with a cache of weapons that they will sell to feed the village for the winter. Along with the neidar is Andvari Stonehelm, a hylar (mountain dwarf) mercenary they've hired as their peaceful community finds itself under assault by unknown forces that always strike under cover of night.

On the trail, springing out of hiding are a barbaric group of dwarves, lead by Uurthrym Wolfthane. They attack the caravan, killing everyone and taking the weapons for their own.

Unknown to them, Stonehelm survived the battle.

Meanwhile, at Castle Silvercrown, a tournament is under way. On the battle field, two armored warriors fight with swords till one yields. Lord Silvercrown is pleased with the fighting prowess of the victorious person, until the helm is removed and it is revealed that the would-be knight is his own daughter, Riva.

Then Lord Silvercrown berates his daughter openly for embarrassing Jethan, the son of a noble and political ally from Sancrist, on the battlefield moments ago. He quickly disarms her and sends her away, not before ordering his son, Maric, to follow Riva.

Riva, still fuming at her father's condemnation of her goal to become a knight overhears talk about the missing dwarves that were supposed to be presenting their weapons to Lord Silvercrown. Riva, seeing a chance to prove herself in a real situation, saddles her horse and heads out of town.

Maric, follows some distance behind her, eager to earn his father's praise.

Riva comes upon the carnage of the battlefield and finds a weakened Stonehelm.

Nearby, Maric has lost her trail. While drinking from his wineskin the dwarf barbarians sneak up on him with ill intent. Wolfthane quickly recognized Maric by the crest on his tunic and orders Grimvaar, one of his men, to stand down.

The dwarf leader bluffs Maric into believing they were bring the weapons to Lord Silvercrown when they were attacked by hobgoblins. Maric agrees to lead these dwarves back to the castle where he promises much gold will be waiting for the weapons they bring.

Later, at the neidar village, Riva sits with Stonehelm and Theolin, the village chieftain and priest. The dwarves talk about the clan of Wolfthane, and how they will be back. Stonehelm urges Riva to contact her father to send knights to the village, while Riva instead wants to train the local neidar on her own.

At Castle Silvercrown, Wolfthane arrives and presents the neidar weapons as his. Additionally, Wolfthane says he will forge a sword for the Lord, a sword of unsurpassed quality, such as his. The dwarf reveals his sword, which he calls Kinslayer. Lord Silvercrown is mesmerized by the weapon and momentarily demands that he have that blade an no other. After a moment, the lord of the castle calms down and accepts that the dwarf will craft another weapon for the lord.

Meanwhile, as Riva trains the locals, Stonehelm continues to urge her to get knights from her father claiming that the dwarves are not ready to battle the clan of Wolfthane and many will be killed.

Elsewhere, in the cavernous keep of Wolfthane's clan, their leader is prostrate on the ground talking to a figure deep within the cavern's shadows. The figure tells Wolfthane that Riva is the key to some plan, not Lord Silvercrown.

Back at the castle, Lord Silvercrown angrily tosses aside a crafted sword as being inferior for him. At the same time, he quickly dismissing the announcement that Riva has gone missing.

At the village, Riva, Stonehelm, and some other dwarves plan a defense of the village. Just then they are attacked by Wolfthane and his followers. Riva, seeing the onslaught finally yields to Stonehelm's pleas and leaves to get knights from Castle Silvercrown.

But before she leave town, she changes her mind, racing back with sword drawn, ready to fight. After a fierce battle with Wolfthane, she is taken prisoner. As the dwarven barbarians lead their prisoners out of town, which include Riva and Stonehelm, Theolin, who hadn't been captured, leaves the village without been seen.

Commentary

Wow. What can I say. I've been complaining about the quality of the story and/or the art on and off for most of the series, and here, finally at issue 30 do I find myself writing a glowing review. This issue marks one of the most exciting starts to a story, since the very first issue (which was also, coincidentally, the debut story for Riva).

This first issue (the first of three for this story, according to the cover), does a great job setting the stage. The Wolfthane dwarves are a dirty, savage enemy practically explode on the page. The magical sword that Wolfthane calls Kinslayer clearly has some power and influence over Lord Silvercrown.

We once again get to see Riva as a young girl (issue 21 featured a "flashback" story to her younger days) trying to earn knighthood, which is consistent with her original portrayal. We also get to see Maric, and in a nice touch of continuity, he exhibits the same drinking problem we saw in issue 2.

The story continues to build nicely as we see Lord Silvercrown succumbing to an obsession over the Kinslayer at the same time as Riva tries to rise to the challenge of training the neidar to fight. Then we learn that there are larger forces at work, and that somehow Riva is the key. Finally we get an ending that just sets the stage nicely for the next chapter.

As much as I liked the story, there are a few complaints. While I liked the consistency this story tries to have with the original Riva tale, there are some things that can't be overlooked. The biggest is the time frame. This story is supposedly AFTER the War of the Lance, but Riva's first story takes place just BEFORE the War of the Lance, and it that story, she was a few years older than described here. Also, in that story, Maric is dead and here he's alive, so this story has to be before that one.

Lesser complaints are that Maric's name is spelled different than it originally was ("Marik"). Likewise, Lord Silvercrown and Maric/Marik look very different from their earlier appearances. Lastly, Maric makes reference to the dwarves earning a lot of gold for their weapons, when the base unit of currency in Dragonlance is steel (unlike practically every other D&D setting and most fantasy stories in general). Considering how much I'm liking this story (from writer Adam Blaustein), I'm more than willing to overlook these incongruities.

As much as I liked the story of this issue, what really impressed me most was the art, from original artist Ron Randall. It seems the recent break he had allowed him to attack this story with great vigor. The dynamic fight between the Wolfthane clan and the other dwarves was very well depicted. The opening splash page with the Kinslayer sword bursting out of the snow bank the dwarves where hiding helped set the deadly and fast pace of these pages. The detail on the various minor characters, from all the dwarves, to knights and pages at Castle Silvercrown is something I haven't seen in this book in a while. 

All in all, this is an A plus issue, with great story groundwork for the next issues and lively art. I'm really looking forward to the next issue.