May 31, 2013

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 33) - On Death of Pain - The Legend of the Blackgem (Part 1)

On Death of Pain

This issue begins what would be the last TSR/DC Dragonlance arc. For the final 2 issues we have a new team, with writer Paul Kupperberg (brother of Alan Kupperberg who provided art for issues 29) and artist Grant Miehm.

The story starts off with Riva and friends--we're back to the "Riva on Taladas" setting that had be the basis for about the last year's worth of stories, not counting issues 30-32--looking for shelter after a run-in with a minotaur patrol from the League of Minotaurs. Their companion, Griffin, is greatly hurt, and Riva sets off by herself to find help.

In a nearby village, covered in the aftermath of a minotaur attack (seemingly separate from the attack that wounded Griffin). Riva comes across an old woman named Tykel who is a priestess of the cult of Mislaxa (the name for Mishakal the goddess of healing on Taladas) and who is willing to help her and her friends.

After starting to tend to Griffin, Tykel begins to tell the story of the patron saint of the cult, a young woman named Miisia Genyei.

Miisia lived around the time of the Cataclysm and grew up as part of a tribe of humans content to live a quite existence as goat herders in the Ilquar mountains of Taladas. But her peaceful existence was shattered when her father and several other clansmen came across the remains of a battle and found a wounded man still alive. The father brought this man, Marsval Solarzz, to his house, intending for his wife to treat the man with herbs, but when Miisia touched his brow with a cloth, she unknowingly healed the man by drawing his pain and injuries into herself.

Meanwhile, Lord Bylarr is presented with the Blackgem, which was retrieved off the body of Marsval. As Lord Bylarr takes the talisman, he senses through the magic of the gem that Marsval is still alive.

Elsewhere, Marsval tells his tale to Miisia, her family, and the other clansmen. It seems that some time ago the Blackgem was taken from Darkhold, the kingdom Lord Bylarr rules, to protect humanity and given to the Solarzz family for safekeeping. At his father's urging, Marsval was taking the gem through the Ilquar Mountains to an even safer place when his party was attacked by Lord Bylarr's men.

Marsval then credits Miisia's power as saving him from certain death. Unable to deal with her new found abilities, Miisia runs off into the night. Marsval quickly follows after her and offers to help rid her of this 'curse'.

While they are away, Lord Bylarr's men arrive and sack the village, killing everyone and setting fire to the buildings. Feeling the pain of the dying clansmen, Miisia collapses in Marsval's arms.

Marsval carries the young girl away from the ruins of her village, intent on avenging her family and defeating Lord Bylarr.

Commentary

I find myself conflicted with my thoughts over this penultimate issue of the series. There are plenty of things I like about it--the art is great, the writing solid--but at the same time there are larger concerns that leaving me with an overall disappointed feeling toward the issue.

First up is the writing. Paul Kupperberg was a long time DC comic writer, having penned over 600 issues for their various super hero titles, and that is probably why he got this fill-in assignment. I haven't found any evidence of him working in fantasy (in general) or Dragonlance (in particular) outside these two issues. That said, he does a good job of fitting his story within the established Taladas setting. Clearly someone gave him a copy of the Time of the Dragon boxset (the de facto bible on the Taladas setting, even to this day), and he made good use of it. The framing sequence is okay, but the story really starts to pick up when Tykel begins the tale of Miisia.

That part of the story flows nicely, and with only 17 pages left in the issue, basically introduces us to the main characters (Marsval, Miisia, and Lord Bylarr), the MacGuffin (the Blackgem) and by issue's end sets the stage for the next issue. I just wish that Miisia had been more fleshed out by the end of the issue. The same could be said for Lord Bylarr, but by now, I'm used to simplistic villains in this book. While we do get enough of Marsval's story to make him an interesting character, he's not supposed to be the focus of the story.

As the art goes, Grant Miehm, also new to the fantasy genre, does quite well here. The layouts have a nice dynamic quality, with plenty of detail in the backgrounds. All the characters, most of whom don't even have names, all have unique appearances. The few battle scenes are exciting and detailed, if a bit short. If there's any complaint about the art, it would be that Lord Bylarr is just a bad guy in a shadowed helm, and looks a bit like Warduke from the old D&D Cartoon.

Here's an image of Warduke side by side wiht Lord Bylarr  for comparison.


For all of it's positives, after 33 issues, I still don't feel like I'm getting the Dragonlance comic I wanted (and sadly wouldn't get until the much later, non-Dragonlance IDW Dungeons and Dragons comic). If Riva is on Taladas to complete a goal, then get on with that story, instead of an issue where she doesn't appear at all (issue 28), a throwback arc to her time in Ansalon (running from issue 30 to 32), and now a fill-in story where she's not even relevant. At least with the Winter's Knight arc (running from issue 17 to 20), her framing sequences told a relevant story in parallel to the legend she told.

Next up is the final issue... after which we'll set our sights on another Dragonlance comic series.