Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Fallen Angel #1

Fallen Angel #1

The warlord Mandek Ironfist gets a wizard called Xarl to turn a summoned Serra Angel into a Fallen Angel with an artifact called the Horned Halo. The angel, Trine, turns into an unstoppable killing machine and Mandek creates an empire. Three centuries later Mandek is long gone, but Xarl is still around, dominating the continent of Corondor thanks to Trine. He appoints his great-great-great-great-great-et cetera-son and spellsquire Eskil as his heir. However, in a bout of apparent dementia, he refuses to teach Eskil how to control Trine. The moment he dies she goes on a rampage. Eskil summons another angel, Rahel, who stops Trine. Eskil is struck blind, but becomes a planeswalker.

Last week we looked at the origin story of Taysir, who is possibly the most important character in all the Armada comics. This week, to balance things out, we'll look at one of the most peripheral of all the comics. Don't be fooled though, even this comic introduces characters we'll see again down the line.

Let's take a look at the story first. There is an article in the back of the comic that talks about fallen angels and the origins of evil. It suggests Trine became fallen because of her pride.
"a faith in her own power which never acknowledges that mortal man could be a thread, and therefore leaves her open to Xarl's wizardry". 
Furthermore it suggests that said pride is entirely misplaced, as even when Xarl is dead Trine is simply not powerful enough to break out of his spell and continues to kill. Finally it quotes Aristotle, saying that Trine is redeemed in her last moments since Aristotle wrote in his Ars Poetica that in a tragedy the tragic figure must acknowledge their flaw to turn their flaw into a learning experience.

Sounds pretty interesting right? Unfortunately none of this is really all that clear in the comic itself. If  you had asked me what caused the fall of Trine, and I hadn't read that article, I would've said it was just a wizard plopping a magical macguffin on her head.

On a completely unrelated note: I find it amusing that the art gives Trine such a red nose.
Clearly she's a 7th Edition Serra Angel.

Yeah, Xarl mentions pride, but he's the bad guy, and that's really all the lip service that is paid to the idea. For all the big ideas mentioned in the accompanying article, the story of Fallen Angel really boils down to "Bad guy turns angel evil, good guy summons another angel to stop the evil one." If I had to ascribe more meaning than that, I'd say the intended message is a denial of the existence of karma. Xarl and Mandek get to live out their lives in wealth and luxury, Trine never gets any vengeance or justice done, Eskil is blinded for his efforts... life is not fair in the world of Fallen Angel. 

Although the story as a whole isn't the greatest, there are still some good scenes. Mandek allowing Xarl's old master to punch his apprentice in the face is pretty funny for example.

Look at that smirk

There is also some good character work done in showing Xarl's inferiority complex, stemming from his mother's job as a sacred prostitute.

This scene with the dying Xarl remembering people long dead, including his sister Init, while Eskil has not a clue what he is going on about, is also pretty good.

I also liked the fact that the long lived Xarl spawned houses and cadet houses while he himself was still alive. I think it would be quite fun to write a Game of Thrones-style story in a high-fantasy world. All those long-lived mages could make the feudal inheritance laws ever weirder!

Moving on to the art, I can only call it spotty. We start with art from Richard Kane Ferguson and he is awesome as always. But then we get to art by Dennis Calero, who I like a whole lot less. He has his moments, but at other times it looks very basic. Industry veteran Don Perlin is credited with "pencil layouts", but at times it seems like Calero didn't bother to do much with those layouts.

Those two panels don't match each other at all. They match RKF's art even less. Compare Mandek in these two panels for example.

These both come from the part where Trine is summoned and turned. Between panels Mandek gets a shave and a much simpler helmet, only to switch back to his old helmet and grow out his beard in a few seconds when RKF takes over penciling again. This clash of styles might have worked if one artist had done only the flashbacks, but the division between artists seems completely random.

Also... I just don't really like Calero's art...

The switching between painting, altered photography and even pen scribbles, the use of digital effects like that ripple, the general vagueness and murkiness... I know it has its fans, but I'm just not one of them. Combined with the story this makes Fallen Angel one of my least favorite Aramada comics. 

TRIVIA This is the first story we cover that uses the term "Spellsquire" for an apprentice. We'll see it used many times in the Armada comics, but it never moved into the rest of the canon. Which I find a shame. I like these little touches that make Magic stand out from other fantasy settings, and which can make a sometimes rather diffuse canon feel like more unified. Plus, in a game where the main activity of wizards seems to be fighting duels, it makes sense that their apprentices are also their squires, right?

Last week I mentioned The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel. Those of you who read that whole story will already have met Rahel, the Serra Angel that finally stops Trine, as she's the one who wrote the history of Ravidel down! It's a rather obscure source, but it's cool how it ties the otherwise peripheral Fallen Angel comic to the larger canon. Equally obscure and equally cool, is the only other appearance of Eskil. If you dig deep into the old Wizards of the Coast website, you'll eventually stumble upon a list of character profiles for Mirage. And who gets name checked there as rumored mentor of Mangara of Corondor? Good old Eskil! The Fifth Edition/Mirage era was one in continuity was made tighter, with stuff from the Harper Prism novels and the Armada comics beginning to turn up in the cardgame itself. We already saw that with the Viashino from Prodigal Sorcerer being used in Mirage, and this is another example. I must say that after immersing myself in all these old stories as part of my project, I find myself seeing that era of continuity as true golden age of continuity.

Something that amused me from the Seer's Analysis feature was the mention that the Horned Halo, which turns a Serra Angel into a Fallen one, doesn't have a card. Shawn Carnes muses...
"I would love to see a card that did something like that, though I think there are better things to make cards on than something so specific. Still, it's nice to wonder."
Well Shawn, you had to wait another ten years, but feast your eyes on this! 

They even used the Horned Halo in the art! God Time Spiral was awesome...

Also rather amusing is this look into the art direction of Magic's early days.

Yup. Sivitri Scarzam, half-naked, dragon-straddling Sivitri, poster girl of the type of art Magic explicitly no longer does, was supposed to be a guy. Only they didn't bother to tell the artist. That's amazing.

Continuitywise we've got no problems here. Xarl does seem to think that anyone can become a planeswalker... (And not just learn to walk the planes, but to actually become immortal and godlike)
 "I was a fool to forsake the mastery of magic - the ability to pierce the veil... you must become a planeswalker, Eskil. You must never grow old... never die..."
...but we can just blame that on him not knowing everything.

Timelinewise there is a bit more to say about Fallen Angel, but before we can do that we must first look at some other comics. For now I'll just note the following bits of narration, the first from the very beginning of the comic, the second from the very end.

Those references to Geyadrone Dihada tie this story to the subject of our next review, Dakkon Blackblade. So remember that, and we'll return to put Fallen Angel the timeline after we've discussed that one!

Like Mark Rosewater says, in Magic the pendulum always swings back. This week I reviewed one of the comics I least enjoyed, next week we'll get to one of my absolute favorites! Check back next week for a review of Dakkon Blackblade! For now though, I'll leave you with these two awesome Fallen Angel pin-ups.


  1. Good job! As always. :)

    Just one thing - where's "Fallen Angel" in the timeline? I can't find it. :/

    1. Thank you!

      As for the timeline, Fallen Angel is not on there yet. I'm doing it in one go with Dakkon and the back-up story from Dakkon, since their placements are all tied together.

    2. Ah, I see! :D

      One more thing: when you'll get to the Uncharted Realms stories, how will you handle these?

    3. I think I'll do them in batches. Perhaps per month, or per related set. I haven't quite figured out what would be the best way. Luckily I've still got... a year and a half, perhaps two years so to decide?

    4. I'm sure you'll decide in the best way possible. I'll stay tuned. :)

  2. I'm reading all of your entries and I must say that you're doing a fantastic job to whoever wanted to know more on MtG storyline (like myself)! I wanted to add another little bit of continuity: in the appendix at the end of the comic Scott Hungerford dropped a hint on how Fallen Angels are made. Well, if you look closely at the Grandmother Sengir card art, you can see she's using a white feather (well, not necessarily that of a Serra Angel), but behind her there is a casket full of these Horned Halo! So, it was Grandma (at that time Ravi) that taught Xarl how to create Fallen Angels, or the other way around? Who knows!

  3. Very nice! My biggest problem with this comic is how unclear it is in certain parts. Some people like esoteric art, like Drew Tucker's work but personally I've never been much of a fan. Not sure if there's much more to add...the story is relatively irrelevant other than Eskil, who only had a role with the cancelled Planeswalker War comic, yes? Anyways, fantastic analysis. Cheers!