Saturday, 9 May 2015

Antiquities War #1-4, Urza-Mishra War #1-2

Antiquities War #1-4
Urza-Mishra War #1-2

Writer - Jerry Prosser
Penciller - Paul Smith (AW #1), Phil Hester (AW #2, 3, 4), J. Dekker (AW #3), Tom Mandrake (U-MW #1,2), Bill Sienkiewicz (U-MW #1,2)
Finisher/Inks - Tom Ryder (AW #1-4)
Color - Michael Tuccinard (AW #1-4), Atomic Paintbrush (U-MW #1, 2)
Letterer - Adam Niedzwiecki (AW #1-4), Kenny Martinez (U-MW #1, 2)
Covers - George Pratt (AW #1-4), Bill Sienkiewicz (U-MW #1, 2)

Phew... after all that, let's quickly get into the story itself!

Urza and Mishra are raised by the archaeologist Tocasia, hunting the desert for artifacts of the ancient Thran empire. In the Caves of Koilos they find a big machine that creates two powerstones, the Mightstone and the Weakstone. (Not to be confused, as I sometimes do, with the Meekstone, despite its alliterative appeal.) The brothers each get one, but grow obsessed with having the other. A few years later they fight it out by shooting energy beams at each other from their stones, but the resulting explosion kills Tocasia. The brothers each go their own way. Urza marries the princess of Kroog, becoming that kingdom’s royal artificer. Mishra is made a slave to the Fallaji desert nomads, but after a trippy dream three Dragon Engines from Phyrexia appear. With those under his command, he quickly rises through the ranks of the Fallaji. As both Kroog and the Fallaji learn of the power of Thran artifacts from the brothers, tensions between them rise over who is allowed into the desert where they are buried.After the king of Kroog tries to kill the Fallaji delegation during a conference in Korlis, the conflict flares into actual war.

The war is exacerbated by a Phyrexian demon who desires the stones as well, thinking it’ll grant him godlike power. In the end the brothers’ band together to defeat him. And... that's where the comic ends. Other comics had billed the story of Antiquities as an eight parter, but the Armada Magic line was cancelled before the second half of Urza-Mishra War could be published. Luckily issue one of that series came with an article written by Skaff Elias (which I posted on this blog a few months ago) which tells us how the story ends. Apparently the original idea was that during the last battle between Urza and Mishra in Argoth, the Phyrexian demon would activate a dangerous planar portal that atomized all of Argoth, blasting it all into the atmosphere, putting Dominaria on the path to the Ice Age.

That probably sounds a bit odd to those well versed in revisionist continuity, as in the novel The Brothers' War it is Urza who destroyed Argoth with the Golgothian Sylex. The Sylex actually turns up in the Wayfarer comic, but it's given a different description there. I'll get deeper into the Sylex when we get to that comic. For now let's just say that the original plans for Antiquities were different from what it would eventually become. Which isn't as big a continuity issue as it sounds, as these six comics have actually been stricken from canon entirely, replaced by the novel.

Unless our comic gets cancelled of course.

The last few weeks you've heard me say it again and again: the Armada comics needed more space to tell their stories. Well, if any story in the line got space it was this one, and it certainly makes us of it. For example, the entire first issue is dedicated to the Brothers growing up and getting their stones. The next two are all a slow build toward the war, which doesn't really start until the botched meeting between Kroog and the Fallaji at the end of issue three. This succeeds in making the Brothers' War look like a proper historical event and a proper war, unlike the Blackblade-Dihada War, which really just existed of two scuffles between wizards. Between all this we get some lovely characterization as well and plenty of time is devoted to setting scenes and mood, like with Mishra's time as a slave to the Fallaji, or his trip to Phyrexia.

On the other hand though... The initial conflict between the brothers' over their stones (which Skaff Elias attributes to Mishra's inferiority complex, as his stone can't be used to build artifacts) happens entirely off panel. Issue one ends with them both getting a stone. Issue two starts years later, with their final conflict before parting ways. The affair between Urza's wife Kayla and his apprentice Tawnos also happens between pages. Speaking of Kayla, issue two has Urza win a competition to marry her (By building his Avenger and using it to move a huge statue) but issue two shows him as a workaholic prick ignoring his wife. While that second scene is very well done, on the whole it feels like a lot of parts of this story are missing. The people at Armada correctly identified that if there was any story that needed, and deserved, more space it was this one. Unfortunately eight issues is still to light. A 24 issue maxi-series might have been best. Or perhaps just an over-sized novel. (While typing this, Squirle looks longingly to "The Brothers' War", sitting on his bookshelf. Just a few months and we'll get there...) 

Something I really like about this comic is that there is lots of world building. We get narration boxes supposedly taken from both "The Antiquities War", a book written by Kayla bin-Kroog herself, and commentaries on that book written by good old Taysir. We already saw Taysir in his capacity as historian way back when we looked at the timeline in the Fourth Edition Pocket Players' Guide!

One wonders what the average Dominarian, unaware of the existence of other planes, thinks of a guy calling himself "Taysir of Rabiah".

Especially Taysir's narration contains a lot of references, from a discussion of initiation rites during the time of the Brothers to a lament about the current state of Argivian literature. Since the Brothers' War incorporates a number of these references, and as far as I can remember doesn't contradict any of the ones it doesn't, I think we can assume these are all still canon. Some examples...

Going by The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel, Taysir is most likely writing this during the Dark, so no wonder the state of Argivian literature is crap. A wizard-hunting inquisition, wary of the intelligentsia will do that.

As you could see from the credits at the top of the page, there are quite a few artists working on these comics. Luckily they all fall in the range of "pretty decent" too "really quite good". They are also mostly each given their own issue and, even better, the artists that do collaborate on issues have pretty similar styles, so we don't get art clashes like in Fallen Angel. It might seem like such a clash exists if you just read my review, as the artists on Antiquities War are all quite cartoony...

...while Urza-Mishra War is done by Bill Sienkiewicz and Tom Mandrake, both industry veterans (even at the point these comics were created) who have a much darker, moodier style.

The fact that the two styles are kept in different comics, so we don't switch back and forth, mitigates that problem though. I don't know whether it was intentional to go with the murkier art for the part of the story in which the war has broken out in earnest, but it works out quite well. Maybe the inks are a bit too heavy at times, and I must say neither Sienkiewicz nor Mandrake are really on top form here (the faces are sometimes a bit weird), but those two can draw some pretty great looking stuff even if they're not bringing their A game.

These comics have some seriously bizarre covers. Those on Antiquities War seem to think they are on an Arabian Nights comic, even though the Fallaji are but one part of the story, and that cover of Urza-Mishra War #1 is just sooooo trippy. The cover of Urza-Mishra War #2 meanwhile... I'm fairly sure that's supposed to be Ashnod's bare breasts hanging out of her armor, with a chain between the nipples. I sure hope people’s search protectors are not blocking my blog now!

Her outfit in the comic itself is still ridiculously form-fitting, considering it's supposed to be armor, but that least it covers her entire body!

Taysir's narration is mostly focused on metaphors and hidden meanings in the text of "The Antiquities War". For example, the story shows the brothers digging up Thran artifacts, but Taysir goes off about how this should get people to think about the hidden treasures of their own soul.

Another example can be seen in the quotes I posted earlier: The Cave of Koilos are just that, caves, but Taysir manages to find deeper meaning in its name. Considering this tendency, it's a bit odd that after Mishra's journey through Phyrexia, when Kayla states "a black heart, like a shadow of doom, followed Mishra", Taysir goes "Nah man, that's note a reference to Mishra becoming more evil, it's just a Phyrexian demon following him!".

I guess that for all his literary pretenses, Taysir is a fact-based historian at heart. Being first and foremost a historian myself, that makes me feel great kinship with him.

Speaking of the Phyrexian demon: that character is of course well known Urza's Saga baddy Gix! While he is only called "Phyrexian Demon" here, the word Gix is used, but only for his followers. In fact, when he first turns up on Dominaria has says “I will find those who have called to us in Phyrexia… the Gix”, while in The Brothers' War the Gixians take their name from their demon master. An interesting alteration. Also interesting is how many times he changes shape throughout this story. I would say e is the one element where the multitude of artists feels off.

Gix in Antiquities War #2

Gix in Antiquities War #4

Gix in Urza-Mishra War #2

A funny line from the letters page of Antiquities War #1: “All together now, DoMINia is the name of the universe, DomiNARia is the name of the planet." The whole plane/planet/universe/multiverse thing hadn't quite solidified yet, but the Dominia/Dominaria confusion was already widespread!

From the same letters page we learn that “Kher” means “Big Mountain” in Goblin. Good to know.

That picture is the only reference to Argivans believing in seven souls. The Brothers' War will later elaborate on this. The idea is that over the course of your life you develop seven souls, which are all judged separately in the afterlife. So if you are a criminal seeking redemption, your final soul may do so, but your earlier ones as still punished. Seems like the king of Kroog was a pretty nasty fellow from his youth on out!

This myth about Urza's Tower clearly isn't true, but I thought I'd share it since it is a nice bit of world building.

Those guys are supposed to be Yotian Soldiers. I'm including them mostly because they look nothing like the art on the card, while confusion about that art caused the Yotians to be described as looking like ants back in Whispering Woods. Luckily these comics aren't in continuity anymore, so no fan theories are needed to fix the inconsistency.

Random observation: It's funny how the printed comic ends with Mishra and Urza walking away after a short alliance to defeat the Phyrexian Demon. Song of Time's prologue also saw them walking away after the battle with the cockatrice, and the flashbacks in Shattered Chains saw them team up against Lat-Nam. Good thing the rest of these comics are full of actual fighting between the brothers, otherwise I'd start to think all they did was bicker and then team-up anyway, like the X-Men and Magneto in the movies.

One of the monsters Gix uses is a Phyrexian War Beast. That is a neat bit of continuity, as those things get unearthed by the Soldevi after the Ice Age. We're told this by Skaff Elias and finally get to see it in the Shattered Alliance novel.

And finally... These comics make the Dragon Engines pretty much the most bad ass of all the artifacts used. but the card itself is pretty crummy. I've always wondered if this was because the East Coast Playtesters vastly overestimated the power of a colorless firebreather (It is a combo with Tawnos' Wand, I guess...) or if the card got a massive de-powering late in development and they didn't want to change the story to reflect this.

Like I said, these comics are no longer in continuity as The Brothers' War has replaced them. I've only reviewed them for the sake of completion and because it feels weird to skip such a massively important event in Dominarian history as the Brothers' War. As it is out of continuity though, we can pretty easily sweep any inconsistencies aside. Still, there are a number of interesting differences between this story and its replacement that I wanted to highlight, as well as a number of differences between this story and the depiction of Urza and Mishra elsewhere.

For starters: they are not wizards! They shoot some laser beams from their powerstones at some points, but it's clear that that power comes from the stones, not from them. The rest of the time they are just tinkering with their robots. So the brothers as wizards was entirely a Harper Prism thing, not accepted by Wizards of the Coast or Armada. This is probably the biggest inconsistency that needed to be fixed by the revision.

This story also shows the theme of the discovery of the five colors of magic being an unintended side-effect of the war. Jeff Grubb pick up on this in The Brothers' War, and make it a main theme of the Ice Age cycle. 

The difference are all over the place. Some are quite small, like the fact that both parents of Urza and Mishra are said to be dead when they are send to Tocasia, rather than just the mom. I'll just focus on the big changes, or I'll be here all day.

For one: the fall of the Thran Empire. The Thran are kept very mysterious, but Taysir suggests they fell after discovering a powersource they couldn't control. The flashback the brothers get when they get the Might- and Weakstone suggests this is true, and shows that the powerstones are said source. no hints that the Phyrexians were involved, or that they were originally Thran themselves. That will not enter continuity until much later. 

Also radically different: the romantic pairings. Mishra and Ashnod are lovers here, as are Kayla and Tawnos! There is even a suggestion that Harbin, Urza's son, is actually Tawnos' kid! Kayla's subsequent rejection of Tawnos is an important a plotpoint, as it leads to Tawnos meeting with Ashnod to strike some kind of deal. Unfortunately we never get to see the result, as the meeting is the last scene of Urza-Mishra War, before the series got cancelled. Whatever the outcome would've been though, it is radically different from The Brothers' War, in which Ashnod and Tawnos have an attraction to each other, and the possible father of Harbin is someone else entirely!

On too a more minor character: Urza is apprenticed to a clockmaker before he marries Kayla. He's never named here and only appear in two panels, but The Brothers' War calls the clockmaker Rusko.

That book also has him rise through the ranks in Kroog alongside Urza, until he disappears from the story after the conference at Korlis. In the comics there is a dude with a similar mustache present at Korlis, goes so far as to use his picture in their Rusko article. The comic gives no hint that the clockmaker and the guy at the conference are supposed to be the same guy though. Oddly enough the article ends with Rusko's name "dropping from the pages of history". That's consistent with The Brothers' War, but if the guy in the comic is him, then...

This small reference to Jarsyl caught my eye. It's probably just a random reference to Gate of Phyrexia's flavor text, but Jeff Grubb will later make Jarsyl the son of Harbin (and thus probably the grandson of Urza), and the great-grandfather of Jodah!

So Taysir is writing this during The Dark, but Lat-Nam is still around to house a Transmogrant? I'm not even going to talk about the Lat-Nam continuity knot right now, I'm saving up all references to it until I've done Shattered Alliances. Then I'll talk about all of them in one go. ANOTHER ONE FOR THE PILE!

In the above picture the Gixians are introduced to the other people seeking an alliance against the Brothers by the Archimandrite of Terisia City. Hurkyl and the Gixians are still present at said meeting in The Brothers' War, but I genuinely can't remember if the Yumok and the Malpiri people are referenced. Something to keep an eye open for when I get to the novel!

And finally...

That buisiness about Fallaji writing in knotted cords is cool, as it seems to be a reference to the Inca Quipu. But this is a Magic storyline blog, so what really interests me is Taysir talking about a planeswalking spark! References to that have been absent throughout the Harper Prism novels, but we've seen them turning up twice now in Armada comics. I'll keep my eye open for more, and ask Jeff Gomez about it. I'm intrigued whether this was something Armada came up with that was later fleshed out after Wizards took back the novel line, or if it came from Wizards and Harper Prism just choose to ignore it. (Note that Taysir is wrong in the above quote: Mishra's first journey into Phyrexia is never fully explained, not even in The Brothers' War, but he's not a planeswalker! He needs a portal for his second trip to Phyrexia.)

Phew! Those were a lot of words to talk about a comic that isn't even in continuity anymore! It's still a lot of fun though, especially for those who like world building and looking at the development of continuity, so it's worth it. Next week we'll look at something still very much in continuity though: Fallen Empires, and the origin of another one of my favorite planeswalkers!


  1. Cool! Very interesting reading, as always. Out of curiosity, why these comics are not listed in the section "No longer in continuity"? :P

    1. Because I was in a bit of a hurry after uploading this review :P It's up there now.

    2. I felt a bit sad seeing Harbin depicted in these comics as, from what I remember, isn't Harbin tortured and turned into a Phyrexian after he's blinded by his father's sylex blast? Great work as always, it's good to hear your thoughts. Keep it real, my friend Squirle.