Friday, 15 May 2015

Fallen Empires #1-2

Fallen Empires #1-2

We open in medias res, with orcs and goblins slaughtering their way through the last stronghold of the dwarves. Their leader, Kaylen, is killed. His human lover, Tymolin Loneglade, flees to her planeswalker brother Tev. She wants him to remove the spells that keep her young. He refuses, convincing her that at the very least they must first journey to Icatia to warn them of the orc/goblin threat.

Meanwhile, Oliver Farrel, who apparently was once spurned by Tymolin, is whipping up crowds against the Ebon Hand, and convinces them that the immortally young Tym is Tourach, incarnate. When the Farrelites attack Tym and Tev the two escape, but get separated. Tev, perhaps due to hearing of his sisters liaisons with Farrel, perhaps due to seeing parallels between the warmongering Empires and the Brothers' War... goes a bit coo coo.

Funny, Sarkhan develops scales after going sane, Tev goes the other way!

Meanwhile meanwhile, the elves of Havenwood send a scout, Loren, to gather informaiton about the thallid rebellion. Loren is something of a dissident among the elves, as he believes that perhaps murdering all the thallids is not the most ethical thing to do. Warmongering druid Morgan mistrusts Loren for his beliefs, so he sets the trees against him, leading him to fall into a horde of thallids. Luckily for him, Tev stubles upon them and makes short work of the fungi. Loren chews Tev out over indiscriminately killing the thallids, but Tev isn't bothered.

Meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile Tym has been captured by the Ebon Hand. They belief Farrel is still in love with Tym and want to use her as bait, hoping to stop the man's crusade against Tourach by simply killing him and his followers. Farrel comes to the meeting the Ebon Hand called, but realizes that making a deal with the Hand would expose his lies about Tym being Tourach. So he decides to stab her.

Tev feels this, and goes... more than a little coo coo

He goes to Tym's location and utterly wipes out all the present Farrelites and Ebon Handers. He decides that trying to save Sarpadia is doomed to fail, and that the empires don't even deserve to be saved anyway, so he joins the orcs and goblins in the destruction of Icatia. In doing so, he adopts a new name: Tevesh Szat, the Doom of Fools.

Oh, and scout Loren? He gets killed by the Morgan upon reaching Havenwood. No happy endings here. Which is exactly how I like my Fallen Empires stories.

Remember when I reviewed And Peace Shall Sleep? My main point there was that while the story was pretty good, it did not feel like a Fallen Empire's story. There we had a "For want of a nail" scenario where Reod Dai pretty much caused all the empires to fall all on his own. Here we have a better execution of the plot. Yes, in the end it is Tevesh Szat teeming up with the orcs and goblins that causes the fall of Icatia, but this is a direct result of Icatian politicking and intolerance pissing Szat off. He functions as a personification of the doom Sarpadia has brought down on itself. This comic makes it abundantly clear that the Ice Age is coming, and the goblin hordes with it. The orcs are fighting harder because they are starving, Farrel is doom-saying about failing crops. Yet he and the Ebon Handers are too wrapped up in their petty little conflicts to do anything about it. This also ties the, otherwise rather superfluous, Havenwood scenes to the rest of the story. Druid Morgan is just another example of the stupid people in charge that are indirectly ruining the entire continent.

As always though (and I'm sure you're utterly bored of hearing me say this, but it's still true): the comic really is too short for the story. Tev's turn to the dark side happens a bit too quick, the combats are over too quickly to really be exciting, Farrel is said to be charismatic, but we never really get to see it... the list goes on. The most blatant example is Farrel's minion Sianna of Montford. She is introduced having doubts about Farrel. He calls her his most devoted follower though, and makes her his champion.

When she faces Tev and Tym she suddenly seems to be fully convinced about the Farrelite cause. Tym makes an interesting claim about Lianna being "another victim of Farrel's sick mind". Then she just has one more cameo, disappearing from the story before it ends. She isn't even shown to be present at the final conflict where Szat blows everyone up. The bits that Sianna features in hints at a lot of interesting stuff, from seeming conflicts among the Farrelites to Farrel himself being a creepy cult leader preying on the women following him. As Sianna's character development all happens of panel though, we never get anything more than those hints. I'm happy that the authors decided to put those hints in there to show that the setting goes a lot deeper than they have time to show us, but still I am left wanting the comic to be two or three issues longer, so everything can be developed a bit better.

There aren't as many cool scenes here as in other comics, but it does contain one of my favorite scene's in the entire Armada line: the big entrance of Tevesh Szat.

That's just bad ass.

Tevesh Szat first appeared in the Ice Age comic (which we'll get to next week), where he was basically just a random evil dude, albeit one with a pretty slick design. This comic explains to us where all that evil comes from, and I buy it completely. What I like most about it is that while it gives us an insight in Szat's psyche, it doesn't make him any more heroic, or even likable. He starts out as a grumpy old man trying to do what is right, slides into being a grumpy old man weary of the world, and then just keeps on sliding until he ends up a grumpy old nihilistic death god. Utterly evil, utterly irredeemable, yet not entirely one dimensional, and very cool. Despite his little rant at the end he'll never become a cackling mad man, he'll just coolly and collectedly try to end all life in existence next time we see him. It's a shame he's not around anymore really. Tevesh Szat popping up on Zendikar and taking control of the Eldrazi? I'd pay money to see that!

On art we have early days Alex Maleev again. His work is serviceable, but a step below his work on Arabian Nights unfortunately. He doesn't get as many cool things too design, and there are even some glaring storytelling glitches. Take the death of Kaylen for example.

So... how on earth does that happen? Kaylen and Tymolin are talking while back to back, but then while Tymolin is in the middle of a sentence Kaylen teleports a few meters, enabling an orc to stab him in the back? Huh? There are other glitches, though none as glaring as that one. Mostly the action scenes are just very hard to follow, and a lot of people are positioned very awkwardly. Also, the main inspiration for the outfits seems to have been Scott Kirschner's version of Icatian Javelineers, considering the number of people walking around with silly things on their head and far too little clothing on for a continent that's heading into an ice age.

A shame really, since it doesn't match the more classic medieval look of many other cards in Fallen Empires. Sticking to a medieval look would also fit with the "Icatia is British" theme we saw appearing in Ashes of the Sun and And Peace Shall Sleep.

Despite the sometimes shaky art and the fact that it is about two issues too short, Fallen Empires is still a very entertaining comic. Sarpadia is just a great setting. Maybe a bit depressing, but it's themes and tone are just very cool. I may be enjoying the comic more for what it hints to than for what's actually in it, but that scene with Tev demanding SSSILENCE is amazing even if you just look at it on its own, and as an origin story for Tevesh Szat, issue two works perfectly well.

Tev and Tym have apparently been in Argoth, with Tev even saying "I should have forced those two upstarts to throw their tantrums elsewhere". That would've been an anti-climactic end to the Brothers' War! Oddly, Tev 
later mentions how he and Tymolin would play on the shores of Sarpadia as kids. So they went to Terisiare and then back again? That's not too difficult for a planeswalker to manage of course. But the in the scenes with the elves they clearly know about "the antiquities war", so perhaps there were more contacts between Sarpadia and Terisiare than I assumed?

It's not shown too clearly in this comic, but after assuming the identity of Tevesh Szat, Tev replaces his legs with a writhing mass of tentacles, which is also the look of Geyadrone Dihada. I'm sure we would've gotten a comment on that if the two of them met in the Planeswalker War, but unfortunately that comic was never released, and we never got an official explanation of the similarities. It has always been my head canon that Tev had met Dihada at some point, and since then had subconsciously equated "evil planeswalker" with that look, assuming it for himself when he discarded his Tev Loneglade persona.

Vodalia was absent from And Peace Shall Sleep, and it is absent again here. It's almost as if no writer thought they could make Homarids seem cool! Eventually there will be a separate short story dealing with the fall of Sarpadia, but it'll be a while before we get there.

Here are two more pages that might interest you. One covering the history of the Fallen Empires, the other serving as a glossary for the places and people mentioned in the comic. I'd open them in a new tab to prevent eye strain!

Note how in this glossary Sianna is called Farrel's prized disciple and concubine? That concubine bit was only alluded to in the comic. Also note that we're still calling Dominaria a planet here!

This comic opens with a caption that states it takes place 1157 years before the Ice Age.

Yeaaaaah...… no. As we'll see several more times in the coming weeks, the Armada comics were using a very decompressed timeline in which there was more than a millennium between the Brothers' War and the Ice Age, while the Ice Age itself lasted about ten thousand years. The official Wizards of the Coast timeline throws all that out of the window. There really is no way to make the two reckonings line up, the old dates have just been utterly ret-conned out. I will thus place this comic at ~170 AR, which is where the official timeline places Fallen Empires.

Of course, And Peace Shall Sleep also takes place at ~170 AR, so how does this story line up with that one? Well, the comic has to happen a few years after the novel. We saw the Thallids being turned sentient in that book. Here they are already developing sapience and rebelling against their masters. Interestingly, in APSS the thallid's were described as tasting foul, but here the elves are say they are quite tasty. So... despite knowing the thallids are intelligent, despite them fighting a rebellion... the elves have still been experimenting with making them more tasty? Brrrr... Soylent green is Thallids!

Placing this after APSS creates a discrepancy with the situation of the dwarves, but not one that can't easily be fixed. Their last holdout was destroyed at the end of APSS, but they get their last holdout destroyed AGAIN in the opening pages of this comic. The fix is rather easy though: they clearly just regrouped in the intervening years. That would explain why their city is simply called "The Dwarven Stronghold". Those poor dwarves haven't even had time to properly name their new home, being constantly besieged by orcs and goblins!

There is a slight blip with that theory, as Tev says "The ancient dwarven kingdom has fallen" when he gets the news from Tymolin. This is more than just a problem with my theory, it's an inconsistency between the book and the comic altogether. In APSS the dwarves didn't seem to have a king, or any unified rule for that matter. Perhaps there was a dwarven kingdom ages ago, and Tev is simply so old he hasn't kept up with dwarven politics? Tev does say he's 2000 years old!

Speaking of his age, I'm going to assume that's still correct. The Armada comics may have functioned on a much more stretched out timeline, but there is no source that contradicts Szat being that old and him being quite ancient matches his grumpy, world-weary character.

That was it for Fallen Empires! No comic was ever released for The Dark, so next week we'll go straight into Ice Age, which is where the elements from the comics we've been looking at the past few weeks really start coming together. I hope you'll join me then! For now, I'll leave you with this piece of art from the back matter of Fallen Empires, drawn by Carlos Phoenix Jiminez.


  1. As always good job! After the storyline, I've taken an interest to MtG map (and I think they're sometimes crucial to understanding the story - I don't know why Wizards now stopped completely doing them). I've found some of other dominarian continents, but alas, none of Sarpadia? Do you know perhaps of a map (at this point, even not-canon) of Sarpadia?

    1. There isn't an official map, nor am I aware of any fan-made ones, I'm afraid.