Friday, 22 May 2015

Ice Age #1-4, part one

Ice Age #1-4
This review turned out waaaaaay longer than I planned, so I've decided to cut it in two. Today you'll get my review and all the trivia. Monday I'll put up the continuity and timeline discussion.

"Feast of Kjeld was a short story which appeared in The Duelist #5. We'll get to that eventually.

Issue One
We start smack bang in the middle of the Ice Age, with the kingdom of Storgard about to be swallowed by glaciers. Really only the capital is still standing. The white and green clans (because every Magic society worth its salt is structured around the color wheel, obviously) want to leave and set up shop elsewhere. Unfortunately the king worships the living god Tevesh Szat, who advises him to stage a duel between champions of those who are in favor of leaving, and those who believe heading out through the wastes is suicide. Two childhood friends, Freyalise of Clan Ruby and Jason Carthalion of Clan Emerald, are chosen. Szat manipulates the fight, so that it causes massive destruction to Storgard itself. Freyalise apparently dies (though we know she’ll actually ascend, and take up the use of green mana, like Jason) and the white and green clans head southwards. King Miko heads back inside the ruined Storgard, ironically thinking it’s the leavers that are fools.

Issue Two
Five hundred years have passed, and the kingdom of Kjeldor, founded by the green and white clans of Storgard, is flourishing. It’s not all well though, as it is menaced by Lim-Dûl, a former Kjeldoran soldier and current horned necromancer in the service of the planeswalker Leshrac. When Kjeld’s traditional barbarian enemies call for help, a small group of Kjeldoran soldiers heads out. There’s a lot of trouble within the group (One of the knights is a mad at the commander, his estranged wife, as their son died under her command a few years back, one of the other soldiers is plagued by visions of her grandmother dying in a snowstorm, etc.) but in the end they managed to defeat Lim-Dûl, who is placed in an Icy Prison.

Issue Three
The Sylex Blast (Or Gix vaporizing Argoth, if that is what was supposed to happendidn't “just” cause an Ice Age, it also created the Shard, a group of twelve planes that are locked out from the rest of the Multiverse. On Dominaria’s Null Moon (Previously called the Glitter Moon, Little Moon, Lesser Moon and Iontiero) a number of planeswalkers have gathered to address this issue: Faralyn, Tevesh Szat, Leshrac Nightwalker, Freyalise, Taysir of Rabiah and Kristina of the Woods. Faralyn has also brought his spellsquire Ravidel and the Elder Dragons Chromium Rhuell with him. Faralyn, Leshrac and Szat have already figure out a plan though: killing a planeswalker will provide the necessary energy to escape the Shard on a passing “rogue plane” called Shandalar. So the whole gathering is a sham to lure targets to them and soon a huge battle breaks out. In the end no planeswalkers are killed, but Ravidel and Chromium snuff it, and their energy turn out to be enough to create and exit from the Shard. Faralyn and Leshrac leave, but Tevesh Szat still has some unfinished business to attend to (Leshrac says he’ll “assist him through” though, so he can still escape later). Kristina and Taysir resurrect Ravidel, but he is less than pleased about this. Betrayed by his master, and with his best friend Chromium dead, he declares war on every planeswalker who ever wronged him, including Kristina and Taysir. Some good came from this farce though: Freyalise has had an idea that might end the Shard and the Ice Age…

Issue Four
Freyalise gathers the Staff of the Ages that king Miko gave to the leaving clans in issue one and the Nova Pentacle the barbarians gave to the soldiers from issue two, and hands them over to Jaeuhl Carthalion, great-great-great-something-child of her friend Jason. She sends him to the ruins of Storgard to get the Amulet of Quoz and use it to stop Tevesh Szat. Szat is also at the ruins, palling around with a Priest of Yawgmoth. He wants the priest to turn all the artifacts buried at Storgard into black mana, which Szat will then use to power a spell that’ll magnify the Ice Age, covering all of Dominarian and creating blessed sssssssilence!

Meanwhile Freyalise herself continues her scavenger hunt, visiting a girl called Kaysa. Kaysa was born with the mark of the Elder Druid and altough she’s still young, Freyalise believes she can use her in a ritual to generate enough mana to power a World Spell, which will end the Ice Age. Kaysa agrees to go along, but her adoptive dad Kolbjörn gets Freyalise to take along that errata nightmare called the Ice Cauldron along in case Kaysa doesn't survive the ritual.

Jauehl manages to dodge the dangers Szat throws at him, collects the Amulet and uses it to defeat the planeswalker, who flees to Shandalar with Lim-Dûl (Who was released from his prison thanks to collateral damage from the battle in issue three, and who happened to turn up at Storgard), just as Freyalise and Kaysa, with back up from the Cauldron, Kristina and Taysir, complete the World Spell, ending the Ice Age.

This is a really big one. The past few weeks I've mentioned several times that the Armada comics have a lot more continuity than the Harper Prism novels. We have seen a little of that, with Chromium appearing in both Dakkon Blackblade and Elder Dragons or Taysir narrating the Antiquities comics, but this is where everything really comes together. We've got Taysir from Arabian Nights, Tevesh Szat from Fallen Empires, the Carthalion family from Dakkon Blackblade, Chromium from Dakkon and Elder Dragons and even Faralyn, who also got name checked in Elder Dragons. Of course, this was actually the second comic series to be released, so all those other comics are actually prequels. From our 2015 vantage point though, this is the big culmination. That alone has my continuity loving heart beating faster, but it gets even better! The Summit of the Null Moon also kicks off the over-arcing narrative for the comics to come! Ravidel’s vow of vengeance becomes the red thread throughout the stories and the main cause of the Planeswalker War.

On top of all that the events of Ice Age are even pivotal if we look beyond the Armada comics. In many ways this is the culmination of the grand narrative of Dominaria that ran through Antiquities, Fallen Empires and The Dark. We still have Alliances to go of course, but that is more of an epilogue to the Ice Age story. The World Spell is the happy ending for the first part of Dominaria’s history. Afterwards the plane enters the so called “Empty Quarter” (Because originally little happened in it, though later stories, mostly in Urza’s block, have filled it up), with stories picking up again in the “Present day” we've been looking at with the Harper Prism novels. Alongside the Sylex Blast, the Phyrexian Invasion and the Mending, the World Spell is one of the most significant events in Magic’s history.

All the above should make it clear that this comic is mandatory reading for any Magic storyline fan. It leaves one big question unanswered though: is it any good? Well... the regular Armada problems of lack of space and overly expository narration and dialogue still apply, and issue two is a bit weak, but on the whole, yeah, this is pretty good stuff.

Do I really need to cover the space issues at this point? Quickly then. Issue one starts with a battle against a Johtull Wurm which is supposed to be a huge affair in which many warriors die, but apart from scenes that are important to the main characters the fight is summarized in... pretty much this one panel.

The most important rule in comicery is of course “Show, don’t tell”, so giving us just a single picture of a dude attacking the wurm, with the narration trying to turn it into an epic battle with many warriors and too many casualties simply doesn't work. Another good example happens in issue two, when prince Darien (spelled Darian here) gets the magical protections of his own castle explained to him. It reads very clunky, but hey, you've gotta get the exposition in somewhere, right?

As always though, the main reason I'd like more space for this story is all the cool character stuff we only get hints about. For example, we are never given an explanation for why Lim-Dûl turned against Kjeldor (Luckily, this is later explained in the novel The Eternal Ice.). While we do learn that Faralyn really wants to escape the Shard, we only find out in the back matter of the Elder Dragons comic that his confinement to the Shard has actually driven him insane. Hence his… understated reaction to the death of his spellsquire Ravidel.

Ravidel himself is also a bit of a mystery. We only learn that he comes from one of the other planes in the Shard, which itself was suffering "as badly as Dominaria" (yeesh, as if there wasn't enough blood on Urza's hands!) Him swearing vengeance on Faralyn for using him, and on Szat for killing Chromium, that all makes sense. But he clearly goes entirely batshit insane after his resurrection, which comes slightly out of left field. I'd have loved to see a prequel comic for him as well to show us more of his character pre-resurrection. Perhaps he had been mentally unstable to begin with, with only his friendship with Chromium keeping him sane?

As always though, I’m a lot more forgiving about the space issues thanks to the sheer amount of stuff they tried to stuff into this comic series. With four issues, each showing essentially a different story, Ice Age is probably the densest of all of them, telling the origin of Freyalise, the end of the Ice Age, the beginning of the Armada myth arc, and (almost lost in the shuffle) the story of Lim-Dûl and Kjeldor. In addition to all that plot, we even get some very cool scenes, and some good character work. Leshrac, Freyalise and Tevesh Szat stand out among the planeswalkers (Though I admit it helps that they have also appeared elsewhere, with their personalities being deepened elsewyere). Kaysa also get some good scenes.

And then there is Jaeuhl.

God I love this guy. He doesn't get the award for best snarky smart ass in the setting, since no one can compete with Jaya Ballard (miss not-appearing-in-this-comic), but he's a good second.

I like people who tells gods to their face that they don't worship them.

He's also a very human character, being afraid to die when Freyalise sends him after Szat, but brave enough to go through with the plan anyway. I'm not entirely clear why Freyalise specifically sends him though. Tevesh Szat thinks it’s because of her sense of irony that she sends a Carthalion, though Freyalise doesn’t strike me as stupid enough to base her entire plan on irony. Perhaps the aim wasn’t to defeat Szat (the Amulet of Quoz is not something you can trust on working anyway, not unless you've got a bunch of Krark's Thumbs and a Mirror Gallery in play), but more to distract him, in which case a Carthalion would be a good way to intrigue Szat.

Also: not afraid to call Wizards of the Coast out on silly cards!

The art is serviceable as a whole, but I absolutely love the way magic is portrayed.

Often artists asked to draw magic just paint energy beams, or by put a few sparkly effects on the caster's hands. This is much more original. I especially like how those lines are used to show the links between the spellcaster and the target of their spell, even over two panels.

The designs here are also very nice, both those of buildings…

…and those of characters

I much prefer Freyalise's plant-angel look over her appearance in Invasion

The downside of the art is that the action isn’t always that clearly protrayed

I'm not entirely sure how Kailo manages to jump over Lim-Dûl's horns, but I'm pretty sure it's just as physically impossible as whatever Zaraya is doing in those panels on the top.

Despite its problems, Ice Age is filled to the brim with neat stuff, both in the plot, the characters and the art. Personally I love it, and even if the compressed storytelling and the expository dialogue turns you off you'll still be intrigued enough to want to learn more about the story behind Magic the Gathering.

  • The covers of this mini series are interesting as, while they are quite pretty, they seem to have been drawn with little regard to the interior art. The cover of issue one has Jason and Freyalise lightly dressed, with ‘Lise in a long gown with bare shoulders. The actual story has them dressed in heavy armor and furs, with ‘Lise wearing pants, which seems like a more sensible outfit it you're living in, you know, an Ice Age. By issue three Freyalise’s cover outfit matches the threads she wears on the inside, and both Faralyn and Leshrac are clearly recognizable (though oddly elongated), but who are the beardy man in the red cloak, and the guy I can only describe as a Neanderthal vampire? Very early sketches of Taysir and Tevesh Szat perhaps?
  • The Johtull Wurm in issue one looks nothing like the the Ice Age card, but a lot more like its Fifth Edition counterpart. Fifth Edition was the high point of the continuity team tying the Harper Prism novels and the Armada comics to the card game (It also has flavor text quotes by Geyadrone Dihada and Reod Dai), so perhaps the wurm art is another example of them bringing things together?
  • Oriel Kjeldos, the leader of the green clan of Storgard, says at one point that everyone else on Terisaire is dead, but this must be hyperbole. We know from other sources that there are still people around in Lat-Nam, Fyndhorn and Almaaz.
  • At one point Storgard is called “The last of the Fallen Empires”. That’s a bit odd considering we're on an entirely different continent. It’s Tevesh Szat saying it though. He could be using it to manipulate king Miko. Or perhaps he just likes the term, having helped the Sarpadian Empires fall. At one point a random guy does use the expression “by the Ebon Hand!”, which is further proof of Sarpadian-Terisiaran contacts before the Ice Age, similar to the Havenwood Elves knowing about the Brothers' War in the Fallen Empires comics.
  • Bolar, the Shaman that is taken along with the Kjeldoran soldiers in issue two, is really flipping wierd. No indication is given about what he’s supposed to be. Since no other four-armed humanoids like that ever turn up, I’m assuming he's just a regular elf, and his little arms are the result of some kind of spell.
  • Lim-Dûl isn’t that cool looking initially. but halfway through the issue Leshrac “grants him the power he is due”, after which he become a lot more awesome. This will actually be used in the novel The Eternal Ice as well, but unfortunately the situation is so different that issue two of this comic really can't be in-continuity anymore. But more on that on monday though, when we discuss the continuity issues of this comic.
  • During the battle after the Summit, Freyalise and Tevesh Szat visit the plane Azoria “A desert island plane”, where Freyalise destroys many islands to deny Szat the mana. We never do find out what the other ten planes in the Shard are. That’s been bugging me for years now. Faralyn does mention they are all in pretty bad shape.
  • The Seer’s Analysis article in the back explains how Tevesh Szat kills Chromium: with the awesome Thoughtlace/Terror combo! Even better is the explanation of what Freyalise is actually doing with Kaysa. Turns out that Kaysa is a Ley Druid (Yes, I know it is said she has the mark of the Elder Druid, but the combo doesn’t actually work with an Elder Druid), so Freyalise casts Paralyze on her, uses her to untap a forest with four Wild Growths on it, uses four of the five mana she gets that way to untap Kaysa, and thus gain infinite mana! And you know what that World Spell, that pivotal moment in Dominarian history, actually is? Stream of Life for X is infinity. Yes, really. Tevesh Szat’s counter plan? Sacrificing a host of artifacts through a Priest of Yawgmoth and then casting Iceberg for X is loads. One of the most important moments in the canon comes down to two planeswalkers trying to resolve terrible combo's. This is utterly hilarious to me.
  • But get this: according to Paralyze’s oracle wording the untap ability is a triggered ability at the beginning of your upkeep. So under the current Magic rules Freyalise would’ve failed, and the Ice Age would never have ended! UGH, thanks for ruining everything Wizards! FLAVOR FAIL! (I kid, I kid, love you all!)
  • In the novel Planeswalker we learn that Phyrexia is actually outside the Shard, so that Priest of Yawgmoth must have been hanging around on Dominaria for a very long time! A possible explanation is found in Urza-Mishra War #1. One of Taysir's comments there speculates on a link between the Priests and the Brotherhood of Gix. That could still be in continuity, as The Brothers' War has the Brotherhood enter Phyrexia to be turned into Priests of Gix at the end. Presumably some went back to Dominaria but got stuck after the Shard was fully formed.
  • We see the Carthalions again these issues. Obviously we got Jason and Jaeuhl, but there might be another descendant of Carth the Lion in there comics. That "Mark of the Elder Druid" that Kaysa has? That is the crescent moon shaped mark that Carth had on his cheek. This is even remarked upon in the back matter of Dakkon Blackblade. During the never-released Alliances comic we would see Jaeuhl and Kaysa get together, and their distant descendant Jareth Carthalion, who we'll see plenty of in later comics, will have both the Carthalion name and the Elder Druid mark. There might be even more connection between Kaysa and Jaeuhl, since both are part Elven. But don't worry, these family connections happened centuries ago, these are no Lannister practices.
  • Planar Voids have long been a discussion point of storyline fans. Are they planes? Some other feature of the Blind Eternities? Pocket planes? Something else entirely? We don't get a clear answer here, but Leshrac, Kristina and Taysir visit the Nether Void during the battle in issue three. The Seer’s Analysis article in the back of the issue calls it “some kind of pocket dimension", which seems to suggest that it's not a separate plane, but linked to Dominaria in some way. Since at this point the distinction betweens planes/planets and multiverses hasn't entirely been hammered out yet this is shaky info though.
  • At the end of her battle with Tevesh Szat Freyalise is beat up pretty bad. Getting acid in the face and then incinerated will do that to you. Throughout the fourth issue she keeps some of her scars, but after the Worldspell she seems fully healed. Of course as a planeswalker she should be able to heal those wounds pretty much instantly, so it has been theorized that she kept those scars a form of penance for her failure against Szat, or her destruction of the islands on Azoria, allowing herself to heal fully only after her triumph. Presumably she’s not fully over her guilt though, as the next time we’ll see her she’s taken to wearing an eyepatch. 
  • At the end of issue three
    During issue four
    The end of issue four
    During the Invasion cycle.
  • Finally, have some pictures of flavor text characters Disa the Restless, Elder Druid Kolbjörn and Laina of the Elvish Council!

I've been talking for long enough at this point, and I've got places I need to be this weekend, but check back on Monday when I delve into the continuity and timeline issues of this story!



    Apart from that, cool review. Glad you called out Amulet of Quoz. It's such a ridiculous way to beat Tevesz Szat. Tails, you lose! Even when I read the comic for the first time way back when, I thought it was a bit silly.

    1. Since you seem to like Storgard so much, here's a song/poem I wrote about its fall:

      Storgard once stood proud and tall, her towers reached the sun.
      Now a land 'neath twilight's shroud, her glory all but done.

      The people once did till the fields, now soil is hard as stone.
      Hunger, cold, and wurm approach, now danger makes its home.

      Once the land was bright and green, now snow does cover all.
      The glacier grows o'er towers old, a mighty icen wall.

      Kjeldos, lady Oriel, had gazed upon the ruin.
      She saw that in the glacier's mouth lay only death and doom.

      "A new land is the only hope, please heed the words I say,
      If there be fertile lands in south we must, to live, away."

      Three of five clans wished to stay, said only cowards flee.
      Other two warned "Best away!" for truth they then did see.

      King Miko reigned with judging eyes, a sickness in his will.
      "For such craven words," he said, "The clans must fight and kill."

      He ordered mages of each side to duel before his gaze.
      "If coward lives then he may go, everyone else stays."

      Destruction reigned as mage fought mage, the city half was razed.
      Still council naught but bickered frail, as civil war was waged.

      Oriel was old, her youth now lost 'neath wounds and snows.
      But taking up her place a mighty champion arose.

      With earth's deep fire and magic winds the city's heart was rent,
      In one great final duel Miko's champion was spent.

      "Cowards, feel free to leave, you'll die amidst the snow,"
      Miko warned, and many stayed, but two clans still did go.

      Storgard once stood proud and tall, her towers fought the frost.
      Crushed in mad King Miko's grip, her towers now are lost.

      The people once did till the fields, together they did stand.
      Now ancient kingdom vanished due to mad King Miko's hand.

      Once the land was bright and green, now buried 'neath the snow.
      No song or story lives to tell of those who wouldn't go.

      Staff in hand the clansmen left the ruins, and snow did fall.
      Mad King Miko called them fools, and so did Storgard fall.