Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Wayfarer #1-5

Issue four has Gonzalo Mayo on "Ink Assist". On issue five he and Rick Bryant are both credited for "Inks". Each issue contains a painted section. Dennis Calero does these for the first four issues. Val Mayerik paints the final one.

It’s a few months on from Shadowmage and things aren't going well for Jared. He's alone, tired and keeps getting into fights. To make matters worse, the people of Hamath aren't up on their recent events and think he’s a herald of Ravidel. They sick a D’Avenant Archer called Elan on him. They've underestimated Jared though. He defeats his hunter and is about to beat seven shades of doodoo out of the archer when Kristina of the Woods shows up. She takes Jared to her woods and after a little lecture on the color wheel he decides to become her apprentice, letting go of his anger.

While he’s there, they run into a bunch of elves who are fighting over the right to talk to a recently awakened Force of Nature. The thing has gone mad, but Jared manages to calm it down, after which it addresses him as “Crescent of the Dark… Mark of the Elder Druid” (remember Kaysa and Jauehl and the crescent moon on the original Carthalion's face?). From the Force Jared learns that Ravidel has survived the battle at the end of Shadowmage, and is now hunting Liana for her Moxen. Liana and Ravidel are at Minorad, but for some reason Kristina refuses to teleport Jared to there.

Jared heads off on his own power, followed by Kristina. With a little help from a Shivan Dragon they manage to reach Minorad, but find it in ruins. When she sees this, Kistina calls Ravidel a liar and suddenly has no problems with facing him directly. Liana is not happy to see Kristina, but we don't get an explanation for that just yet, nor for Kristina's odd behavior. Liana gives Jared her Moxen and tells him of a device hidden in the waters of eastern Corondor that could stop Ravidel’s most powerful artifact: the Golgothian Sylex! Jared and Kristina take off, while Liana gives her life to delay Ravidel.

To find the device they go to Telemar, the Bridge City (Described as a union between Island, Swamp and Plain, so if you ever need to design a tri-land for a set based on Dominaria, do use that one!), which was build by Gwendolyn, Jared’s mom. They are attacked by Grenfell Mor, Jared’s grandad, who is still filled with hate for Adam Carthalion, who sacrificed his daughter, and is projecting this on Jared. When he is defeated he starts telling of the Summit of the Sages of Minorad, and we finally get some answers about what was going on with Ravidel, Kristina and Liana.

Grenfell reveals that after the Ice Age the sages of Minorad settled on Corondor and held a big summit of the brightest minds of Dominaria. Many druids, shamen and wizards came. Even a handful of planeswalkers showed up: Krstina, Liana, Altair of Coloni (Who we met in Nightmare), Grenfell himself and a dude called Ash Warlord Embereck. Everything seemed to be going great, until Ravidel and the Scarlet Vizier attacked. As part of the battle Altair was chained to the land and lost his powers (Explaining his situation in Nightmare.) After that Ravidel threatened the other 'walkers with the Golgothian Sylex, demanding that they stay out of his way or he would destroy all the Sages of Minorad. Kristina surrendered, and Grenfell and Liana followed suit. The Ash Warlord called them a bunch of cowards and quit the group. Still, even he decided not to interfere with Ravidel because that didn't fit whatever he himself was up to at the time. Having bested his rivals, Ravidel plopped Altair down in his homeland with his memories removed, forced Liana to become the slave of the Scarlet Vizier, banished Grenfell to a desert (where he was saved by Jared's grandmother) and imprisoned Kristina in her own woods.

It's been years, but I still haven't decided whether I think the Ash Warlord's design is stupidly awesome, or awesomely stupid.
After that long-awaited exposition, Jared retrieves two daggers Grenfell designed that together cast Rust, apparently the only spell capable of destroying the Sylex. That night he and Kristina sleep together. (Don't make a face, it's only a 4000+ year age difference!) The next day they head out to stop Ravidel, running into Caliphear and Altair as they leave. They face Ravidel at the Dueling Chasm of Golthonor, which was created when Piru went ka-blooie in Dakkon Blackblade. During the duel Ravidel reveals that his master, the one Adam Carthalion had feared, is actually Taysir. Not a surprise for those of us who are reading the comics in chronological order, but Kristina is suitably shocked! The battle ends in disaster, with Caliphear being unsummoned, Altair apparently dying and Ravidel acquiring the Moxen. The only silver linings are the destruction of the Golgothian Sylex and the fact that Daria (Taysir's adopted daughter from... eh... the backmatter of Homelands) pops up and shows Jared how to become a planeswalker. Ravidel activates the Mox Beacon, letting out the call that will summon all the planeswalkers he wants vengeance on (and a few extra), setting the stage for the Planeswalkers War. Jared and Kristina head out to gather allies and unite Corondor against the coming evils.

To be concluded...

Sadly, we've already reached the last of the Armada comics: Wayfarer. Or really, "Jared Carthalion #5-9". His adventures were chopped into two mini series because first issues tended to sell better, but this is clearly a continuation of the same series.. Same writer, same artist, same storyline. Same quality even. Almost all my comments on Shadowmage are applicable here. For example, this comic too is better paced than the average Armada comic, doesn't feel rushed and has space to build up sub-plots and do some worldbuilding. The characters still have a tendency to talk quite a lot and to shout out the spells they are casting, but the comic never has to resort to dialogue or narration to explain the art. All the action is clear, with the fight scenes well paced and choreographed.

One unique thing about this comic, which somewhat justifies it being a separate miniseries, is the lessons on the colors of Magic Jared gets over the course of the story. Kristina gives an introduction to the color wheel and talks about white mana in issue one. Each following issue has a similar scene, with the elves talking about green in issue two, the Shivan talking about red, Grenfell about blue and Caliphear about black. These lessons take the form of interludes painted in an entirely different style. It's a good framing sequence and has some very striking art. A much better use of two artists than the jumping back and forth between different styles we saw in Fallen Angel. The most interesting interludes are those of the elves and Grenfell, because instead of straight explanations about the colors these also deal with the histories of the Quirion Elves and the Sages of Minorad respectively. I'll get deeper into that in the trivia section of this review.

Another difference between Wayfarer and Shadowmage is that this is clearly building up to the big climax of the Armada saga. Shadowmage worked as a stand alone story, with just a few references to Ravidel's former friendship with Rhuell seeming out of place. Wayfarer assumes you've at least read Shadowmage, Ice Age, Nightmare and Homelands and makes references to most of the other Armada comic. Not to mention that it ends on a big cliffhanger with the outbreak of the Planeswalkers War. That could be a bit of a disappointment for those expecting a complete story, but as I said at the beginning, you really should be looking at this as a five issue storyline in an ongoing comic.

Do I have anything bad too add? Well, Kristina and Jared jumping into bed together is rather undeveloped, coming as a bit of a surprise at the end of issue four. Before they seem to be just teacher and student, especially since Jared clearly still has feelings for Liana in the earlier issues. Perhaps we can explain this all away by just claiming that the two of them are still on the rebound of their previous relationships? Jared's last love only died last issue, and from her frequent mentions of Taysir and Sandruu it's pretty clear Kristina isn't quite over them.

On the plus side, this comic makes a bit more of Caliphear and Altair than Nightmare did. Altair is given a personality as a righteous do-gooder and we also learn that apparently Ravidel erased his mind alongside his powers, which explains why he never told us anything about his backstory in Nightmare. Caliphear gets to deliver the speech on the nature of black mana. While it's this "life cannot exist without death, and evil is subjective" spiel that I don't really buy, it's much more effective in making black mana, and by extension Caliphear herself, seem impressive than anything she did in her first appearance. To be honest though, I mostly like their appearance here because Jared says exactly what I was thinking while writing the previous review.

One final thing to talk about: the covers are pretty awesome looking. I especially like the upside-down framing-Lord of the Pit on issue five, and how on issue one Jared has this demonic appearance, based on how Elan of D'Avenant sees him. I do have to wonder why the artist decided to draw Jared without pants on every single cover. He usually wears them on the inside of the comic!

That was pretty much everything I had to say here. For more comments you could read my review of Shadowmage, since pretty much everything I said there counts for Wayfarer as well. I'll just post one more picture I quite liked and then move on to the trivia and continuity sections, as there is actually quite a lot to talk about there!

  • Let's start with Kristina's introduction of the color wheel.
  • It's interesting to see how the wheel has changed since then. For starters, here it's much more based on elemental differences than philosophies and is lacking any connecting concepts between allied colors. The biggest difference with the current pie is that the white-black rivalry is framed as good versus evil, while these days one of the main points of the wheel is that no color is inherently evil. However, two pages after this spread Kristina already mentions that white can also be corrupted and that no color is completely good or evil, so I guess the ideas that led to the current interpretation are already there, just not fully hammered out yet.
  • While I'm talking about color pie interpretations; the head of the black house from Shadowmage makes a cameo appearance, in which he keeps talking about “Honor” and “Fealty”. Honor is now a very non-black concept, but I guess under these old school rules "lawful evil" still falls under black's part of the pie.
  • The leader of the black house is still not named himself, but his house is called House Khone, a callback to the old nation of Khone from the Dragon War story.
  • Look at how huge a Thunder Spirit apparently is! That thing is only supposed to be a 2/2!
  • Kristina named her lion after Sandruu! Awwww!
  • She also has a Spitting Slug among her forest friends. I'm just going to show you how Spitting Slugs apparently great people and not comment on it.
  • Despite his Elder Mark, talking like a druid doesn't come natural to Jared, as shown in the picture below. Also note those elves. Apparently all the Quirion Elves have very angular features,which I guess I can kinda see in their original art. Those features seem to have disappeared in Invasion though. Maybe someone should write a story explaining that, like how Star Trek Enterprise explained the appearance of the Klingon head-bumps between the Original Series and The Next Generation.
  • Issue two has a small article in its backmatter on Hamath (the city featured in issue one) and the White Woods (Home of both Eskil from Fallen Angel and the Quirion Elves), while issue two has some info on D'Avenant.
  • The story of the elves in issue two expands upon the history of the Quirion as given above. Apparently they trace their ancestry back to some elven empires destroyed in the Brothers' War and its wake (Argoth? Havenwood?) but only came to Corondor with the Summit of Minorad, after the Ice Age.
  • In issue three, while trying to get through the mountains that ring Minorad, Jared and Kristina find a Torvash Engine, which was apparently used as a mining device by Mishra in the Brothers' War. When it was brought to Corondor isn't clear, but Kristina says it came from “the lost land, Terisiare”. Grenfell later remarks that "Something terrible happened to Terisiare - to this day, the precise fate of that proud land is a mystery." If you combine that with the claim in Shadowmage that Upper Videnth is "rumored to be the archipelago left behind after the destruction of Terisiare" it rather sounds like some unknown disaster happened to Terisiare after we last saw it in Ice Age block. I guess the history has gotten a bit muddled over the centuries, since later overviews of Dominarian history and the Ice Age novels make it quite clear that is was just plain old erosion that turned Terisiare into a bunch of islands.
  • Anyway, the Torvash Engine... It's kinda cool looking. If Wizards ever needs another design for a Juggernaut-type card, I vote for this one.

  • In a little scene that starts out funny, Jared summons the D’Avenant who has been hunting him in his duel with Ravidel. She realizes she was wrong about Jared and decides to fight for him, but is immediately burned alive. Talk about mood whiplash!
  • There are five planeswalkers at the Summit of Minorad. If there are five of anything in Magic I'm immediately looking for a connection to the colors, but here their placement isn't entirely clear to me. Kristina is obviously green and Ash Warlord Embereck red. Grenfell calls Altair "Mage of the plain", so despite his love for Nightmares he would be white. Which leaves Liana and Grenfell himself. Liana is a shapeshifter linked to a conclave of mages, Grenfell a wizard from the island of Corundis and gives the lesson on blue mana. Neither uses black mana. I'm guessing Grenfell is supposed to be black because of how he selfishly peruses vengeance against Adam Carthalion by attacking his son? Or perhaps I'm trying to hard to see patterns where there aren't any.
  • As you can see, the Ash Warlord is described as "Mayhaps the most powerful of us all", which is quite a statement about a guy we've never seen before. There is clearly something up with him. He says that Minorad "holds the key to my existence”, and while he doesn't surrender to Ravidel as the other four do, he doesn't attack him either, saying “Dueling Ravidel now runs counter to my plans". He was slated to appear in the Planeswalkers War comic, but unfortunately he didn't make it into the Battlemage game, so it's unlikely we'll ever get any answers. I'll see of Jeff Gomez still knows what was up with mister volcano-head though.
  • With the surrender of the planeswalkers Ravidel promises to spare Minorad, but by the time Wayfarer takes place he has had enough and razed the whole thing to the ground. Kristina says later that there are still some mages alive, but from what we see the place is pretty desolate.
  • Ravidel is completely round the bend at this point. He genuinely seems to believe that he is doing Taysir's work, he look horrendous, never even bothering to fix the burns he received in the climax of Shadowmage, and he is continuously ranting. At the start of issue five he even zombifies the Scarlet Vizier just so he has someone to rant against! Or maybe he does it just to kill the guy again. During his battle with Liana Ravidel learned that the Vizier had forced her to become his concubine. He mentions this when he re-kills the Vizier, which I'm sure is some kind of justice in Ravidel's twisted mind. 
  • Quick aside: I love the tombstone of the Vizier. Dude didn't even have a real name anymore!
  • While ranting to the corpse, Ravidel reveals he plans to resurrect Chromium Rhuell, but remarks that it would take tremendous amounts of mana. Hmmm... didn't Ice Age teach us that dying planeswalkers generate a whole lot of energy, and isn't Ravidel in the process of summoning a bunch of 'walkers to make them fight? I'm sure this would've come up in the Planeswalkers War comic. Again, it's missing from the game.
  • Oh, and I'll add these pictures to show just how bad Ravidel is looking these days.

Okay, that last one is actually an illusion summoned by Kristina to get Grenfell and Jared to stop fighting. Still, it always cracks me up. BLAAARGH! 
There aren't any huge continuity errors in this comic, but there are a few minor pieces of strangeness. The first comes in the Shivan Dragon's talk about red mana. He name drops the "Actions of the Hammerheim Order during the Brothers' War," We're never told what those actions were. Oddly, Hammerheim is on Aerona, not on Terisiare, so how did these people get involved in the Brother's War? Perhaps this Order, whatever it was, originated on Terisiare and later went to Aerona and named a region after themselves?

In the very next line the Dragon mentions "The Ash Warlord Embereck of Golthonor". When the Ash Warlord later pops up he makes that strange comment about Minorad holding the key to his existence and in the Battlemage game it is said that Mount Oremon on Corondor is the home of the Ash Warlords (plural!). All of this ties the Ash Warlord quite clearly to Corondor. This is notable, since many people assume that the Ash Warlord comes from Hammerheim. I've tried to find out where this comes from, but so far the oldest source I've turned up is my own thread on the planeswalkers over on MTGSally. I know I based that on some other source, most likely the a "list of planeswalkers"-thread from MTGNews, but that seems to be lost now. So with no official sources that prove the Warlord comes from Hammerheim, I'm left wondering... was that link the result of someone not reading their copy of Wayfarer thoroughly enough, seeing "Hammerheim" and "Ash Warlord" in the same sentence, and then assuming the latter must have come from the former?

Before people start blaming me, I know for a fact it wasn't me making the conflation though, since I didn't even own Wayfarer back then! So you can't blame me for that! You can blame me for not citing my sources though. I've since learned my lesson. Hence the endless continuity discussions accompanying these reviews!

The second odd thing is the explanation we get here is about the workings of the Golgotihan Sylex. The Scarlet Vizier explains (in Grenfell Mor's flashback story) that it destroys "Anything or anyone with a direct lineage to the time of the Brothers' War". What a "lineage" means in this case is a bit vague. Presumably it doesn't mean a blood lineage as obviously everyone alive has ancestors going back to the time of the Brothers. Some more philosophical link is perhaps what is intended, as the Sylex is used to threaten the Sages of Minorad, who are all about ending the era of disasters that began with the Brothers War.

In the novel The Brothers' War we'll see the Sylex was actually used by Urza to end the war, but there it just manifested as a huge explosion. We never saw the end of the war in the Antiquities comics, as the line was cancelled before the last part of the trilogy was produced, but in his article on the story Skaff Elias revealed that the Sylex wasn't even involved in this version of the story. It was Gix (Then still just named "the Yawgmoth Demon") who activated a portal that vaporized Argoth.

Still, it doesn't seem to difficult to reconcile these two versions of the Sylex. Obviously a second Sylex Blast, even if it was just a big boom, would be a huge threat to the Sages. It would annihilate everything they created and most likely send Dominaria into a new ice age. A potent threat indeed, that would just as easily explain why Liana, Kristina and Grenfell would accept the things Ravidel put them through. As for the "lineage"thing... perhaps the Vizier just enjoys using obtuse language, or doesn't actually understand what the artifact does. Other explanations could be that in the 3000ish years it was missing something happened to the Sylex that changed its workings, or perhaps that this is another Sylex. It isn't Legendary, after all.

Finally, there is that ever present problem in pre-revisionist stories of how planeswalkers are portrayed. There does seem to be some inconsistencies here, with Ravidel and Kristina both being ancient immortals and the Ash Warlord also seeming incredibly powerful, while Grenfell Mor claims that he would've died in a desert without outside help, while later he is rather easily defeated by Jared with nothing but a sword. Luckily the story provides an easy out. We learn here that Ravidel was capable of suppressing the powers of planeswalkers, which explains the situation of Altair from Nightmare. I assume he did something similar to the others planeswalkers present. Not quite the same, as the others still have their memories and magic, so presumably fully curbing someones power costs too much effort, forcing Ravidel too settle on easier cast enchantments for the others.

The reason I would go with this explanation, rather than my now-mainstay explanation of  "They were just regular wizards who figured out how to travel the planes" is that Kristina is clearly a "proper" planeswalker, which will later be confirmed in a revisionist source in Invasion. It would feel strange to declare some of the five planeswalkers at Minorad as regular 'walkers and others as mortal wizards when they are clearly presented as a united group. It's still an option though, if you prefer it.

Another thing to look at is Jared's ascension at the end. It seems a bit... subdued compared to other ascensions we've seen. He's in a pickle as the spires of the Dueling Chasm are toppling around him, Daria pops up and tells him to planeswalk, and he does. Combined with the theme of learning about all the colors of magic that is so central to this series it seems to fit with the idea that any wizard can become a planeswalker with enough training. We've seen that in several pre-revisionist stories already, but it will be completely invalidated by the explanations about the Spark we'll see during the Weatherlight Saga. Still though, this one ascension seems to be easily translated into revisionist continuity. Jared and Kristina are in mortal danger, so he ascends in reaction to a near-death experience. That fits. It's portrayal in the comic is rather understated, and most planeswalkers tend not to just face danger but to actually receive mortal wounds before ascending, but I guess I can accept one ascension being a bit easier on the ascendee.

In the past weeks we've seen plenty of references to the Summit of Minorad, and I kept saying that I'd discuss it's placement on the timeline in more detail once we'd reach Wayfarer. Time to make good on that promise.

The first thing we should realize that the dates given in this comic have been pretty comprehensively ret-conned. Back in the Ice Age review I mentioned how the fall of Storgard was said to happen 4000 years before the Summit, but only 500 years before the World Spell. That would place the Summit 3500 years after the World Spell. Wayfarer confirms this when Ravidel says Chromium Rhuell was slain "millenia ago". Yet this story has to happen before Invasion (Thanks to the appearance of Kristina, Daria and Taysir in that novel), which only happened 1271 years after the World Spell according to the official Wizards of the Coast timeline. Closer to the revisionist timeline, but still ultimate untenable, is the time given between the Summit and the Shadowmage/Wayfarer stories. Wayfarer is said to have 1282 years later. Very close, but still more than 1271 years.

So when did the Summit happen? Well, our ever interesting-yet-confusing The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel places it directly after Alliances, "As the last vestiges of the ice age disappeared on Dominaria", to be precise. I find this fits very well with the idea of the Summit as the beginning of a new age. The "flashback era" of sets that all ultimately flowed from the Brothers' War (Fallen Empires, The Dark, Ice Age) ended with Alliances, so placing the Summit directly afterwards is fitting. It's better than having a 3500 years gap of nothing on the timeline.

Unfortunately the duration of the "Time of Storms/Floods" is a bit vaguely explained in TSOTBR. Depending on your reading it could be decades or centuries. Personally I liked the first option. Jeff Lee's website makes mention of "The Empty Quarter", the period between the floods and the (then) present day, so named because at the time there were virtually no stories taking place in it. (Since then Urza's block and Kamigawa have padded it out a little.) We'll discuss the canonicity of this Quarter another day, but I will say now that it has become pretty ingrained in the storyline lore. Since the Brother's War happened about 4000 years before the original present day, having the Empty Quarter actually be a quarter of the timeline (3000-4000 AR) is rather aesthetically pleasing.

Putting the Summit that early does create one minor hiccup: it puts only a few decades between Kristina rebuking Taysir because she wants to wander the planes and her settling down on Minorad, a mere blink of an eye for planeswalkers. A bit odd, but not necessarily a continuity error. Perhaps she did genuinely change her mind, or perhaps she wanted to settle on Dominaria but not on Rabiah. Either would only piss off Taysir more, sending him down the path of madness we saw him on in Homelands. Another simple explanation could be that Kristina wanted to align herself with the Sages, but never intended to settle there. The comic does say that the five 'walkers at Minorad "chose to remain on Dominaria", but this could mean they just use it as a base of operations.

Having placed the Summit, where do we place the events of Shadowmage, Nightmare, Wayfarer and the Planeswalkers War itself? I will answer that question next time. The answer is not very complex, but it involves a surprise guest appearance in the Planeswalkers War, so I want to save it for just one more week. I hope you will all join me then for the conclusion of the Armada saga in the game Magic: the Gathering: Battlemage!


  1. Good job, Squirrel. I'm glad you're almost done with the Armada saga, it doesn't resonate very much... at least with me. Interesting still. What's next? It's already time for Urza and the Weatherlight?

    I was wondering: are you keeping track of all the unnamed planes and planeswalkers met in the readings?

    Also, keep on eye on typos, like "durid" (and some others). :P

    1. It's too bad that you don't like the Armada stuff, but I'm very glad you've stuck with my blog while I'm reviewing those stories! We haven't quite reached the Weatherlight Saga yet though. First I'll take a look at the third main source of lore in the pre-revisionist days: The Duelist Magazine.

      I'm not making a list of any planes or planeswalkers. I do mention every (apparent) planeswalker I encounter in my reviews, even if they go unnamed, and I mention every named plane.

      Oh, and feel free to point out spelling errors to me. Believe it or not, I do proofread my reviews myself. I'm just not very good at it ;)

    2. I love you blog and I hope you'll be able to complete the whole damn timeline. I also like the Armada stuff, an interesting view of Magic's past. Probably I'm just impatient to discover more about following events. :)

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  3. Hi! ¿How is going? Just passing by to leave you my regards and my "strenght" for this epic and extraordinary blog you´re carrying. Sorry to not read you so often as I like but if you remember me you know i´m very immersed in another "big" work about Magic that takes me hours and hours. But with God blessing maybe someday i will finish what i´m doing and comment more often here. So for now... ¡Keep up the amazing work you´re doing! I know is a great effort but it is and will be an extraordinary source of knowledge for the people like me that LOVE the lore of Magic. C you!

    1. Thank you for the kind words! Glad to hear you are still enjoying the blog! Success with your own project!

  4. Great job! Reading your reviews has helped me understand the stupid timeline of this series, which I've often complained to friends about (who don't understand as they never read the old stories like I have).