Monday, 7 September 2015

Prelude to War

Yesterday I talked about Walker of Night. It gave us a bit more details about Leshrac's imprisonment, but let's be honest, not a whole lot we didn't know already. Now though, we are embarking into true terra incognita. Sure, we knew all along that a Planeswalkers War was coming, and some of you may even have played through it in the Battlemage video game, but what actually happened in that war? the game didn't feature quite a few characters slated to appear in the comic, and in the end didn't have much plot beyond "They fight." Now finally we can see what would've happened in the war if the comics line hadn't been cancelled!

Prelude to War shows the gathering of all the various players, setting the stage for the war itself. It would've been an anthology with a number of stories, each written by different people and featuring one or two planeswalkers, with the story of Jared Carthalion split in two to function as a prologue and an epilogue. I'll deal with each of the stories individually.

Crescent Moon
By Jeff Gomez

A year and a half have passed since the end of Wayfarer, and a guy only called the Elder Druid of Corondor is looking for Jared Carthalion. He finds our hero quite busy, as his lover Kristina is in labor! Guess that answers that ever-returning question on whether planeswalkers can have kids! But the druid, who reveals he also has the crescent-moon Mark of the Elder Druid, has come to prepare for war...
  • I was quite surprised to read that more than a year had passed since Wayfarer! I had always figured that was just the start of the war. Now that I think about it though, it does make sense that it takes a while for planeswalkers, who were probably hanging out all over the Multiverse to converge upon Dominaria. It also allows a little more time for Kristina and Jared to properly fall in love, as the development of them jumping into bed together rather came as a surprise to me when it happened in Wayfarer.
  • On the timeline I have used this "a year and a half" timeframe to place Shadow Mage and Wayfarer in relation to the Planeswalkers War. I've been dismissing a lot of stuff from unpublished comics in the last few reviews, but I am still willing to use information from them if there is nothing published that contradicts them. Not using unpublished sources altogether would get us into big problems when we get to stuff like Legends II and Kamigawa, which can only be placed thanks to remarks by writer Scott McGough on various forums. (Note that dates on the timeline placed thanks to these kinds of sources still get a qualifiers like "probably" or "possibly" next to them.)
  • Before being brought to Jared, the Druid runs into Yorgo, the bully-turned-ally from Shadow Mage. We learn he has since become the ruler of the ruins of Arathoxia. Amadis and Finovar, the Quirion exarchs, and Visoniary Kadesha, all from Wayfarer, are present when Kristina gives birth. They were only minor characters in those stories, so it is cool to see them remembered here. Some of them even popped up in the Battlemage game, probably thanks to their inclusion in the original comic script.
  • Oh, and the kid of Kristina and Jared? It's a daughter. Her name? Justina! Well, Adam was the only Carthalion who didn't have a name starting with J, and he ended up sacrificing his own wife in the name of power... yeah, better return to that J naming tradition.

Journeying Angel 
By Art Holcomb

Ravidel pays a visit to Urborg to visit the local planeswalker... Lord Windgrace! Yes, the cat person who we heard about in the Loot Niptil stories from Tapestries and Distant Planes almost made his first appearance in 1997! As it turns out he had to wait till 2000's Invasion for that, and till 2001's Planeshift to actually show his mug on a card! Anyway... back to the story

Ravidel tries to convince Windgrace to join his side in the coming war, telling a twisted story painting Jared as the bad guy. It falls on deaf ears, as Windgrace turns out to be an isolationist. He reveals his ancestors came from Efrava, and that he has a rather negative interpretation of the Jedit Ojanen comic, focusing on the fact that Jedit became a mercenary after leaving Efrava. He takes the very green stance that things would probably work out best if planeswalkers would stop trying to intervene. Ravidel leaves, not having been able to convince the panther warrior. He has taken a chunk of Urborgan obsidian with him though. (Seems innocuous, but it'll come into play in Planeswalkers War.)

  • This is a really cool little story. A real shame it never saw the light of day. Not so much for the story itself, which seems to be little more than two planeswalkers having a chat, but purely for the appearance of Lord Windgrace! I always love it when Armada comics make continuity nods to the Harper Prism line, and this story goes a step further by also linking him to Efrava, bringing the Jedit Ojanen comic closer to the rest of the comic line! Windgrace even invokes Terent Amese, the god worshiped by the Efravans! I'm going to save the continuity and timeline discussions for Prelude to War for the next review and discuss it and Planeswalkers War in one go, but I'll let slip now that I think this link between Windgrace and Jedit is very cool, and kinda wish it was actual continuity.

The Swamp King
By D.G. Chichester

The Lord of Khone Keep, aka the Black Knight, aka Sir Knight, aka "The Black Mana Guy" that has been popping up since Shadow Mage but never got a proper name, is having a war council meeting, when suddenly Freyalise drops in. She has come to protect Corondor, since she recognized that the Mox Beacon would soon summon a great danger - Tevesh Szat.

Freyalise and the Knight summon Sol'Kanar the Swamp King and bind him. Now any black magic Ravidel used will flow to Freyalise (Get it? Cause "Whenever a player casts a black spell, you gain 1 life."), giving her more resources to fight Szat with. She tells the Knight to tell Jared she would come to visit him soon to repay the debt she owed to House Carthalion.

  • Here we can see the Planeswalker War is not just going to be the goodies versus the baddies, as it played out in the Battlemage game. Freyalise and Tevesh Szat are being set up for a separate conflict. This war is getting more complicated!
  • What is very interesting, is that Freyalise is described as she would appear in Invasion, not as she looked in Ice Age
"She had chopped hair, wore an eyepiece over one of her eyes, and floated slightly above the ground."

  • In my review of Ice Age I theorized that Freyalise may have kept her wounds as penance for her failure to stop Tevesh Szat. Since then Jeff Gomez has explained to me that while Freyalise's slow healing in the Ice Age comic itself was tied to her feelings of guilt (she doesn't fully heal herself until after she completed the World Spell), the new look she is sporting here was actually requested by Wizards of the Coast and was a result of some unknown adventure she has experienced since we last saw her. That adventure was never revealed anywhere, unfortunately.
  • Also making an appearance is that mysterious Black Knight figure, who only gets more mysterious here. At one point Freyalise reads his mind, and says this:
"I see your soul... and now I see why you hide it behind black metal. I... understand. A soul like yours could never fail. Don't worry Knight. Your secrets are safe with me."

  • I've asked Jeff Gomez about this, but he couldn't give much more information either. It turns out WotC liked the design of this guy and wanted him to be developed into a strong character of his own, with a history stretching to somewhere outside of Corondor. The seeds of this evolution would've been laid here, but Prelude to War was never printed and nothing was done with the character after this. It's a shame. (But if anyone still needs a subject for a  fanfic...)

Dragon's Dance
By David Quinn, Kenny Martinez and Anibal Rodriguez

Eskil the White is hanging out in the White Woods. Apparently he still feels he is not redeemed for the crimes of his ancestor Xarl, from Fallen Angel. Dude, that was more than 4000 years ago! And it wasn't even you doing anything bad! He senses coming danger and thinks that might be his shot at redemption. Then all of a sudden his hut explodes. The Ash Warlord Embereck has been dragged to Corondor by the Mox Beacon and Eskil is the first planeswalker he found. In typical red-mage fashion he jumped to the conclusion that this is the guy who summoned him.

To protect the Woods, Eskil transports the two of them to the islands of New Argive, which Embereck mentions he recognizes. Eskil manages to defuse the situation and gets Embereck to talk. The Ash Warlord explains that he recovered the Golgothian Sylex from a sunken city nearby, and dueled Ravidel there. Embereck won the battle, but Ravidel pleaded for mercy and told a sob story about how he was dishonored and wanted the Sylex for revenge against those who hadn't allowed him to die. This convinced the more powerful 'walker to hand it over.

Eskil is touched that a brute like Embereck could act on mercy (Although giving a man who just admitted that he would rather have died the magical equivalent of an atomic bomb is a strange way of showing mercy in my book...), but then takes the two of them to the Mox Beacon, telling Embereck that it was actually Ravidel who created it, and that Embereck himself has thus played a role setting up the coming war. Yet he also reveals that Jared has destroyed the Sylex, allowing the Ash Warlord to finally stand against Ravidel. Embereck agrees, though he darkly says that had he taken the Sylex that day, Dominaria wouldn't necessarily been a better place.

  • It's hard to tell from just an overview, but I get the feeling that this story was supposed to have a humorous bent. Eskil remarks that he wanted to redecorate anyway after Embereck blows up his house, and then dubs the Ash Warlord "Crusher of Cottages". Later Embereck pushed Eskil into the Duelist Charm for seemingly no reason. If you are doing an anthology it seems like a good idea to have the stories vary in tone, but I don't know if this would've been the right on for the comedy material. (The next one however...)
  • Anyway, this story is interesting since it is the reintroduction of Eskil and Embereck, as both had been peripheral to the grand scheme up until now. Eskil was last seen in Fallen Angel, over 4000 years ago, and Embereck only appeared in a flashback to the Summit of Minorad in Wayfarer. This is also the first time we really get to see more of their characters. Turns out Eskil is still on a guilt trip, but also a bit of a joker. He somewhat reminds me of Teferi, actually. Which is funny, since Eskil's student Mangara will play a big role in Mirage, and Eskil himself will meet Teferi in the Planeswalkers War! 
  • Embereck is written in a rather "Chaotic Stupid" manner, making impulsive decisions and blowing stuff up based on incorrect assumptions. I was a bit disappointed by that. Not that it doesn't fit with his previous portrayal, but more because I don't really like characters like that, and wanted someone with the name Ash Warlord Embereck to be super awesome. There is one awesome connection we can make with him though. None of the comics delve into his origins, but Jeff Gomez told me the Ash Warlords emerged from "within Dominaria" through the mountain Oremon. From within Dominaria eh... that rather sounds like the Niroso from Dark Legacy! Could they have survived in the planet's core all this time, only for a few of them to turn up on Corondor and style themselves the Ash Warlords?

Planeswalker in Amber
By Jeff Grubb and Rags Morales

Daria sits on the Null Moon, waiting for Taysir to arrive. She's been monitoring events since her appearance at the end of Wayfarer. Unfortunately for her, two other planeswalkers have also chosen the Null Moon as their first stop on Dominaria. Two planeswalkers who have a history with this place. Two guys who are the absolute last people you'd want to run into as an upstart 'walker, especially one with ties to Taysir: Tevesh Szat, the Doom of Fools, and Leshrac, Walker of Night.

Szat is perfectly willing to kill Daria just because she spied on him, but Leshrac warns that this will draw Taysir to them immediately and that he needs some time to prepare for that fight. So instead he puts the girl in an Amber Prison. With that done, Leshrac proposes conquering the world for old time's sake. Szat has a different idea though. He will pick up where he left. "By the turn of the near ssstar Dominaria... will die."

  • Yes, you read that right, this story was written by Jeff Grubb! Awesome to see early work by someone who will go on to write some of the all-time classics of the Magic canon! Of course, I was working from a summary, not the actual plot, but there are a few cool Grubbisms that made it through. Like Leshrac introducing himself as "Walker of Night, Destroyer of Minds, Cosmic Ferret of Death", Szat's deadpan statement "You've gone mad" after listening to Leshrac for a few moments, or Leshrac's telling Daria about Szat: "You must remind him or his dear, departed sister. Of course, everyone reminds him or his dear, departed sister."
  • What I'm trying to say is... can we convince Wizards of the Coast to release one more novel, have it be written by Jeff Grubb, and have it just be a buddy movie style road trip across the Multiverse, featuring Szat and Leshrac? Heck, I'd offer a rib just to read an Uncharted Realms story like that! Just the two of them, popping up on Lorwyn, Kamigawa or Vryn, commenting on the strange locales and getting on each others nerves. It would be glorious!

Wishes, Lies & Dreams
By D.G. Chichester and Mark Buckingham

We open on Sandruu, Ravidel and Grenfell Mor having a scuffle. Ravidel tells the others to hold, saying that their battle was a misunderstanding. Ravidel tries to flatter Sandruu and says that he would be a great ally against Jared Carthalion. Sandruu has no interest in getting involved at first, but then Ravidel reveals that Jared has hooked up with Sandruu's former lover, Kristina, even showing the minotaur out of context images of the scene in Wayfarer where Jared and Kristina are in bed together! (Jeez, what a creep!) Obviously this is enough to send Sandruu in a rage, as Kristina has been on his mind the entire journey home from whatever distant plane Taysir banished him to. Sandruu heads out to find Jared, while Ravidel gloats to Grenfell that this is how you build an army.

  • This story, or rather the confrontation it is building up to, is among the biggest casualties of the Armada cancellation for me. No matter how awesome it is to see a boatload of planeswalkers converge on a continent to wage an epic war, for me the resolution of the Taysir/Sandruu/Kristina/Jared love snarl is most crying out for a proper resolution. We will pick up on it in Planeswalkers War, but a summary will never be as satisfying as a proper comic, mostly since we don't have a dialogue between these characters, just the outcome of their meetings. (Planeswalkers War never went as far in development to have a proper script, just a plot outline.)
  • What I do like is the use of Ravidel as an intriguer here. Obviously people were expecting a battle between Kristina's various lovers, yet Sandruu came across as patient and willing to listen in Homelands. Having him first run into a lying Ravidel sets up a battle between him and Jared without having him act seemingly out of character.
  • Actually, this story features another character who got the short shrift: Grenfell Mor. Here he suddenly is on speaking terms with Ravidel, having sided with him against Jared! Presumably the script would've explained this turn, and the Planeswalkers War would've seen him get called out for allying with the man who is ultimately responsible for most of his woes. Yet in the overview his about face comes out of nowhere. Jeff Gomez clarified for me that Grenfell only joined up with Ravidel after his defeat in Wayfarer, so in his initial appearance he wasn't scheming with the Battlemage behind the scenes.

Dark Horizons
By Jeff Gomez

Finally we turn back to Jared and the Elder Druid. They discuss the coming war, but the druid also tells Jared that he must choose between "the land" and "the stars". Turns out the Elder Druid knows he is not long for this world. The crescent moon mark means Jared could follow him as the next Elder Druid, but if Jared sticks to being a planeswalker that can't be the case. So even with the war brewing, Jared has a big personal decision in his future.

Here we finally see Jared's crescent moon mark coming into play, setting up a new personal challenge for him. Quite serendipitous that thanks to some scheduling issues I ended up reviewing Feast of Kjed, which most heavily features the mark and the Elder Druids, just last week! This plot had clearly been planned since the very first comics published (Shadow Mage and Ice Age), but up to now it had only been alluded to. It's fitting to see it coming into play prominently in the big climax.

All of this has nothing to do with this dude.

The stage has been set, the beacon lit, and now the players have arrived. I hope you will all join me later this week for the big finale, plus a discussion on how much of this can actually still be in continuity.


  1. @ Crescent Moon //Dark Horizons: On planeswalkers giving birth - if young Teferi could catch a cold, then why not a baby.
    B-b-but Justina?! :P Geeez. I hope that was just a placeholder.

    @Journeying Angel: Windgrace comic. ;_;
    And yeah, it's great they were referencing HP novels. (Come back Tempe!).

    @Swamp King:
    The Sol'Kanar summoning effect: since HP novels, they continue to make a parallel between mana and life force. Just sayin.

    I wouldn't mind seeing more of the Knight.

    @Dragon's Dance:
    I always missed Niorsos (and Sangranzuls when we're at it). It would be awesome if Ash was one. Although any other new race would be fine with me (Ash reminded me more of the flamekin from Lorwyn, but since their "birth" as elementals is not exactly like of other creatures it has been debated if they can even get sparks... so alternatively, Ash and his emergence from the mountain could point at the possibility of elemental beings getting sparks).

    @Planeswalker in Amber: Yay, Jeff Grubb. I'd buy that novel yesterday!
    But it's never gonna happen...
    Also, this story reminds me of how they always interpreted the cards' effects as affecting planeswalkers as any other creatures.

    @Wishes, Lies & Dreams:
    Hm. So it took around a century, maybe more, for Sandruu to find his way back from the banishment?

    1. On the Homelands timeline Sandruu was banished "220 years ago", and by my placing the "present" of that timeline is in ~3800, so that would have him exiled for about 600 years. The placement of Homelands is tricky, but at the very least he should've been gone for 220 years.

    2. Argh. You're right. I got confused.