Thursday, 7 January 2016

Gerrard's Quest #1-4


"Separations" (no idea what that is to be honest) are just credited to "Dark Horse Digital" in the other three issues.
Before I get into the comic itself, my apologies for not updating the blog all that often in the past month. Work, the holidays and some personal stuff all took priority. For the foreseeable future I am planning to do a review every other week. That's not as often as I would like, but it would be nice to get back to some sort of regular schedule, and for now that means a slightly slower pace. Hopefully I'll be able to go back to weekly reviews in the future!

With that announcement out of the way... Gerrard's Quest!

Issue one starts with the Weatherlight coming to Rath. Gerrard is mopey about having been manipulated all his life, and about the fact that people are probably going to die "because of him". He then flashes back to the day he left the Weatherlight, years before. Back then Volrath's forces had invaded Urborg and killed Crovax's father to draw the Weatherlight to them. In the subsequent battle Gerrard's friend Rofellos was killed by Gallowbraid. The baddies are chased of by Selenia, but the angel herself... well, after the battle Crovax destroys the artifact he used to summon her and she is also teleported to Rath, but whether it's Volrath's forces dragging her through a portal or whether the artifact was keeping her on Dominaria isn't entirely clear from the art. During the battle one of the minions called out Gerrard's name, which makes him realize the things were after him, not Crovax. He confronts Sisay over this, who reveals that her parents were allies of Gerrard's parents, as well as his adoptive dad Sidar Kondo and his mentor Multani. He learns that "Those who serve the Legacy" had been grooming him to destroy the Lord of the Wastes. Gerrard, mad at the deception and the death of his friend, quits. His flashback ends just in time for the final splash page that shows the Predator attacking.

Issue two is mostly concerned with the battle between the two ships. Nothing much new here. Gerrard falls overboard, Vathi is de-ship-estrated for trying to kill Greven, Karn and Tahngarth are captured. There are two short flashbacks, though they are not as significant as those in issue one. They show Gerrard, Rofellos and Mirri joining up with the Weatherlight, basically just for money and adventure, and Tahngarth bonding with Gerrard over a barfight.

The third part of the series is also known to us from the storyboards. The crew and Gerrard are reunited by the Kor, Vec and Dal and Eladamri, they face a bunch of trouble trying to get to the Stronghold, and once there free Karn and Tahngarth and Crovax is forced to kill Selenia.

Issue four then shows the final confrontation with Volrath. Just before that though, Gerrard enters the Dream Halls and Volrath shows him another flashback. This time it's visions of his turn to the dark side. We see Starke poisoning the ink used to mark Vuel during his rite of passage, and Gerrard saving Vuel, thus disgracing him. We see Starke goading Vuel into taking the Legacy from Gerrard in return, Karn getting frozen with the Touchstone and Vuel raising arms against Multani and killing his own father, Sidar Kondo.

Getting trough the Halls, Gerrard fights Volrath, who manages to swap places with a shapeshifter at some point and escape. Bummer, but it's only a bittersweet ending since Sisay and Takara are freed and the Legacy is recovered from Volrath.

And that's how it ends. Completely skipping Exodus. As I said last review, Rath block could've been structured a bit better, saving a bit more interesting stuff for the last expansion.

The end. Starke and Takara are posing a bit oddly there. They look way to confident for a man who has just been blinded and his child who was forced to do the blinding...

Well... obviously we already know a lot about the story, given that it has already been told in the summaries in The Duelist and The Duelist Online. So let's start with something unique to the comic: the art. Which is a good place to start, since it is the main thing that keeps me from truly enjoying Gerrard's Quest. First off, the characters are just drawn ugly a lot of the time. When your minotaur's face looks more like the beak of a parrot, you're doing something wrong.

There is clearly a lot of manga influence here, which is fine in theory, but it doesn't implement those influences well. For example, manga characters often have flexible anatomy and exaggerated faces. When done right that can lead to very dynamic action scenes and expressive character moments, but when done wrong everyone just ends up looking inconsistent. That's the case here. Characters seem to go from having snub noses to have long extended noses to having no noses at all, while eyes sometimes seem to turn into tiny black holes. When Rofellos dies, Gerrard's jaw drops so low it looks like he's about to swallow a gazelle whole and even his eyes change sizes, which just makes him look weird and robs the scene of the grim feel that would have been appropriate.

The art also feels rushed and sketchy at times. That might have worked in a black and white comic, but sure doesn't when you're not just dealing with line work but also with colors. Look at the picture below. Starke's face seems to have disappeared, as has his hand. His fingers are just sort of floating there at an impossible angle from his arm. Maybe they thought the image of a man who just had his eyes sliced open was too gruesome, but if that's the case they should just not have put it on the page so prominently.

Also, compare Sisay here with the ending panels I showed above, and then to the pictures of her in the Sisay's Quest review. I'm starting to think she genuinely is a chameleon!
Finally, the art isn't even that great at storytelling. For example, Volrath imprisons Karn in a flowstone cell filled with moggs. The rooms shifts regularly, toppling Karn over so he crushes and kills the goblins. An immensely cruel way of torturing a pacifist, and a pretty evocative scene... in the Rath & Storm novel. In the comic we just get a shot of Karn in a cell surrounded with moggs, looking weird. No explanation of what's going on and barely any emotional response from Gerrard and Karn. Had I not been familiar with Rath & Storm I would be baffled as to why there are a horde of moggs there, and why they aren't attacking Gerrard! This is especially stupid since this is supposed to be the moment that makes Gerrard realize Volrath is Vuel, since only Vuel would know how to torture Karn this effectively.

To be fair though, this last complaint may be because of general space issues. Other scenes that are allowed to play out, like Tahngarth trying to avoid the rays that mutate him, have much better panel-to-panel storytelling. Whereas other scenes, in which the art is fine, still feel ridiculously rushed. A good example is when Mirri and Hanna go look for Gerrard. That part of the plot will get an entire story in Rath & Storm, and in the storyboards we saw that it covered the cards Mirri's Guile, Unstable Shapeshifter, Gallantry, Nature's Spring and Elvish Fury. It's not the most exciting part of the story, the two just wander around Skyshroud Forest and fight a shapeshifter before being captured by elves, but in the anthology it's a good opportunity to do some bonding between the characters, and even in the cards they manage to get across the fact that the two women are searching for Gerrard for some time. In the comic? They jump of the ship and are immediately captured by the elves.

That's just bad sequential storytelling. Now the scene serves no purpose at all, and your characters look like a bunch of idiots who jump straight into a group of enemies. The only reason it is in here is because it happened in the other version of the story, but since you're cutting out the bit with the shapeshifter and the healing water anyway (we'll have to assume that happened between panels), why not go the whole hog and cut the scene entirely? Just have Gerrard brought to Eladamri, find Hanna and Mirri there and have them say "We got captured while scouting", or something like that? That serves entirely the same purpose, but it leaves out the silly, rushed scene above, and it saves space to do more detailed versions of other scenes.

Remember back when I was reviewing the Armada comics, and I kept saying they suffered from a lack of space? Well, Gerrard's Quest suffers from that problem worse than any of them. It's especially evident in issue three. The problems they face with Carrionettes and the Furnace of Rath each take only one page. Heck, the slivers attack and are defeated in three panels! None of these fights feel exciting or tense, simply because they don't have the space to be. The comic would've been better off picking one of them and giving that a couple of pages. Relegate the other two to narration if you really have to. The story of Rath block has many twists and turns and a lot of "combat encounters", to borrow a phrase from D&D. That's probably the result of the creators trying to cram as many cards as they could into the plot. To do all that justice AND save some space for character work, this comic needed to be a twelve issue maxi-series. Trying to cover everything in four issues is a losing proposition. Writer Mike Grell is an industry veteran who worked on a number of classic series, so he clearly can do much better than this. But when the material simply doesn't match the format even he can't make it work.

Look Ertai, I'm not saying we don't appreciate your sacrifice, it's just... this comes halfway through issue three, and these are your first lines of dialogue! It would've had more impact if the readers had any idea who you were!
It's not all doom and gloom though. In issue one Gerrard's angst and the flashback feel like they get enough space, as do the fights between the Predator and the Weatherlight and between Tahngarth and Greven in issue two. Throughout there are a number of very nice scenes. I like Karn's monologue to the Sliver Queen as he takes the Legacy from her, Tahngarth dealing with his mutations and the handling of Crovax being forced to kill Selenia and then trying to commit suicide (Tahngarth grabs his leg when he tries to jump of a ledge.) Although some of those scenes still suffer from wonky art, at least they get the space they need to make an emotional impact. In fact, the character work in general is quite good. For the characters that get enough space to properly present themselves.

With all that said... I still like the plot, the characters and the setting. Those are all still cool, it's just this presentation of them that doesn't really work. If I do have any criticism of the story, it is that at this point I would prefer a few more revelations about the mysteries behind the plot. When you're just looking at cards showing snapshots of the story you don't really notice it, but when Gerrard and Sisay are actually shown having a discussion about the Legacy, the Lord of the Wastes and "those who serve the Legacy", it suddenly becomes a lot odder that those things are still so shrouded in vagueness. Why does Gerrard not go "Who are these people you are talking about?", "Why do the Phyrexian want the Legacy?" or "So, who is this Lord of the Wastes guy really?". (And: "Does he produce colored mana?") (See, I can do topical jokes!)

Oh, and speaking of secrets: there really should've been better coordination between the people creating the various versions of the Rath story about what was supposed to be a big reveal and what wasn't. The comic makes Volrath actually being Vuel into this big "Luke, I am your father" moment, but that had already been revealed in The Duelist back when it was still covering Weatherlight! Conversely, neither The Duelist nor this comic reveals anything about the backstory of Rath and whomever Volrath was working for, suggesting it was supposed to be a big reveal later. Only for Rath & Storm to casually mention that the Phyrexians were behind it all in the opening chapter, as if it was no big deal! This is not a criticism of the comic though, as the reveal works quite well if this is the only part of the story you're reading. Unfortunately, you probably aren't.

So yeah, while I love the Weatherlight Saga, I'm afraid this is not one of its better showings.

  • This is the first time we get to see Multani, who at this point is only described as Gerrard's former teacher in magic and someone who "serves the Legacy". He's looking a bit odd, but we will later learn he can form a body from any plantlife around, so he can have all sorts of shapes and sizes. Here he was just having a bad body day. Slightly more bizarre is that he apparently lives in a cave (presumably on Jamuraa) and maintains a standing army. I guess he left Yavimaya for a while to train Gerrard and that those forces were provided by Urza?
  • Also new in this story: Crovax's dad and his brother Jolav. Dad is killed by Gallowbraid and Morinfen, which is what draws the Weatherlight to Urborg for the battle that ends up killing Rofellos. Jolav survives, but he's never seen again and Weatherlight states that Crovax's entire family is dead. I assume he was killed in another attack during the time Crovax was off searching for Selenia. In the few scenes he gets Jolav has a bit of a Faramir thing going on, resenting his dad's preoccupation with Crovax. Though dad is not nearly as dickish as Denethor.
  • When the crew is in the map room of the stronghold, as shown on Invasion Plans, the comic actually shows a map of Dominaria. You can clearly recognize eastern Terisiare, Aerona and the polar continent. The picture is too blurry to really be a useful source, but I thought it was a neat little detail.

  • In the Sisay's Quest review I mentioned being surprised when she said she wanted to visit her parents. I think I discovered what the problem was. I have since been re-reading Rath & Storm (it's the next planned review), and there it is stated that her parents died after she became captain of the Weatherlight. So that matches Sisay's Quest. In this comic she never states how old she was when here parents were killed either. But the artist decided to illustrate her mentioning it with the following picture:
  • ...that girl does not look old enough to pilot a flying ship. But as the text technically doesn't say what age she was, we can maybe explain this by saying that picture is Gerrard (who she's talking to) imagining what it might have looked like?
  • So that can be fixed, sort off, but unfortunately there is also an inconsistency in Karn's backstory. It's shown here while fighting Vuel's men he toppled a cart and accidentally killed an old man. Vuel then hits him with the Touchstone. In Rath & Storm however, the story is much more brutal. There Vuel has sown the small Legacy artifacts into the body of a large blacksmith, and forces Karn to fight him if he wants them back! Karn refuses, but in a fit of rage topples a cart, killing a little boy. The blacksmith then tears open his own flesh, and when the artifacts fall out of his body Karn catches them but is frozen in place when he grabs the Touchstone.
  • These two versions of events are entirely at odds. The only explanation I can come up with is that since the pictures above are part of a flashback that starts when Gerrard enters the Dream Halls, it may be that Volrath is showing him a deliberately distorted version of events. Why he would do that I have no idea. He's actually outright calling himself evil in this comic, so he doesn't seem to have a motive to make the memory appear less gruesome.
  • Finally, an interesting fact for when I get to make the timeline: it is said here that Gerrard had been with the Weatherlight for three years before quitting after Rofellos's death.
That's it for this review. Check back in two weeks time for something I haven't covered in a long, looooong time: an actual novel!


  1. I thought you would have touched on the Windgrace issue.

    1. I'm saving that discussion till I stumble upon the first instance of Crovax being called Lord Windgrace. Which, I admit, I was expecting to find a lot sooner actually.