Comic Picks By The Glick

Dragon Age: Magekiller

August 21, 2016

While the overall quality of their licensed comics has tended to be generally quite good over the years, it’s still somewhat rare to see a “name” creator on one of them at Dark Horse.  So when it was announced that Greg Rucka would be writing the “Magekiller” miniseries set in BioWare’s “Dragon Age” universe, it was practically a given that I’d get around to picking it up at some point.  That it was also advertised as taking place in a heretofore unseen part of the land of Thedas -- the once-mighty Tevinter Imperium -- only added to its desirability.  With all this going for it, I’m ultimately a little disappointed that “Magekiller” winds up being only a serviceable addition to the “Dragon Age” canon.

We’re quickly introduced to Tessa and Marius, our protagonists who are in the business of killing apostate mages for the right price.  Tessa is the more sociable and talkative of the two, and she handles all the business and guile-related aspects of their work.  Marius is the strong silent type and is extremely good at taking down these mages.  So, considering their line of work, you’d think that the two of them would steer well clear of the Tevinter Imperium where the rule has always been to have magic serve man instead of how it’s the other way around in the rest of Thedas.  The problem is that when Tessa and Marius get word of a child-sacrificing cult in the Imperium they can’t bring themselves to ignore something that big.

Two magekillers in the heart of enemy territory, risking all to save some kids from a bunch of very, very evil people?  That sounds like the kind of adventure story that would fit perfectly in the “Dragon Age” universe.  It’s not the one we wind up getting, however.  The tables are quickly turned as Tessa and Marius are effectively press-ganged into doing the dirty work of Tevinter’s chief magister.  That lasts for about two issues before things go bad and the two of them find themselves on the run.  Where do they wind up running to?  If you guessed “The Inquisition” then give yourself a gold star!

The problem with Rucka’s approach here is that it gives the narrative a very scattershot feel.  First our protagonists are freelance mercs, then they’re working for Tevinter, then they’re on the run, then they hook up with the Inquisition and wind up having a tangential role to the events of the most recent game.  Tessa and Marius’ status quo undergoes so many changes that it’s hard to get invested in any one of them.  Add in the fact that the latter half of the story revolves around the “Inquisition” game and it becomes a kind of “Cliffs’ Notes” version of those events that is largely devoid of any real twists or surprises.

It’s too bad because Rucka is good with the procedural elements of Tessa and Marius’ work.  There are plenty of scenes early on in Tevinter that show how a miniseries entirely focused on their magekilling work there could’ve been really entertaining and a showcase for the depth of the world of the game.  Our protagonists are also developed well enough that they remain appealing presences despite the many changes in the story and scenery they’re put through.  Even though they’re initially presented as being cut from familiar character roles, Rucka manages to add a little more nuance to them as the miniseries goes on and we come to see what they mean for each other.

The most striking part about the art for this miniseries are the covers from Sachin Teng.  I say this because they’ve got a strikingly lush appearance to them that fits the fantasy aesthetic well, while rendering aspects of the game in a manner that’s distinct from its usual art direction.  Unfortunately, the actual art of the series from Carmen Carnero isn’t nearly as engaging.  It’s competent work that shows the artist is at least familiar with the look of the characters, monsters, and scenery of the “Dragon Age” world.  While I liked seeing that Carnero knew how to draw a Rage Demon, his work with the characters and overall action is largely devoid of any style that would’ve made it more entertaining to take in.

Given that Rucka usually works in grounded takes on the superhero, sci-fi, and crime genres, I can only assume that he took on this project to show that he can deliver a fantasy comic of the same quality as his other work.  “Magekiller” gives the impression that he should stick to those other genres.  Even with the appealing protagonists, the writer falls back on standard genre tropes to propel the story and left me more appreciative of BioWare’s storytelling in the game.  As it wasn’t a complete misfire, I’d still give Rucka another shot if he has further stories to tell involving Tessa and Marius (and the “one” on the side of this volume indicates that may be a possibility).  Maybe my lowered expectations after “Magekiller” will make me more appreciative of that one.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

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