I bought a lot of comics at Comic-Con last year, and if the first volume of "King of RPGs" wasn't the best thing I read from that stack, it was still pretty close to the top. It turned its extreme nerdiness regarding pen-and-paper RPGs and collectible card games into an asset as writer (and public speaker extraordinaire) went right over the top with the premise of Shesh Maccabe, a gamer who develops a split personality that turns him into a character that completely identifies with whatever game is being played. There were a lot of events that could best be described as "improbable" if they occurred in a real-world setting, but it skirted the edge of "unrealistic" and wound up ridiculously entertaining instead of just plain ridiculous.
Much as I would like to say that this volume improves upon its predecessor, that's not the case. Now I want to say upfront that it's still a very good volume and worth your money, but it doesn't have quite the same charm as vol. 1. It also does venture into the realm of "unrealistic," which I found disappointing. However, the volume's biggest failing is that it focuses on material that I generally find uninteresting: massively multiplayer online RPGs.
Specifically, "World of Warfare" -- which is the "King of RPGs" equivalent of... well, you can probably figure it out. If you'll recall, Shesh's problems started when he developed a split personality and went on a bender in this game as his character Moggrathka cut a legendary swath of destruction and player-killing that still echos throughout the online realm today. While his friend and dungeon master Theodore Dudek has him engaged in regular pen-and-paper sessions to help control Shesh's other personality, police officer (currently suspended) Rona Orzack is out to prove that he's still on "WoW" and violating the terms of his parole. (That swath of destruction I mentioned earlier, it was large enough to extend into real life as well.)
Long story short, Shesh's "Moggrathka" persona winds up taking over again and after an attempt to extricate him from "WoW" goes wrong -- it also winds up dominating his own mind in real life. It leads to Shesh/Moggrathka, Theodore and their friends attending the annual Maelcon event to find some way to reverse his condition. Now, I can suspend disbelief for this particular scenario since it actually feels like a logical extension of Shesh's antics in the previous volume. When you throw in gaming servers with sentient A.I. (who can also manipulate their laptop's heat distribution to make dice that always roll 20's) and Rona getting her hands on what is by all appearances a weapons-grade EMP device, then things just start getting ridiculous.
This volume's biggest problem, though, is how I have a hard time bringing myself to care about an MMORPG. I've never been interested in "World of Warcraft" or its many imitators, and while I'm aware of issues like gold and item farming that figure in heavily to the story here they just don't move me. Thompson does a better job getting me to care about the character he introduces, Gangshi, whose day job involves just these things. Not only do I like the idea of online gamers gritting their teeth when they're asked to consider that "gold farmers are people too" it's a source of great dramatic tension as his identity threatens to become public later on.
Despite all this, "King of RPGs vol. 2" still has a lot to offer. For all of its surrealism and flights of fancy, the book is still grounded by its characters as the old ones are just as interesting as before and the new ones also have their own quirks and traits that help them stand out. It also helps once the RPG action starts in earnest in the second half. Thompson does a fantastic job showing how the player interaction in the real world affects things in a game, and the creativity with which everything is resolved. That said, I doubt this would've been half as effective without Victor Hao's fantastically energetic art. His style is still very raw and some characters have an odd look to them, but the man can draw anything. He seems to thrive on the challenge to draw private investigators battling Cthonic monsters, the epic carnage from Moggrathka's rampage, and the lizard-sieged city that makes up the final campaign. The man is a true asset to this series and Thompson is lucky to have gotten involved with him.
Though everything is wrapped up nicely in this second volume, I hope that it's not the end of this series. I have no idea if a third volume is in the cards, but as this volume took over a year and a half to arrive, the prospect of waiting until 2013 does not thrill me. Still, just as the ever-lengthening wait for each volume of Adam Warren's "Empowered" is ultimately worth it -- I'm sure that the wait will be justified when volume three eventually arrives.