Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Comics Page: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadowplague

Shadowplague cover and Amazon link

I'm not going to be the first person singing the praises of the new Dungeons & Dragons comic, but it's worth adding to the chorus. John Rogers (of Blue Beetle and Leverage fame) and Andrea DiVito have managed to be the first people to  successfully translate the tabletop fantasy game into a fun action comic. Shadowplague is a nice hardbound collection of the first major arc, and if you, like me, have been having trouble following the monthly issues, it's a great way to catch up.

The comic revolves around an adventuring party led by fighter Adric Fell (a name which sounds too often like a sentence), a swordsman with a knack for quickly-drawn-up plans. One night in a tavern (of course), the crew are suddenly attacked by zombies, who then suddenly stop being zombies just in time for Adric and his friends to get arrested for murder. Before they can get convicted or punished, this strange zombification starts taking hold of other people in the city, leading Tisha, the party's demon-born warlock. to conclude that a portal has been reactivated between this world and the evil-tainted Shadowfell. Escaping captivity, the gang first set off in pursuit of a doppleganger who's using an ancient dwarven artifact to open the breach between two worlds, and eventually have to infiltrate the ancient forge in which it was made, which now seems to be back to work.

Rogers has a gift for matching character to action; we don't learn a lot about the backgrounds of most of the adventurers, but their personalities get well established in the course of dodging traps and fighting monsters. Bree Three-Hands, the party's halfling rogue, thinks in psuedo-math as she looks to free everyone from a flooding room; Khal, the dwarf knight, gets plenty of opportunities to show his compassion and non-judgmental nature underneath a typically gruff demeanor, and Adric's narration reveals how little he's thinking things through. The pace and tone is somewhat reminiscent of Rogers' series Leverage, only more violent and with undead monsters; the action is fast, good-humored, and relentless.

Andrea Di Vito's art is consistently eye-catching, drawing on the art style of the game's latest edition but simplifying it into more dynamic comic book action. When you consider how much of the story involves the characters fighting and running from certain doom, it's surprising how legible it all remains- the major peril with action in comic books is always keeping it coherent without having the element of motion to tie a scene together.

The collection also comes with two short D&D adventure modules adapting the actions of the first few issues. It would have been nice to see stats for the main characters, but these were bonus content to start with so there's not a lot to complain about there. Shadowplague really is just the first chapter of the story, and it stops just as you're wanting more. I hope this comic has a good long run, because there's clearly a lot of untapped potential here.

Grade: A-

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