Published on September 18th, 2018 | by Jules-Pierre Malartre0
Review: D&D Evil at Baldur’s Gate #4
Sword & Sorcery comic books have never been much of a big draw. The genre has always enjoyed a devoted yet small fan base, but its heydays pretty much died when Marvel stopped publishing the landmark Conan the Barbarian comic book, and its magazine-sized black & white parent publication, Savage Sword of Conan. I remember the days when your entire comic book budget could be consumed by S&S books alone: the various Conan titles (at one time, there were three regular monthly titles published by Marvel), Red Sonja, Elfquest, Cerebus, Kull, Elric, etc. They were all arguably early casualties of the downturn of the comic book industry in the ’90s, although some of them survived in some manner.
Sword and Sorcery is enjoying a bit of a revival nowadays, mainly in the pages of Dark Horse’s Conan and IDW’s Red Sonja titles. Both characters have proven to be very resilient. They are different, however, than the characters old-timer comic book readers used to know. This is to be expected, of course, as comic books strive to adapt to the times. Red Sonja is now more earthly and Conan is a mere page away from turning into an emo college kid on a backpacking trek across Hyboria. I’m not saying those are bad things, but for the nostalgic comic book readers, gone are the days of thematically challenged sword-swinging, hard drinking, blood-splattered barbarians. It sometimes feels like the fun went out of those comics.
One of the things I like about the current run of Dungeons & Dragons comic books is that they are bringing back a pure sense of adventure and fun to Sword & Sorcery. Some might argue this is only due to the fact that the D&D comic books are created for younger readers, but I would disagree. There has always been something for all age groups in Dungeons & Dragons. The D&D comic book may seem to be a lighter take on things, but that is part of the fun that makes you want to keep reading the books, and I’m willing to bet it appeals to more than just die-hard D&D players.
The current series, Evil at Baldur’s Gate, follows on the heels of the much darker Shadows of the Vampire story arc, which was tied into the Curse of Strahd role-playing adventure module, a revamped (“vamped” – get it?) version of the venerable and highly popular Ravenloft series of modules and game setting. I was leery of this latest series at first because, instead of the usual multi-issue story arc, each issue presents a self-contained story featuring only one or two characters of the party of adventurers from Baldur’s Gate.
Each issue, it turns out, has offered up some great insight into the individual characters, building on what we already learned about them from the previous ensemble story arcs. The series have been very successful in fleshing out all the characters, which is not an easy task to do with six main characters (counting Boo, the miniature giant space hamster) in under 30 pages of graphic content. The creative teams have managed to bring all of these characters to life, making them relatable and certainly endearing.
With the latest series, we get to focus on each character in their own vehicle. The first issue featured Minsc and Boo. The second one starred Krydle and Shandie. The third one centered on Delina. The party’s newest member, Nerys, is the subject of issue 4. Since she joined the party only recently during the Shadows of the Vampire series, we still don’t know much about Nerys. She is a priest of Kelemvor, the God of the Dead. She is driven, dark and attractive, and while we might immediately infer some evil connotations with her faith, followers of Kelemvor can’t really be thought of as evil death worshippers. This made Nerys much more interesting from the beginning. In this issue, she faces her darkest moment while she has to deal with the consequences of what happened to her in Shadows of the Vampire.
Here, once again, Jim Zub handles the story beautifully. I am a big fan of Zub. His work on Dungeons & Dragons comics is very satisfying, not only from a comic book reader’s point of view, but also as a Dungeons & Dragons fan. Zub knows D&D, and he also knows the Forgotten Realms (the world where those stories are taking place). The Forgotten Realms have been the playground of many game designers, novelists and comic book writers over the decades since they were created by Ed Greenwood. Most have successfully managed to add to this shared universe without damaging it; some, like R. A. Salvatore, Erin M. Evans and Douglas Niles have excelled at it, keeping the Forgotten Realms alive for decades while respecting Greenwood’s creation. You can add Jim Zub to that list. His take on The Forgotten Realms is highly reminiscent of what I read in some of the best Forgotten Realms novels, and he’s brought back the fun and excitement to D&D that I used to feel while reading the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons comic book published by DC back in the ’80s.
The cover by Ramon Bachs is both dark and inviting, giving us the best graphical representation of Nerys so far: The warrior-priest stands in a fighting stance, wielding a sword of disproportionate size worthy of World of Warcraft, with a gigantic werewolf standing behind her. It’s one of my favorite covers of the series so far. The interior art is as good as I’ve come to expect from the D&D comic books. Some frames really stand out. They bring back the same excitement I used to feel way back when I gazed at the black & white artwork of the old D&D rule books. The art is way superior to those old drawings, but they also capture the raw essence of fun and adventure of the old D&D stuff. Jordi Escuin’s colors really bring to life the streets of Baldur’s Gate. The night scenes are overall the best ones, whether they are pitch-black or starlit.
Evil at Baldur’s Gate may not be on the serious collector’s list, and the series may not be an investment for the serious collector, but for Dungeons & Dragons players, they are a great way to live the D&D adventure beyond the gaming table and gaming console. Since Wizards of the Coast does not seem to be publishing as many Forgotten Realms novels anymore, the current comic book run is a rare source of Forgotten Realms fiction for the avid fans. Let’s enjoy it.
Dungeons & Dragons: Evil at Baldur’s Gate #4
Jim Zub (Author, Artist)
Max Dunbar (Cover Artist)
Ramon Bachs (Cover Artist)