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Shadowhawk reviews the brand-new 4-issues comics mini-series by Matt Forbeck, Magic: The Gathering, published by IDW Publishing.
“A fast-paced and thrilling ride that is a fantastic introduction to the world of Magic: The Gathering. Dack Fayden has arrived and he’s taking names!” ~The Founding Fields
Comics are fun things because they really take you on a very visually-intense journey through fantastical worlds that are often quite surreal and simply fascinating. Superhero comics in particular are the main culprits here but comics set in fantasy worlds filled with magic, vampires, gods and dimension-hoppers are just as intriguing. The new mini-series of Magic: The Gathering comics by Matt Forbeck illustrates that quite perfectly because it is a series that quickly draws you in and keeps you hooked on till the end.
I originally picked up Magic: The Gathering #1 through NetGalley on a whim, spotting Matt Forbeck as the author of the comic and knowing that I could expect this to be a great experience as I’m a fan of his work. Additionally, I wanted to give the Magic setting a try as well, having had no previous experience with it. I knew some friends back in college who were ardent fans and had deck upon deck of the playing cards but that’s about it. I never really got into the whole craze. The comics seemed like an apt starting point.
The mini-series follows Dack Fayden, a Planesrunner and a thief who is on the run from a cult after stealing one of their prized possessions. He jumps several planes, only to find himself quickly on the run again as he keeps getting caught up in events he’d rather not be a part of.
Matt’s comics are really a ton of fun. They have a very relaxing atmosphere to them that is, surprisingly, never at odds with the narrative itself, even when there are some really tense standoffs between Dack and the villains. This made it really easy for me to get into the story and enjoy the setting itself alongside the various characters. You really can’t ask for more in that regard because that really is what comics are all about. They should be quick, easy reads that can immediately grab your attention and keep you on a high for all of those 30-36 pages. So that’s one tick on the checklist for the comics.
Dack himself is a really cool character that you just got to love. He is street-smart, defiant, irrepressibly heroic although he’d rather do without all the attention, a thief and an accomplished mage all at the same time. But as he’ll tell you, he is no battle-mage! What really works for the series here with respect to Dack is that it is all told from his perspective, making this is akin to a novel written in the first-person. You don’t get as much depth as in a novel, as this is a much shorter, much more immediate format, but it still makes for a very immersive experience. Dack’s commentary and his monologues are well-written and you really get the feel for this reluctant hero. Combine that with him setting out on a quest for vengeance against the mage who destroyed his home-town and you have the makings of a superb series which delivers on the promise of that epic showdown.
There are a few minor “good” characters in the series such as the Cathars Ingrid Reichert and her father, who have rather mixed feelings about Dack and his motives. Both of them are pulled off rather well as they aren’t just a sideshow but have a realistic, if somewhat predictable, impact on the narrative. Ingrid particularly looks set to become a major character in the sequel mini-series, Spell Thief, and that is quite welcome. She is portrayed as a more grounded yet rather inexperienced character than the somewhat impertinent Dack Fayden who’s lived quite an adventure life so far and is more aware of the evils of Ferelden. Her father though is a tough one himself and doesn’t suffer in a comparison with his daughter where his motivations and his honour is concerned. Would like to see some more of him in the sequel series.
The villains are also given a good outing, particularly the vampire lord Baron Eckhart von Falkenrath who is a downright bastard of a character. He is a typical vampire but he is written with an easy hand that makes him come off as realistic and grounded (pun intended there as Matt’s vampires have certain abilities that Dack doesn’t find out about until its too late). He is the kind of suave and brutal villain that a lot of people just love to hate. I certainly do. If I had to compare him to other vampires I’ve read about, I’d say that he bears a close resemblance to Matt Forbeck’s own Brody Murtagh from Carpathia, a historial horror novel that adds a great supernatural/paranormal twist to the sinking of the Titanic.
Sifa Ghent, the mage that Dack is after, is the main villain of the series although she is mostly kept out of the limelight until issue 4. As such, she is portrayed as a very mysterious and powerful character when she is not on-screen and I really liked all the mystery that Matt was building up about her. There is a very Saruman/Sauron feel to her, like she is a combination of the two. Not going to say anymore about her since I think even in a review she should be kept mysterious and all so I’ll just say that she is a stronger villain than Falkenrath and a great opponent for Dack Fayden. Expect to see a lot more of her in Spell Thief!
The pacing of the comics is pretty good. There is never a dull moment because the narrative is kept pretty tight. There is a tense anticipation even in the scenes where its just Dack trying to figure out what the object he has stolen really does or when he is doing some scrying all by his lonesome. There are frequent encounters with the bad guys to keep the plot steadily moving forwards and a lot of the conflicts actually remind me quite a bit of the ones from Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery’s Kill Shakespeare comics. There is a similar mood and theme often at play her and that made Magic: The Gathering very enjoyable indeed.
The artwork, done mostly be Martin Coccolo is just fantastic. It goes very well with the mood and atmosphere that Matt is creating and really brings Ravnica, Innistrad and the others planes/cities of Ferelden to life. The characters are drawn with a lot of detail as well, with a great variety of expressions, clothes, physical looks and so on. The general feel of the comics is rather dark as a lot of the action happens in the evenings and nights and still the colours by J. Edwin Stevens, Baileigh Bolten and J. S. Choi really stand out. Visually, the series is handled extremely well and I can’t wait to see more of Ferelden through the hands of these guys.
Speaking of artwork, I’d have to say that the cover art for all the issues, even the alternate ones, are all fantastic. A right mix of snapshots from the narrative, my favourite one is the Cover RI for issue 4 by Tyler Walpole (pictured on the right). That one is just too evocative of Dack’s character and his nature both. Great stuff.
Overall, Matt Forbeck’s Magic: The Gathering mini-series is a highly entertaining read on all levels and I’d recommend it to everyone. All four issues are currently available so I’d say that you should get them as soon as you can!