Monday, October 29, 2012

Book review: Dragon Age: The Silent Grove!

The newest Dark Horse volume in the trade paperback (um, this is still a hardcover) stable of Bioware graphic novels is a Dragon Age entry - written by David Gaider, who's work I've already review before over here, and in whom I have so much faith that I feel like I could review the writing without even reading it. The art is by Chad Hardin and the coloring by Michael Atiyeh, lettering by Michael Heisler. The script is by Alexander Freed - which makes me wary, since it makes Gaider's involvement indistinct. Did he throw an idea together? Make an outline? Draw some stick figures and fax them to Freed? I don't know. We'll see.

Click below the break for pirate boobs and anthropomorphic crossbows!
 The basic gist of this volume is that Alistair is trying to track down King Maric, his father, who went missing many years ago. Various leads have pointed towards Antiva City, and so he heads over with Isabela (for her ship, and familiarity with the city) and Varric comes along for the ride because he and Isabela are apparently best friends or something. Their quest for information takes them into a Crow library, Crow fortress then out to the Tellari Wilds and into the arms of Yavana, one of Flemeth's daughters.

The characterization seems to come and go - Varric is pretty note perfect, while Isabela has the occasional moment of odd sentimentality but is mostly true to form. It's Alistair who jars for me - he's so serious, and grim, and there's barely anything of the sunny humor that set him apart in DA:O. It's a difficult role to put him in as well, since he was distinctively happy to be a follower through DA:O and having him be the sudden leader of the group is a bit unfamiliar. A big part of this as well is the choice of companions - much like choosing two rogues in your team in DA:2, having these two accompanying seems like a misfire. They occupy the same role - the wisecracking, sardonic comic relief - which somewhat forces Alistair into becoming the serious counterpoint. I can only assume these three were thrown together for their popularity, and not for their complimentary personality traits. If Varric had not been present and someone more serious and focused were there - Nathaniel? Sten? Aveline? It would free up Alistair to have some lighter moments.

Design-wise most people look good. All three of the central characters have an occasional odd visual disconnect where what they're saying doesn't really mesh with what their face is doing, and the artist seems to struggle with Varric - his shape shifted a whole lot. Alistair also looks a little - strange. Like the artist had only a general sense of his dimensions and changed his mind every once and a while.Not entirely making up for it, but credit where credits due - the dragons, settings and architecture are wonderful. And thankfully Isabela looks phenomenal, more or less all the time.

Oh man, Yavana. Really? I can see the Flemeth comparisons they've worked in - the helm looks great, as does the staff - but seriously, give the woman some pants. Isabela is a highly sexualised character and her costume makes sense, whereas an epically powerful, esoteric and practically sexless creature like Yavana has no feasible reason for lacking underwear. Yavana's design feels more akin to a Heavy Metal poster than the DA universe. As a loose rule I usually consider Bioware above that crap. 

And let me address something else -there were some epic opportunities passed over here. We're in the capital of Antiva (which for all we've heard of it, looks like any other filthy sprawling harbor), a massive Crow fortress (that looks much like any typical stone castle), and the Silent Grove, created to shelter the remaining dragons - and it's a building, in a miserable little corner of a swamp. Not to mention meeting Yavana, one of Flemeth's daughters. And all of it - underwhelming. There's no fresh design, no sense of an entire different culture. It's just looks Ferelden-ish. And come on, if we're in Antiva City dealing with Crow upon Crow then Y NO Zevran? What a perfect opportunity to throw him in! Sadly we only get a few references to him, which was not enough to ease my aching heart.

The story doesn't really resolve itself, which isn't a huge issue in light of the fact that the next volume appears in a few months (Yes, my copy is preordered) and appears to pick up more or less where they leave off. The amount of ground covered is more akin to a chapter of a longer story than a volume in it's own right, but I can overlook the lack of resolution on the promise that the overarching storyline will be epic. This volume alone is interesting, with some nice visuals, but it doesn't contain enough epic shenanigans to make me lose my mind. It does make me twitchy for the next volume, however.

And in other news, the recently announced lore compendium (!!!) for the Dragon Age universe has hit the preorder stage - Dragon Age: The world of Thedas Volume 1 will be bashing heads in in April, 2013. I am mad for it. I'm sure I'll do a gibbering photo-filled feature on it once April rolls around.

Available to buy at Book Depository.

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