Fans of the Forgotten Realms and comic books may have been thrilled to see Realms creator Ed Greenwood’s name as the author of IDW’s new ongoing series. Sadly, the first issue is a muddled disappointment, though it has some bright spots that show the series could improve.
As a creator of awesome RPG stuff, Ed Greenwood is nearly peerless. He’s a gaming demigod of near Gygaxian reputation. I’ve never been a fan of his fiction, though, possibly because it tends to feel like it was drawn a bit too literally from someone’s weekend D&D session. That isn’t really the case here, but the writing falls afoul of some clunky exposition, like characters stating the obvious to each other (including their own names). We can chalk some of that up to Greenwood not being quite as facile with the art of writing a comic book script as he is with crafting entire worlds from the fabric of his mind. We can suppose that he’ll get better at it.
Neither can I direct any sharp criticism at Lee Ferguson’s art (he’s miscredited as “Len Ferguson” for some reason). I don’t love the art — many panels lack detail, and the faces look a bit like Disney characters at times, but those are stylistic choices that others may enjoy. Veteran Sal Buscema’s inks are excellent, draping the cloak and dagger action in dramatic shadows.
So what’s the problem? Modern comics ditched the narrator many years ago. That leaves the art and the dialog with the job of directing the reader and explaining what’s going on. That may seem obvious, but it’s a very different thing to have a comic book explain complicated scene changes and movements without those little yellow narrator boxes pointing the way. Some may think those narrator boxes are dated (in a literal sense, they are), but to me they carry a lot of the heavy lifting of the story. You can make a good comic without them, but it ain’t easy. This creative team does not quite pull it off. I spend many minutes trying to parse the action just to figure out who was who and where they were.
I’m going to pull out a series of panels from the first two pages here as an example. I’m showing them in sequence, and I’m not leaving anything out. Click any image to see a larger version.
In the first panel, we’re introduced to the protagonists. The narrator even shows up for a moment! Sadly, his activity is restricted to these brief establishing comments. Things are fairly clear. There’s a burly guy, a skinny, guy, it’s raining, they’re worried about being late for something. We can assume we’ll find out why they might be late at some point.
Next we get a panel showing…uh…I’m not sure. A doorway that’s been nailed shut? A boarded up window above it? I have no idea why this is framed so bizarrely.
Now we see that the boarded up wood is bursting inward, toward the reader. Someone with a large sword and a katana seems to be responsible. Someone on the other side is yelling “Yeargh!” I have no idea why. Is someone being attacked? In pain? Did someone just quip and don sunglasses?
Two men, our protagonists (I assume) are standing near the burst open door. They’re holding small daggers that in no way resemble the large blades in the previous panel. They must have been the ones who busted the…door? Window? Seriously, what is that thing? It seems to be a doorway, but look at panel two — it’s several feet off the ground. Anyway, the point of view here has switched back and forth from outside to inside to outside the door/window, and that’s just not good.
Now our heroes are in some kind of abstract space with slanted black and white walls. Who knew there were post-modern art studios in Waterdeep? They are standing behind a chubby guy with blood on his chin who is gazing up at the ceiling with a look of terror…or really, just dismay, like the contractor just called with the estimate for how much it’s going to cost to get that skylight his wife wants put in. The name Skorlus is spoken.
The incomprehensible ending to the scene: they’re now standing in a dingy room. Staring at the ceiling guy is actually dead on the floor. Look at where the dudes are standing. There’s no perspective from which the prior panel makes any sense. How could they be standing behind him? There’s also no indication of the door/window they burst through.
By the way, they were meeting him as part of a basic business deal to fence some stolen boots. There’s no indication why they thought they might be late, or why they were so alarmed that they smashed the door down.
The rest of the issue did not get much better. About halfway through I gave up trying to figure out what the hell was going on. This series might get better with subsequent issues, but to be honest, I’ll never know.