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The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #2

[I’d ‘revisited’ this series as a whole back in August/September 2012 for a group blog that doesn’t exist anymore. And due to a personal issue with Boom Studios’ comics I refuse to buy their new Magic series. So, instead of buying THOSE new comics, and to have my content covering this series fully on my own blog (so as to not disappear when an external blog shuts down), I’m revisiting–as single issues–the ORIGINAL Magic: The Gathering comics published by Acclaim through their Armada imprint back in 1995!]

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_002Desolate Angel

Writer: Jeff Gomez
Pencils: Val Mayerik
Ink: James Pascoe
Painted Color: Mark Csaszar
Letters: Adam Niedzwiecki
Editor-In-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover Painting: Val Mayerik
Cover Date: August 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

Well, one thing to notice straight away is that you really need to pay clooooose attention to years to know what sort of time has passed! The first issue opened on "Autumn of 1265, by the reckoning of the Sages of Minorad." That issue referenced time in relation to that–a week later, a month later, seven years later. This issue opens in "late Summer, 1280 by the reckoning of the Sages of Minorad." So it’s been nearly 15 years since the events that opened the first issue…and doing the math, we’re opening some 7-8 years after the previous issue ended! So quiiiiite a gap, there.

The young Jared Carthalion is now 14ish, having spent the last 3/4ths of a decade training to take on Ravidel. However, while Ravidel knows where and how to find Jared, knows that Jared’s got access to magic, and even declared that their final duel had begun…he apparently decided to kick back and leave Jared alone for awhile, rather than finishing his would-be opponent while he could.

So we get some verbal exposition–as Jared is pained using his magic, Ezer has had him attempt to train physically so he can put up SOME sort of fight, if not magically. A giant spider is summoned to them and attacks–Ezer immediately recognizes it as "a minion of Ravidel" because of course. This is the last straw, and NOW Jared determines to fight back, and summons a Hurloon Minotaur. In the midst of the giant spider attack, the Minotaur and Jared discuss what’s happening, share introductions (the minotaur’s name is Sings Two Ways, and he and his people were granted a boon by the elder Carthalion that they cannot repay, and thus Sings Two Ways gladly fights in defense of Jared and Ezer). Jared sees the spider apparently winning and steps in and the two slay the creature.

The spider defeated, Sings Two Ways laments he must leave…he’s been poisoned and will die unless Jared returns him to his people. Their home destroyed, Jared and Ezer are now homeless in the rain in the streets of Arathoxia. Jared spots a beautiful young woman and laments his raggedness by comparison. Before long, he and Ezer are in a hospice, the older man dying, and Jared determined to seek out some way to save him. Leaving the hospice, he’s set upon by Yorgo and his gang, and Jared summons some goblins, but is then horrified when they nearly kill the boys and laments, wondering if butchering others is what his power can do. We get a page of Arathoxian politics re: Ravidel, and then find Jared speaking with the Vizier’s wife in House Carthalion, where he has ventured for help. She references "the battle of Aster Fall" (which contextualizes the previous issue a bit) and shows him a Black Lotus, but they’re interrupted by the vizier’s return so she gives him an Alabaster Potion and sends him off. Jared steals the Black Lotus, recognizing its power, but while he tries to figure out how to use it, is greeted by that beautiful young woman–who invites Jared to Beggartown that evening.

After giving some of the potion to Ezer, Jared meets her there, where we find a whole community of thieves/beggars, including Yorgo’s group…and they’re none to happy that Liana has brought Jared into their space. But Jared offers some of the remaining potion to one of the boys hurt by the goblins earlier, though it earns him no thanks. The city’s guards descend on the group from nowhere, and Liana stops Jared from using his magic as that would bring the wrong sort of attention. As the crowd flees…Jared and Liana are suddenly confronted by none other than Ravidel himself! Jared lashes out immediately, but the more experienced planeswalker casts a spell and defeats Jared. Liana steps in–apparently she and Ravidel have some history–and drives the planeswalker off after revealing she has multiple moxes and referencing "The Treaty of the Shard." Ravidel claims a proper duel now would run counter to his plans, so leaves. Hours later, Jared and Liana pose for the page, as we see she’s second-guessed what she was going to tell Jared, as the boy realizes he’ll have to go it alone.

Well…that’s a loooong summary, and I’m sure I really glossed over some key details! There’s enough going on here to fill 3-4 issues in terms of modern comics’ pacing and such. This is a really dense story…and one that relies on the reader to have picked up on and remembered a number of subtle details! The reader also gets to fill in a lot of blanks, between the 7-year-gap between issues to imagining the details of Sings Two Ways’ relationship to Jared’s father, to the nature of House Carthalion. There’s also the curiosity of Ravidel allowing so much time to pass without expending much effort to personally confront Jared until he’s begun finding apparently-powerful allies, such as Liana! While I have some meta-textual knowledge of "The Shard," I’ll leave that to discuss more as it comes up in other Armada Magic issues, since I’m going issue-by-issue through one series at a time here.

The story continues to hold more potential than what it executes…it’s not bad, but feels too dense, too "compressed" for me after 20 years of "decompressed" storytelling in comics, and more years removed from the depths of Magic: the Gathering knowledge. Back in 1996, I was fresh into the game and fairly steeped in knowledge of the various cards and bits of lore. Taking stuff month by month, where the game had only even existed for a little under two years, it was a whole different thing back then than now, some 25 years later reading this from a muuuuch different vantage point!

The art is good, and I feel like I liked it better in this issue than the previous, though it’s the same art team! Perhaps because–while dense story-wise–this issue didn’t have to cover 7+ years, so there was more of a sense of consistency…and I’m beginning to get a better sense of characters, now that things have settled a bit, and been able to build a bit on what’s come before, which I suppose allows me to appreciate the art more, not being as overwhelmed with "everything."

This definitely looks like a fantasy comic, and continues to remind me a bit of Barry Windsor-Smith‘s art for some reason.

I was also interested to note ads in the issue…particularly for the Chronicles set. This was the set, after all, that released in August or so 1995, offering white-border "unlimited" editions of previously-limited black-border cards from the Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark expansion sets…and which led to Wizards of the Coast establishing their "Restricted List" that persists to this day.

We have the addition of Liana–apparently a planeswalker herself–to the story, and it seems obvious something bigger is afoot. There’s the general knowledge displayed by House Carthalion of the battle of Aster Fall; their possession of a Black Lotus; and Liana having history with Ravidel. At the second issue here, that suggests "the world" of Magic is about to get a whole lot bigger than Jared’s little corner of things.

As mentioned in covering the previous issue…this story is one built around the cards…rather than the cards being built around the story. The issue–as with the first (though I didn’t get into it)–has a bit of "backmatter" with words from the editor to the reader, as well as a mini-column "Seer Analysis" by Shawn F. Carnes where Carnes looks at the issue from the point of view of Magic: The Gathering the game, pointing out details such as a Hurloon Minotaur being a 2/3 creature, while a Giant Spider is 2/4, and so while the two creatures would indeed damage each other, neither would one-shot-kill the other.

Also like the first issue, this issue’s cover announces the inclusion of a genuine Magic: The Gathering card. UNlike the previous issue, though…this one has the card in a clear plastic insert/wrapper stapled into the issue itself, rather than being loose in a polybag. This certainly allows a better situation wherein one can READ the issue itself and choose whether or not to remove the card! It may be a crapshoot if you find this issue "in the wild" on whether it includes the card or not, but it’s more likely, perhaps, than if you find #1 in the wild. [Edit to add: the card this issue comes with is a 4th Edition Blue Elemental Blast]

I also have a certain amount of personal sentimentality to this issue, as I recall a visit to my grandmother and having this comic with me, as I associate this cover with that visit; it also puts me in mind of an aunt, who had tried to show interest in my comics for my sake. I know I had consciously recalled bits of the first issue, as well as this issue from its cover (and it’s great that the cover shows something from the issue itself–a Hurloon Minotaur vs. Giant Spider!). I don’t have the same conscious recollection of the covers, even, of the 3rd and 4th issue of this series, nor even the story or how things turn out…even consciously recalling having re-read this series a few years ago!

Two issues down, and we’re halfway through this entire mini-series…

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_002_blogtrailer

The ’90s Revisited: Ninjak Yearbook #1

ninjakyearbook001Writer: Mike Baron
Penciller: Bryan Hitch
Colorist: Steve Whitaker
Letterer: Adam Niedzwiecki
Editor: Maurice Fontenot
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover: Stu Suchit
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.95

After having recently read the Trapped by Webnet arc in the current Unity series,when I was flipping through a quarter-bin the other day, I bought this issue and actually read it same-day, even though I already had it. It was the immediacy, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, except a Ninjak story and the cover had a headshot of someone that I couldn’t imagine being anyone other than Dr. Silk.

For as many of the original Valiant books as I’ve amassed the last couple years, I’ve read surprisingly few so far (telling myself I’m waiting til I can read the entire Valiant universe start to finish with no gaps). So I didn’t quite know what to expect here. The issue is labeled as a Yearbook…I’ve come to realize that would be original Valiant‘s way of saying “Annual.” So this is the 1994 Annual for the Ninjak ongoing, and while I half expected a big To Be Continued, I was pleasantly “surprised” to find that this issue is self-contained.

I didn’t think about the art all that much as I read the issue, but I really didn’t have any problem with it. Nothing jumped out in any negative way, and I didn’t feel “distracted” by it, either. It just got the visuals across and told that side of the whole of the story. In typing this post I see Bryan Hitch was the penciler, so in retrospect I kind of “see” it, though it definitely (obviously) predates his work on The Ultimates by a number of years. Combined with the coloring, I’d have to say I prefer Ultimates to this, but there’s also the fact of reading this 20-year-old single issue, and that Hitch and comics/printing in general had a good 8-some years of development between when this issue was published and when The Ultimates came along.

The story is relatively simple: Ninjak’s out and about in his civilian guise, and gets recruited for a mission. Dr. Silk’s making trouble, and of course needs to be stopped. Ninjak encounters a rather personal foe en route to stopping Dr. Silk, and by issue’s end we’ve reached the adventure’s end.

Perhaps over-simplifying, I’d say this issue is basically a single-issue Ninja-Spy story: part ninja-guy in Ninjak, but he’s also a spy. And it sure as heck beats being just some kick-off to a longer story, or a concluding chapter of a longer story, or being a middle chapter of a story…etc.

I quite enjoyed reading the issue, and it was CERTAINLY worth the 25 cents, if solely for the amount of time it took to read. I’ve maybe read one or two other Ninjak issues through the years, though I’m honestly not even sure if I’ve read the first issue…I think I know more of the contemporary version of the character from the last couple years in current Valiant‘s X-O Manowar, Unity, and Armor Hunters titles. 

That being said…I never felt lost or taken out of the story by my lack of knowledge; though I’m consciously aware of “continuity” and such, this worked just fine for me as a single-issue “episode” of stuff. Perhaps it’s a bit formulaic…but for me, that worked in the issue’s favor.

While this is a sort of Annual as opposed to an arbitrarily-chosen issue of the ongoing series, it’s very satisfying to be able to just pick up one issue and have an enjoyable story, good art, and no burning desire to go grab another issue immediately to continue or finish the story.

Now recognizing the Yearbook issues as basically being annuals, I may actually target them for reading prior to getting down to any solid “reading projects” for classic Valiant.

If you come across this in a bargain bin, it’s certainly worth 25 cents to $1. While it’s good, it’s not any issue of particular or singular significance, and as a “generic ’90s book” I wouldn’t suggest paying more than $1 for a copy, and personally consider it truly 25-cent-bin fare.

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