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The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #3

[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!]


The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering

The Shadow Mage #1  |  The Shadow Mage #2  |  The Shadow Mage #3  |  The Shadow Mage #4


magicthegathering_theshadowmage_003War Child

Writer: Jeff Gomez
Penciller: Val Mayerik
Inker: Rick Bryant
Printed Color: Mark Csaszar
Letterer: Bethanne Niedz
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover Painting: Val Mayerik
Cover Date: September 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

After an unplanned three-month hiatus (hey, just like real comics!), I’m back to cover the THIRD issue of this mini-series. And rather than having covered the entire mini while the new Boom series was still on #1…I’m now "in line" with their series, covering the third issue of this classic Armada series while Boom‘s is around #3 or #4..

Perhaps it’s because I’ve had this issue sitting around for a few weeks waiting for me to write up this post, but the cover feels fairly "iconic" to me at this point…though I believe I’d mentioned in my post about #2 that I didn’t even remember the cover and figured it was forgettable. We see Jared in a strange pose somewhat holding up Ezer–or catching him as he falls (but in that case, Jared’s arm should be under his mentor at the man’s back, not around his chest!). Jared looks rather wild and desperate…which is appropriate if he’s facing an enemy more menacing than the Juggernaut carting up behind him!

Getting into the issue itself…we begin with an attack on Arathoxia. Juggernauts break down the city’s gates, before we shift to the Lady Verdenth speaking at Ravidel as the citizenry react to the attack…including Yorgo and his gang, who take up arms to defend "his" city. We shift to the watchtower of Tobias Kavrel, Lord of Stonehaven’s eastern plains, where the lord and his minions come under attack from a Demonic Horde…though they wish to leave the lowly paupers to their fate, Ravidel’s forces aren’t discriminating. Ravidel bids his minions have fun (think Shredder sending Tokka and Rahzar out in TMNT II)…and the scene shifts again. We find Yorgo and crew dealing with Drudge Skeletons before Jared arrives and aids them with a Disintegrate spell. (Amazing in a way that I remember/recognize these). Back in the Sultan’s palace, we learn that he wishes to have the "shadow mage" found, which will give Ravidel what he seeks. Chaos and death continue throughout the city. In House Carthalion, the man who almost caught Jared in the previous issue is found dying. He mistakes Jared for Liana; and while Yorgo and his crew cannot locate "the old woman" Jared bids them find, the man confesses to having part in the murder of the Lady Carthalion (Gwendolyn)…and "releases" Liana. From what, it isn’t immediately apparent. Jared, Yorgo, and crew continue to (try to) help others flee the carnage, while the Lady Verdenth unleashes powerful magic at Ravidel. As that battle (or "duel") continues, Liana retrieves Jared and Ezer, and Ravidel emerges victorious against Verdenth. As Jared prepares to challenge Ravidel himself, Liana intervenes…it’s not yet time. And Jared vows that he will have vengeance against Ravidel.

I’m a bit mixed on the art this time through. On the one hand, it’s not bad in itself, and some of the spells are certainly recognizable if one’s familiar with pre-Weatherlight Magic: the Gathering card art. Other than that it’s mostly "generic fantasy-ish" art…not horrible, but not wonderful. I appreciate the recognizability of characters and spells…but if I didn’t recall the cards and art from way back when, it’d be that much more generic overall. The "planar barge"–that is, the corpse of the Elder Dragon Chromium/Rhuell–is impressive and fairly striking throughout. That Ravidel addresses the corpse as if alive–and it blasts stuff with bolts from its mouth–is interesting, considering it IS, at this point, a corpse, though not obviously a zombie creature or such!

Story-wise, this is also fairly generic in its own way…and yet, we have some progression of stuff. We learn that it was the Lady Verdenth who used her Green magic to save baby Jared while he and Ezer slept in the woods before getting to ‘Thoxia. We also see more "political intrigue" and bickering with the various Houses of the city. And we see Jared’s helplessness and fury at Ravidel amidst allies helping guide him.

As "next issues" go, this one is ok, though not what I’d call "great" or anything. I’m willing to hold it in higher esteem primarily for nostalgia, as this came out in a similar time to the HarperPrism novels, and the whole of Magic: The Gathering lore was still in flux without the directed timeline it enjoys today in 2021. This continues to be a story built around card references…rather than being the story of the cards, or the story on which cards seem based themselves. Re-reading this and poring through to write this post, I re-realize how dense this is…and if my summary above seems to have gaps, I’m trying not to re-write the issue itself as I’d almost need to, with how much is crammed in. Between taking time to "cross-reference" and pick out character names and locations as well as looking at the art based on cards and the sheer density, there’s a lot more time to spend in the issue itself than most modern comics that weigh it at twice or more this issue’s $2.50 cover price…so there’s present-day "value" there, if one already owns and simply reads the issue, or acquires it for the price or less of a modern comic.

To be 3 issues in on this series with a mere single issue remaining…even by pre-2000s standards, it would seem hard to see how this could wrap up with a satisfying ending. While I don’t recall the ending…I do recall that this series was followed up by a 5-issue mini-series…which leaves me assuming that this series did not actually wrap things up in a satisfying way.

Finally…this issue originally came with a sheet of tiny punch-out creature tokens. At one point back in 1995, I had a small container that I kept them in, and actually used them playing some games of Magic. It’s possible I still have that around somewhere, though actually finding them anytime soon/specifically likely would not happen. I’m pretty sure I’d snagged a couple copies of this issue from a bargain bin in the last several years specifically for the tokens, as a novelty-bonus. (Same as I sometimes snag other ’90s comics from bargain bins solely for the polybagged-in bonus item/ephemera).

I’m eager to get to the next issue…as well as to get to more "canon lore"–or at least mid-’90s versions of such–in the Ice Age and other Magic: The Gathering issues.

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_003_blogtrailer

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 – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #1

[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 the new MAGIC #1. So, instead of buying new comics, and to have the content fully on my own blog to not disappear, I’m going to re-revisit–as single issues–the ORIGINAL Magic: The Gathering comics published by Acclaim through their Armada imprint back in 1995!]

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_001The Aster Fall

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

To the best of my understanding, this is THE first Magic: The Gathering comic. Though its story may not chronologically be the first, it was the first-published, kicking off the Armada imprint from Acclaim, and introducing the (comics) world to MTG in the spring of 1995. The game itself had premiered in October 1993, some 18 months earlier…and with its setting as a “multiverse,” it was certainly a ripe thing to bring to comics!

The issue opens on an active battlefield. We meet Lord Carthalion, Ezer, and a Lieutenant as they witness a falling star–a bad omen. A magic-powered ship bursts onto the scene, carrying Battlemage Ravidel…the enemy of this Lord Carthalion. The two engage into a “duel” and exchange spells to weaken and harm the other…culminating in Carthalion sacrificing himself to buy time for Ezer to flee with baby Jared…last heir to the Carthalion name. In the aftermath of the battle, Ezer has been artificially aged to a wasted old man, though the baby is relatively unaffected. As Ezer laments their situation–drinking himself into a stupor–we see the baby apparently work some protective magic to save his own life against the intrusion of a (dire?) wolf. Later, city guards at Arathoxia do not believe that this frail old man is in any way who he claims to be, nor the child with him…functionally banishing them from what should have been a life of relative luxury (despite their losses) to that of lowly street-rats, scrounging for food and living off the scraps of the city.

7 years pass, and the young Jared Carthalion is an able thief, stealing food for himself and father-figure Ezer to survive (barely) on. He is bullied by others his age and in no way “included,” existing all but alone. Even after the years that have passed, Ezer tries to keep alive the flame of who Jared really is, where he’s come from, though the boy can’t even envision anything ever getting better…which enrages the old man, who strikes the boy. Meanwhile, using a scrying device, Ravidel spies on the boy and his guardian, and opts to arbitrarily send a summoned minion to kill the boy. When the berzerker bursts in on the pair, Ezer works some magic…as does Jared! The boy has “tapped!” This excites Ezer–the boy WILL be able to avenge his house! However, Ravidel revels in this as well, declaring that their FINAL duel begins.

The last time I read this series, I blew through all four issues pretty quickly, glossing over details and simply taking it in as a totally generic fantasy story with too-fast pacing, lack of characterization, and largely being Magic in little more than name-only. This time through, sticking to this single issue and looking back over stuff and taking it in as a singular thing, I enjoyed it a bit more.

Story-wise, this IS a fairly generic thing. There’s hardly room in ~21 pages to worldbuild when the entire issue encompasses a massive battle, travel, and spans more than seven years.

We’re introduced to Lord Carthalion–the patriarch/leader of the Carthalions. He seems to have some magical ability…but is a mere mortal, compared to the power of a PLANESWALKER in Ravidel. We never get a rason for this battle, for Ravidel’s assault. He’s a two-dimensional villain for the sake of being a villain, apparently. An opponent because their MUST BE “an opponent.” We also get no real sense of what a “planeswalker” is, or WHY a “planeswalker” is and so on. Meta-textually, the reader probbbbbbably knows what one is–the allure of a Magic: The Gathering comic is almost certainly to expand on the cards and game one already knows.

Now in 2021, I’m looking back on this comic from 25 years later, as a person 25 years older, and with 25 years and a number of additional comics as well as dozens of novels and quite a few short stories, and “newer resources” such as Wikipedia and a Magic: The Gathering -specific fan-wiki, and podcast resources/interviews with creators, and generally a heckuva larger understanding than 14/15-year-old Walt had. And I can “appreciate” this issue as the first bit of a much larger thing, rather than something to be taken in total isolation.

The art doesn’t overly impress me–though it’s not bad, really. It’s absolutely better than anything I could produce, but none of these characters are REALLY all that singularly-recognizable and are far from “iconic” visages. The overall visuals certainly evoke a certain mid-90s feel…perhaps due to thinking of the artist recently as I read this issue, I see hints of Barry Windsor-Smith, and overall early Valiant here…though it’s obviously other creators.

While the visuals try to evoke very specific cards and their in-game use; and a column in the back of the issue elaborates on very specific Magic: The Gathering cards represented in the action–I’m far enough removed from early MTG and these cards and any such knowledge I was steeped in as a kid reading this, so it reduces the cards’ representations to generic fantasy-ish magic effects and some random-ish action that meant little to me in the reading.

The cover gives us Lord Carthalion in full strength wielding a sword in one hand, casting a fireball (presumably) from the other; while we also get a representation of the baby facing a looming wolf in a wooded space. This is relevant to the issue–Carthalion’s duel, and Jared’s fate…so it’s not just some arbitrary, random, unfocused magic-user. This is a singular cover; to this day, I am only aware of–get this: ONE SINGLE COVER for this issue. My copy has “Direct Sales” in the barcode…hence this came from the “direct market” or “comic shops.” There may be “newsstand sales” for the issue–copies that sold through newsstands or non-comic shop locations (Bookstores like Waldenbooks or B. Dalton, or found at a grocery store or such). But the difference would be the barcode itself…NOT a different cover image!

The issue originally came polybagged with a 4th edition Fireball card–an actual, playable card from Magic: The Gathering . This was from right as Revised Edition was fading away and 4th Edition was ramping up…I don’t recall for certain but I believe this FIreball may have been the first 4th edition (or 4th edition-STYLE) card I owned for the game. Unlike many such comics at the time, despite the polybag, there’s a banner across the top of the cover itself proclaiming the inclusion of the “free” card. So minus the bag and card itself…the banner remains.

The card was not a unique card “exclusive” to the comic or anything; it wasn’t some limited edition or variant or whatnot. It was just…a card. For the game. Playable. A little piece of the game included with a comic based on the game. What a far cry from more recent Magic comics with alternate-art cards shrink-wrapped with an issue and prompting an extra-sized cover price for the inclusion of a sheet of cardboard, the card itself, and shrink-wrapping in addition to the other regular costs of producing a comic (referencing the IDW-published Magic comics from 2012 or so).

This first issue of The Shadow Mage kicks off a story set in the “world” of Magic…but it’s a case of the story referencing the cards, rather than the cards referencing a story. I’d put it as well that this is from when the entirety of Magic: The Gathering was a more vague “idea” than concrete story, and what would eventually develop was still BEING developed.

There’s not really much of anything to this issue to make it a destination-read or something to seek out…unless one specifically wants to go back to the beginning of Magic’s appearance in comics. Or snag the first appearance of Jared Carthalion, Battlemage Ravidel, the first Elder Dragon represented in a comic (Chromium Rhuell’s corpse being part of the planar barge), and so on.

That said…it’s actually not a bad read–and I certainly enjoyed it much more than I did Gerrard’s Quest #1 that I read last year!

After an apparently-failed launch of “modern” Magic comics a couple years ago by IDW, Boom Studios got the license and has just launched a new series, titled simply Magic (dropping the “: The Gathering” part) and I haven’t a clue where they’re gonna take the story. After a brief 2-book return to the world of printed novels, Wizards of the Coast went right back to digital-only to tell the story of card sets, so this new Boom series is a different return to print…and some “hype” I’ve seen suggests they’re hoping for a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers level resurgence of the property in comics. However…it’s that comparison that seems to have sparked hype on THIS original series with some crazy activity on The Shadow Mage #1 in graded condition and such with speculators apparently flocking to it in hopes that something from that issue pops up and becomes The Next Big Thing in modern Magic comics.

Me?

I’m gonna sit back and enjoy re-reading original 1990s’ Magic: The Gathering comics, and appreciate the lack of overhype, lack of variants, and (relative) lack of pure, greedy speculation.

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The ‘90s Revisited: Magic the Gathering: Gerrard’s Quest #1

90s_revisited

magic_the_gathering_gerrards_quest_001Gerrard’s Quest Part 1: Initiation

Written by: Mike Grell
Pencils by: Pop Mhan
Inks by: Norman Lee
Letters by: Michael Taylor
Colors by: Dave Stewart
Separations by: Lisa Stamp, Stu Hiner, Brian Gregory, Harold MacKinnon
Cover by: Mark Harrison
Editors: Peet Janes and Ian Stude
Cover Date: March 1998
Cover Price: $2.95
Published by: Dark Horse Comics

I’ve been “aware of” this series for over 20 years. The original MTG comics were published by Acclaim, under their Armada imprint. Those lasted a couple years with a number of mini-series and specials. This, too, is a mini-series…but by late-1997/early-1998, the license had moved to Dark Horse. Also by this point there was a move toward a unified “whole” in the MTG continuity/story, rather than everything being a mash up of fantasy tropes and generic fantasy-style stories.

Here we begin “Gerrard’s Quest.” Despite that being the story title (even in the indicia!) it is NOWHERE on the cover of the issue. While the “issue’s chapter” IS “Initiation” that is what’s on the cover…where usually it would be interior-only, or in addition to the series’ subtitle. This is solely billed (cover-wise) as Magic the Gathering #1 of 4. Nothing to indicate anything came before…nothing to indicate (now long after the fact) that this is the first chapter of Gerrard’s Quest (as the long-outta-print collected volume is titled and the story referred to in general).

Without even looking back, I’m quite sure that even the Armada books had subtitles on the covers and/or the subtitle logos of whatever set the issue(s) contained stories for. So that’s a huge dislike of this to me from the start. Having only the MTG logo and the title “Initiation” at the bottom of the cover, it suggests to me that the issue is ABOUT some initiation. Into what, though? Is it the reader being initiated into the “I-read-Magic-the-Gathering-comics” portion of the comics audience? Is it about someone joining some group of planeswalkers banding together to save the multiverse? By the cover alone, the ONLY thing really of interest to me would be the MTG logo. The rest of the cover just looks like some generic fantasy-ish thing and even knowing the broad strokes (having read loads of the novels and re-read a bunch of the novels in the last 17 months or so) I’m not immediately sure who any of the characters/entities on the cover are supposed to be, outside of Gerrard.

The story in the issue is choppy and all over the place. It’s rather loose, and really seems little more than hitting bullet points. I’d have to practically re-write the issue to give it a proper summary here. Suffice it to say that it picks up with Gerrard lamenting others dying for him, and the burden of the artifacts that are his birthright, the “Legacy.” The ship he’s on gets to Rath, a lotta fighting happens, someone he apparently knew dies, other stuff happens and…yeah. Having read the anthology/novel Rath and Storm at least twice now (once back in 1999 or 2000, once back in late 2018 or early 2019) I have a vague idea from memories of THAT as to who THESE characters are and what’s going on.

Early in the issue I get the sense that the crew is on their way to Rath and the Stronghold to save Sisay. And then there’s some scene with people related to Crovax and then suddenly the Weatherlight and its crew are there…and after Rofellos dies, Sisay is with them.

What the heck did I miss?!?

This feels like little more than a generic visual review/overview of a prose story. And sure, it ends on a cliffhanger-like note with a to-be-continued promise…but strictly in terms of this issue, I’m not invested in any of these characters. I don’t KNOW who any of these characters ARE from this issue. (I only know the characters because I’ve read the prose novels!) Other than the clear sense that Gerrard’s upset about involvement with his “Legacy,” it’s just…pictures and dialogue.

I like the art well enough despite my clumsy attempt to describe it ahead: the layouts get sorta interesting and creative. The inks and colors work well. The overall visual experience seems a bit rough and angular and almost “gritty,” if that’s the word I’m looking for. It’s not awful, but it doesn’t have the smoother, sleeker sense of shiny wonder and just SOMETHING I can’t find the words for.

I finally tracked this mini-series down recently via a site I didn’t realize I COULD order comics from. Pulling this issue to read, I had visions of covering this whole mini-series…but assuming the subsequent 3 issues are on par with this one…I’m gonna be floundering for words and repeating myself and it’ll generally be a mess! The only REAL reason I would even suggest anyone track this issue/series down is if you’re a COMPLETIST on MTG comics.

Seriously.

In place of this, I would recommend tracking down the book or ebook of Rath and Storm, edited by Peter Archer, and read that instead. And that’s disappointing enough to say, given this is written by Mike Grell. But if you like his writing in general…find something else he’s written and read or re-read that and you’ll probably appreciate it more. I may yet read the rest of this mini, and maybe I’ll change my mind. But as of just this issue alone…it’s a disappointment and far more in the vein of “early MTG” than the far more epic, storied stuff that would come not long after in the novels and such.

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My Magic: The Gathering Novels Collection and a Checklist

I believe I own 61 of 67 or so published Magic: The Gathering novels.

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I got my first MTG novel–Whispering Woods–in the spring of 1995–very early in my having been introduced to the game. I got the next two novels as well as the first around that same time. I read several additional ones through the local library. In 1998 or so I discovered The Brothers’ War via the same library and loved the book. I rediscovered it the next year, in 1999, at a bookstore at a mall near the University, along with at least one later novel. Fall of 1999, all of 2000 and 2001, and I believe into 2002, I followed most of the novels as they came out. I dipped a toe back in for the Time Spiral books and only ever finished reading the first novel before losing track of the series again. I added a couple more books over the years, and then made a concerted effort earlier this year in 2018 to acquire books I was missing.

With the help of online Wiki stuff, I assembled a checklist a few months ago. With a couple of new additions over the weekend, I believe I’m "only" missing 7 or so of the books; 1 of which I’m not even sure is actually a novel. And of those that are, Alara Unbound is apparently selling for over $250.00, and I’m not even sure I’m willing to pay $15-$19 (including shipping) on the "cheaper" books I’m yet missing.

I have to truly wonder if people that put such outrageous prices on "out of print" mass-market paperbacks actually ever get their asking price! And if they’re not actively actually trying to sell the books, I wish they wouldn’t list them. But that gets into other stuff I don’t feel like laying into with this post.

The following list has served me well, and I present it here simply for informational purposes. I’m confident of the bulk of it, but would counsel doing your own research before considering it complete, authoritative, or remotely official!


Year Cycle Title Author ISBN
1994 Arena William R. Forstchen 0-06-105424-0
1995 Whispering Woods Clayton Emery 0-06-105418-6
1995 Shattered Chains Clayton Emery 0-06-105419-4
1995 Final Sacrifice Clayton Emery 0-7522-0217-0
1995 The Cursed Land Teri McLaren 0-06-105016-4
1995 The Prodigal Sorcerer Mark C. Sumner 0-06-105476-3
1996 Ashes of the Sun Hanovi Braddock 0-06-105649-9
1996 Song of Time Teri McLaren 0-06-105622-7
1996 And Peace Shall Sleep Sonia Orin Lyris 0-06-105619-7
1996 Dark Legacy Robert E. Vardeman 0-06-105697-9
1999 The Thran J. Robert King 0-7869-1600-1
1998 Artifacts The Brothers’ War Jeff Grubb 0-7869-1170-0
1998 Artifacts Planeswalker Lynn Abbey 0-7869-1182-4
1999 Artifacts Time Streams J. Robert King 0-7869-1344-4
1999 Artifacts Bloodlines: The Story of Urza’s Destiny Loren L. Coleman 0-7869-1380-0
1999 Ice Age The Gathering Dark Jeff Grubb 0-7869-1357-6
2000 Ice Age The Eternal Ice Jeff Grubb 0-7869-1562-5
2000 Ice Age The Shattered Alliance Jeff Grubb 0-7869-1403-3
1999 Masquerade Mercadian Masques Francis Lebaron 0-7869-1188-3
2000 Masquerade Nemesis Paul B. Thompson 0-7869-1559-5
2000 Masquerade Prophecy Vance Moore 0-7869-1570-6
2000 Invasion Invasion J. Robert King 0-7869-1438-6
2001 Invasion Planeshift J. Robert King 0-7869-1802-0
2001 Invasion Apocalypse J. Robert King 0-7869-1880-2
2000 Odyssey Odyssey Vance Moore 0-7869-1900-0
2001 Odyssey Chainer’s Torment Scott McGough 0-7869-2696-1
2001 Odyssey Judgment Will McDermott 0-7869-2743-7
2001 Legends Johan Clayton Emery 0-7869-1803-9
2001 Legends Jedit Clayton Emery 0-7869-1907-8
2002 Legends Hazezon Clayton Emery 0-7869-2792-5
2002 Legends II Assassin’s Blade Scott McGough 0-7869-2830-1
2003 Legends II Emperor’s Fist Scott McGough 0-7869-2935-9
2003 Legends II Champion’s Trial Scott McGough 0-7869-3015-2
2002 Onslaught Onslaught J. Robert King 0-7869-2801-8
2003 Onslaught Legions J. Robert King 0-7869-2914-6
2003 Onslaught Scourge J. Robert King 0-7869-2956-1
2003 Mirrodin The Moons of Mirrodin Will McDermott 0-7869-2995-2
2004 Mirrodin The Darksteel Eye Jess Lebow 0-7869-3140-X
2004 Mirrodin The Fifth Dawn Cory Herndon 0-7869-3205-8
2004 Kamigawa Outlaw: Champions of Kamigawa Scott McGough 0-7869-3357-7
2005 Kamigawa Heretic: Betrayers of Kamigawa Scott McGough 0-7869-3575-8
2005 Kamigawa Guardian: Saviors of Kamigawa Scott McGough 0-7869-3786-6
2005 Ravnica Ravnica: City of Guilds Cory J. Herndon 0-7869-3792-0
2006 Ravnica Guildpact Cory J. Herndon 0-7869-3989-3
2006 Ravnica Dissension Cory J. Herndon 0-7869-4001-8
2006 Time Spiral Time Spiral Scott McGough 0-7869-3988-5
2007 Time Spiral Planar Chaos Scott McGough, Timothy Sanders 0-7869-4249-5
2007 Time Spiral Future Sight Scott McGough, John Delaney 0-7869-4269-X
2007 Lorwyn Lorwyn Cory J. Herndon, Scott McGough 0-7869-4292-4
2008 Lorwyn Morningtide Cory J. Herndon, Scott McGough 0-7869-4790-X
2008 Lorwyn II: Shadowmoor Shadowmoor Philip Athans, Susan J. Morris 0-7869-4840-X
2008 Lorwyn II: Shadowmoor Eventide Scott McGough, Cory J. Herndon 0-7869-4868-X
2009 BLOCK NOVEL Alara Unbroken Doug Beyer 0-7869-5201-6
2010 BLOCK NOVEL Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum Robert B. Wintermute 0-7869-5476-0
2011 BLOCK NOVEL Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn Robert B. Wintermute 0-7869-5774-3
2009 PLANESWLKER NOVEL Agents of Artifice Ari Marmell 0-7869-5134-6
2009 PLANESWLKER NOVEL The Purifying Fire Laura Resnick 0-7869-5298-9
2010 PLANESWLKER NOVEL Test of Metal Matthew Stover 0-7869-5532-5
1995 ANTHOLOGY Tapestries Kathy Ice 0-06-105308-2
1995 ANTHOLOGY Distant Planes Kathy Ice 0-06-105765-7
1998 ANTHOLOGY Rath and Storm Peter Archer 0-7869-1175-1
1999 ANTHOLOGY The Colors of Magic Jess Lebow 0-7869-1323-1
2000 ANTHOLOGY Myths of Magic Jess Lebow 0-7869-1529-3
2001 ANTHOLOGY Dragons of Magic J. Robert King 0-7869-1872-1
2002 ANTHOLOGY The Secrets of Magic J. Robert King 0-7869-2710-0
2003 ANTHOLOGY Monsters of Magic J. Robert King 0-7869-2983-9
2008 A Planeswalker’s Guide to Alara Doug Beyer, Jenna Helland 0-7869-5124-9

 

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Jace’s Spellbook and Why to NOT #ShopLocal

I’ve been pulled back to Magic The Gathering recently, at least in terms of story, the art, the cards, the books–if not yet getting to actually PLAY the game itself. There’s been so much to it–from my history with the game 23 years ago, through the years, and the general nostalgia–that it’s been a real "thing" in my life, in my own way, the last few weeks.

While I have mixed feelings on pricing with stuff, the Signature Spellbook: Jace is quite a thing with Magic, and Wizards of the Coast (the publisher of the game).

signature_spellbook_jace

It’s this small boxed set with several cards reprinted with new artwork focused on the Planeswalker character Jace Beleren.

jace_spellbook_from_wotc_site

This set is not even actually out yet–I believe it’s scheduled to become available June 15. That’s…nearly 3 1/2 weeks away. Almost a month.

The publisher’s website shows off the set–the box and its contents. It also shows off–PROMINENTLY–their MSRP of $19.99 (which applies to the US only, but seeing as I am in the US and not seeking it outside the US, that’s a moot note).

jace_spellbook_screenshot_from_wotc_price

Thing is…to pre-order this online (because it’s not out yet, any transaction regarding this would BE a pre-order) it’s pretty much UNAVAILABLE for anything under $45 or so.

That’s online stores, that’s eBay, that’s Amazon, that’s the various MTG community selling sites.

I asked the local comic shop about ordering this, and their distributors apparently don’t have this.

On further research, seems this is only available to certain retailers that are somehow associated with the publisher, in a way that apparently the local comic shop is not. (Ditto another shop I asked).

After attempting to support my local comic shop (which also does Magic) I tried the local game shop. They were happy to put my name down for it…but when I asked the price, to confirm that it was indeed this $20, they had to call someone to check.

I was told it’s $40. The reason being–and I quote–"It’s already going for $45 on eBay."

I opted to "pass on it," then.


There’s the notion of "supporting the local game store" or #ShopLocal. Shouldn’t this then be something to entice someone exactly like me to come INTO the FLGS?

Seeing the ridiculous prices online, that prompted me to actually take action "live" and "in person." So if it was some sort of "force people to #ShopLocal" thing, one could say it worked: it spurred me into action, ready to put out my $20 on the spot today. Yes, I first approached the comic shops–I’m a comics guy first, gamer second.

But then I visited the "actual games store" and…well, $40 MAY be slightly less than eBay or Amazon, but that’s STILL double-MSRP.

While they were checking on the pre-order price, I was looking at the wall, and was getting ready to "splurge" and buy $20 of boosters on the spot, in addition to committing to the $20 later for the product.

I was also strongly considering asking if they were taking pre-orders on booster boxes for M19, the next main set.

And of course, a positive experience would be a good prompt toward going back in randomly for other stuff, as well as maybe spurring me into taking the plunge into Friday Night Magic.


Instead, given the $40 price, I simply thanked them for their time, and walked out.

For that extra $20 on the price of one item that successfully drew me into a local game store:

  • I did NOT buy $20 in boosters (a $20 sale)
  • I am NOT buying the Jace set from them (ought to have been a $20 sale)
  • I am NOT buying a booster box from them
  • It’s put me off from their Friday Night Magic and any subsequent impulse buys and "support the FLGS" sales that would result simply from being in the store for FNM.

And it basically means that rather than transitioning to purchasing through this local game store, I’ll be purchasing stuff (that I can) online or through "the Big Box stores" assuming further purchasing.

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A New Adventure on Krynn

I’ve recently had my interest in Dragonlance rekindled a fair bit. And this goes beyond a couple shelves of hardcovers and games…this gets into the vast array of MMPB volumes that were pumped out over nearly a quarter century.

dragonlance_new_sept19a

As with "sub collections" of comics, the earlier stage is the cheapest–going from "just having a few" to "acquiring ‘more’ of them." It’ll be once I track down a majority of the books that the last few will be ridiculously, incredibly expensive.

But for now I’m still down at–and sticking TO–truly half price or less (with the next stage being the move to roughly cover price when factoring in discount + shipping).

At one Half-Price Books I snagged the five volumes above. I would have sworn I already had the Brothers in Arms volume, but if so, it got mixed in/packed away somewhere away from my actual collection. I think a friend had the The Dragons of Krynn book back in the day; and the other three pictured above are simply new books to me.

dragonlance_new_sept19b

At the other Half-Price Books, I snagged the above two books. The Time of the Twins is an older (I think original) edition (not sure/don’t care if it’s a first print or not)…it completes my "set" of Dragonlance Legends in this trade dress.

The Love and War volume is (I believe) also an original (if not first print) edition, and I’d rather have the newer one, but this I got for the nostalgia and immediacy–I like the cover, and Raistlin is one of my favorite characters. Plus, I have Tales vol. 1 in this trade dress, so it’s another that I won’t mind multiple editions "in the end."

Sadly, several books at both stores had my interest but I decided they were beat up/damaged enough that I would end up wanting to replace them anyway so no sense buying them now.


While I do have a number of different editions of some of the books–particularly the Chronicles series–I don’t currently have any real intention of hunting down every Dragonlance book in every edition published over the years…though I think it might be a decently-achievable goal to simply seek a copy of all the books in some edition.

I do not like that a bunch of the original editions–including at least one series that I do not think was ever reprinted in a later edition–merely had the sub-series title/numbering on the spine, but not the actual title of the book itself. (Tales Volume Three on the spine, but you only see Love and War on the front cover or interior.)

dragonlance_paperbacks_before_sept19

Here’s my existing MMPB Dragonlance collection (minus the new books pictured earlier in this post).

Revisiting Homelands on the World of Magic: The Gathering

Writer: D.G. Chichester
Artist: Rebecca Guay
Letters: Kenny Martinez
Asst. Editor: Jeofrey Vita
Editor: Jeffrey Artemis-Gomez
Cover Painting: Tim & Greg Hildebrandt
Published by: Armada/Acclaim Comics
Cover Price: $5.95
Cover Date: February, 1996

It’s been a lot of years since I’ve read this. I have a number of memories associated with the Homelands expansion of Magic: The Gathering (the card game itself). For one thing, it was the first (and to date, only) expansion set I ever got a full box of–my parents bought me a box for Christmas that year. In addition to the awesomeness of seeing more story in the cards–finding out the character of Serra herself (already being familiar with her Angels) as well as Baron Sengir (whose Sengir Vampire was always creepy-looking), to the various analogues and soft reprints of other cards–there was this comic, getting the actual story of a set all in one place at one time.

If I remember correctly, the issue came polybagged with one of several “rare” cards…unless misremembering, I got a Baron Sengir this way.

The story itself is huge in scope–spanning centuries, definitely not your “street-level” kind of story, but one from the point of view of near-immortality. While it’s an interesting approach, too much time passes too quickly in such a short span to really get to know any characters in any organic sense–we get “told” more than we’re “shown.”

While very highly-compressed (if this were a Marvel property it would probably be spread across at least 12 issues) I do appreciate the overview or “survey” of the world and its cultures, and seeing the impact of Feroz and Serra upon the place.

Flipping through, it looks like a quick read, but the actual reading took a lot longer than I would have expected…part of the “compression,” I guess.

Prior to recognizing her name, I recognized Rebecca Guay‘s art with the Serra Angel special while trying to find a copy of it last month without spending $50+. I’d recognized the art without knowing quite why–connecting it to this issue cleared that right up. The visual style is a bit impressionistic, sort of surreal and maybe slightly abstract…but it works for this story.

This is specifically the story of Homelands–but it’s also the stuff of legend, as one has to have already passed through a huge span of time to talk about it, so while we see the story unfold, this could be a story being told to someone well after the fact–a legend of the world’s history told to a child, perhaps.

As part of the Armada MTG universe, we get a cameo of Taysir–whether this is early Taysir or not, I’m not entirely sure–but it roots that character in the “canon” of Magic: The Gathering, not just some character created in a licensed comic but an actual part of the official story.

Also as part of the Armada line, we have the usual “backmatter” that is very much a part of all of the Armada MTG comics. We have a 2-page article from one of the creators of the Homelands expansion, talking about what went into the making of the set itself. Then we get a specific timeline of the history of the world, from the beginning of the story to the present, further contextualizing everything that was just read about and putting things into more solid terms. There are another couple pages on the history of Dominaria, and then a couple pages about Taysir. Set creators each share their favorite cards from the set, and we get a several-page overview of the set’s themes, by color after that. Finally we get the typical Seer Analysis that looks at some of the specific cards referenced in the story and how they were adapted.

I really like the Hildebrandts‘ cover…it’s very fantasy-esque, though also very highly colorful, making it stand out quite a bit to me.

In my experience, this issue/volume seems to be the most common of the prestige-format issues Armada released…I’ve come across this several times through the years in bargain bins, where I have not the other Armada prestige issues.

While this carried a $6 cover price back in the 1990s, by contemporary standards this is well worth that price. The story is a good length, and the back-matter (if of interest to you) lends a lot of extra time to spend on reading beyond just the comic itself. This also serves as a sort of “guide” to Homelands, and I see it as the precursor to the MTG novels that would later be released along with each card set, doing the same thing this did: tell the canon story of the set including incorporating the various characters and cards into the story, the ongoing continuity of the game, providing a richer context for those who wanted to delve deeper than just the flavor text on the cards themselves.

While Homelands never proved to be a particularly key set and never seemed to me to be all that popular…in terms of MTG comics, this is–for me–probably one of the most significant ones, and definitely my favorite of all the covers.


Other Revisiting Magic: The Gathering posts:

Revisiting The Brothers’ War – a Magic: The Gathering novel

I pulled this off my shelf a few weeks ago after re-reading some of the earliest Armada Magic: The Gathering comics. (The Shadow Mage, Ice Age, Fallen Empires, and Antiquities War). Something about the Antiquities War mini-series reminded me of the acknowledgements in the novel to prior versions of the story of The Brothers’ War. And rediscovering that the comics left the “whole story” incomplete–Armada only got to publish 2/3 of their planned arc for the story–my interest was reignited.

A few years ago, I read Time Spiral, the first book in a trilogy of novels covering that block of Magic: The Gathering card sets; part of what really drew me in was that it revisited the world of Dominaria, which seemed to have been largely left behind after the Invasion block. And not really having read any of the books since Apocalypse, I was interested in seeing where Dominaria had wound up.

Anyway, The Brothers’ War.

This is easily one of my favorite books of all time–this is at least the third, maybe the fourth or fifth time I’ve read the novel cover to cover…something I do very rarely and with so few books.

This came out in 1998 or so, kicking off a huge line of MTG novels from Wizards of the Coast. There’d been another line of MTG novels (published through HarperPrism) several years earlier–but those were (for the most part) generic fantasy novels with the MTG “branding.” This line provided the actual story of the cards, the continuity of the game itself.

At least with the early MTG expansions, as WotC was world-building and beginning to pull everything together into one continuity (albeit across a multiverse), everything came back to the war between Urza and Mishra. Much of the detail was vague and loose–but what was clear was that a conflict between these brothers had caused much destruction and deeply impacted their world. An unnatural ice age actually descended on the world after the conflict, and the world itself was cut off from the multiverse for centuries.

But this novel went back to the beginning–Urza and Mishra as young boys, arriving at Tocasia’s school, where they began learning of artifacts and the Thran (an ancient civilization). They grew into the school–Mishra learning of the Fallaji, a desert-dwelling people while Urza focused on his inventions. Eventually, they visit an ancient cave, where they discover intact Thran artifacts, and are introduced to Phyrexia–a plane of living machines. They also each gain a half of an incredibly powerful Power Crystal. Mishra’s becomes known as the “Weakstone” as it can weaken artifacts while Urza’s becomes known as the “Mightstone” as it strengthens them and brings life to the machines.

From there, the brothers each covet the other’s half, leading to a rivalry that lasts the rest of their lives as the entire world eventually pays an astronomical cost for the brothers’ jealousy. Their rivalry results in the death of their teacher, sending the boys onto their own individual paths: Mishra into the desert where he becomes a part of the Fallaji, while Urza returns to “civilization” and marries into royalty. Eventually rising to top levels of government in each culture, the brothers have immense resources to throw at each other, draining the world’s resources in the process, until the only thing left is destruction.

The novel’s story is told in sections, each encapsulating a period of years in the brothers’ lives. All told, the novel spans over 60 years, following the brothers from being young boys into old age; a lifetime of conflict. Structurally, I find it interesting to see stories that do span characters’ entire lifetime (or the majority of it)…something to it seems more interesting and complete to me than just continuous stories all bunched into a small span of time.

This story also seeds the foundation of stories to come, as we are introduced to a number of prominent concepts that play out across much of the Magic: The Gathering continuity. We’re also introduced to some core concepts from the cards–getting backstory on prominent cards and locations, nicely “transforming” the source material into essentially adaptation material; that is, the book’s story draws from concepts set forth in the cards, but does so in such a way that the cards then can seem like they were adapted instead from the book.

This book is marked as the first volume of the Artifacts Cycle, but it truly stands alone as a self-contained story. There’s no “to be continued” or traditional-cliffhanger sort of ending. The end does leave an opening to transition into the larger MTG continuity, but you’d pretty much have to know where it goes to truly pick up on that; even knowing it myself, it’s a bit of a disconnect, like taking a standalone movie and then 15/20 years later making a sequel. The sequel can work and validly pick up the story, but the sequel is far from any sort of “essential” to the original.

For a 1998 book–now 14ish years old–this held up remarkably well. This could have been written in 2012 if I didn’t know any better. This has been reprinted in a “trade paperback”-sized edition combined with another early MTG book, The Thran. While I would definitely love to have a standard-sized hardback of just this novel, I’m not terribly interested in the “collected edition.”

What also proved surprising (and very disappointing) for me was that this book is NOT currently (late October 2012) available as an ebook. Perhaps I’m an extreme minority, but I would gladly have paid the $6-$8 for a nook-book edition, for the convenience of re-reading this on my phone’s nook app. Instead, I spent 4-5 weeks carrying my 1998 mass-market paperback edition around, which of late has been a less than ideal prospect.

I’m fairly tempted to re-read several of the other books from this series, though I lack (by far) the kind of time TO read that I had in late high school and early college. Honestly, the primary drawback is that these are not ebooks–if they were available that way, I’d be further tempted with the ability to buy/download them and have them on my phone, to jump into “whenever” spur of the moment.

If you’re into fantasy–even if you don’t care a lick about Magic: The Gathering the card game or anything from the past 10 years from MTG in general, this is well worth reading. For me, it’s been worth reading at least three times, and I enjoyed it as much now as I did in 1998 and 1999, with a number of scenes and “moments” having stuck with me that I’d forgotten came from this book.

MTG

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