What if the apocalypse wasn’t caused by a virus or zombies or a shark tornado, but instead by the incursion of all the fantasy tropes you could ever imagine? Join our heroes as their journey into the American heartland leads them into a dungeon complex with no seeming exit in The Realm #8 from Image Comics.
Writer/Artists: Jeremy Haun & Seth M Peck
Colorist: Nick Filardi
Letterer: Thomas Mauer
Editor: Joel Enos
Release Date: July 25, 2018
Previously in The Realm: Fifteen years after an incursion of evil wizards, orcs, dragons, and magic broke human civilization, a remnant group of scientists hires ranger Will Nolan to take them to a secret facility in the remnants of Kansas City. Assailed on all sides, and with Nolan seemingly lost, the group are forced to descend into a dungeon complex.
I love D&D. Or, I should say, I love the idea of playing D&D. My last session with friends was almost 20 years ago, in a dingy apartment beside the railroad tracks (no, really) as my friend DMd us through yet another dungeon to fame, fortune and more XP.
Life gets in the way, or should I say, the expectations of life get in the way. So, no direct roleplaying, but instead ‘adjacent’ roleplaying. Read a Raymond Feist fantasy novel and you’re getting a glimpse of his 80s gaming sessions with his friends. Play the Talisman board game, like I do with my daughters, and suddenly I’m propelled back to the misspent evenings of my college life during the early 90s. And reading a comic like The Realm #8, gets you some of the way, but not all of the way, into a fantasy roleplaying world.
And like my ‘adjacent’ roleplaying, The Realm #8 is a gossamer-thin experience of roleplaying. This issue is like watching a gaming session via Facetime – the visceral thrill of being at the table with your buddies is instead replaced by an anodyne story that is about as exciting as kissing your sister. Yes, there are orcs, evil magic-users, a dungeon to explore and survive and hand to hand combat, but it so pallid, so one note that it is very hard to care about any of it.
DARK DEEDS DONE DRABLY
Some of this is down to the coloring, for which the word drab was invented to describe. The coloring renders everything underwhelming, even during the scene with the Neera where the crimson light, reflected from a pool, is terribly muted.
The other main issue with The Realm #8 is the script. For the entire issue, I felt like I was a mouse trapped in one of those tiny wheels, frantically scrabbling round and round, but getting nowhere fast. There is very little characterization, the stakes are super sub-low and nothing really catches fire. These are humans traveling through an apocalyptic landscape destroyed by the arrival of creatures straight from the Monster Manual – and the best the writers can do is put them in a tunnel for most of the issue. Come on!
IN THE MOUTH OF FAN-NESS
For me, the main reason I didn’t enjoy this issue is the reason why I like roleplaying. At the table, with your friends, you are the hero. You’re the thief, sweating, anxious, trying to pick a lock on a chest you know is armed with poisoned darts. Or you’re the low-level magic-user, dancing around the fringes of a fight wondering if now is the best time to cast that magic missile spell. You’re there, in the thick of it, trading insults, backslapping your friends after killing that white dragon by the skin of your teeth.
So reading an issue about adventures in a roleplaying universe had better be amazingly well told and realized, which admittedly is damned hard. There’s a reason why Lord of the Rings is remembered and my fumbling efforts at writing up a roleplaying session as a work of fiction is justly forgotten. Unless you have the ability to evoke the sensation of being at the heart of the experience, anything less than that will leave you, like me, wondering why you bothered in the first place.
Lest it be said, forsooth, that I am merely a dark stranger muttering wild imprecations into my wizardly beard, I will say that the series has been very well received. The setting is a brilliant concept – one tires of the endless repetitions of the zombie-inspired apocalypse, so seeing our favorite monsters lurking in the ruins of the cities that at a pinch could be our homes is strong and evocative. And while this issue spends a lot of time spinning its wheels, you can sense that the next issue will be an absolute cracker. After all, giant spiders, anyone?
BOTTOM LINE – WAIT FOR THE TRADE
I really wanted to like The Realm #8. The cover, by Jeremy Haun & Nick Filardi is intriguing and monstrous. There are elements in the issue that with just a bit more…something could’ve worked really well. The coloring just didn’t do it for me. Of course, my opinion is exactly that. I’m sure there are readers out there who have lapped this series up from issue one, and for that, I can only salute you. And, if you’re wanting a hit of the really good stuff, you’ll excuse the cross-promotion, but Major Spoilers has this fantastic gaming podcast called Critical Hit you really should have a listen to…
Now, where is my dice bag? You’ll have to pardon me, I’ve got that itch once again…