Humberto Ramos provides the cover for this first issue of the "Dragon Age" comic book, but the interior art by Mark Robinson and Jason P. Martin isn't far off in style from what Ramos does. This isn't a case of the cover misleading the reader. Robinson and Martin have dynamic, expressive line work and their characters display the requisite emotions -- doubt, fear, rage -- with the passion appropriate for a tale of high magic and faux medieval mystery.
This comic looks good, at least.
I was particularly struck by an early scene in the castle library -- an expository scene explaining the difference between the Templars and the Mages -- but what struck me wasn't the description of how the Templars are bred to kill the Mages, but the way the library was depicted. Towering bookcases seemingly exploding with books. The lines inside the panels not ruled and precise, but bowing and bending, as if the bookcases were alive. It's an impressionistic perspective on a library but an effective one. It helped me buy into this fantasy world.
But the rest of the issue tried the best it could to push me away.
The story in issue #1 is straightforward: a young Mage becomes pregnant by a young Templar, and she hides her pregnancy as long as she can. Meanwhile a dark force invades the castle, using a hideous creature as its puppet. The young Mage runs away, trying to protect her baby, and she's ultimately killed by the Templar who impregnated her. All of this, and more, happens in the first issue, and it's frankly too much plot and not enough substance.
We see a lot happening, and Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston use the grammar of comics to move the story forward without too many clumsy narrative captions, but we never get inside the lives of these characters. Veness, the runaway Mage, seems willing to do anything to keep her child, and then she hands it off to a stranger, without much logic. Maybe it's story logic -- she had to get rid of the child before the Templar caught up with her -- but we don't know enough about why she made the decision to make it believable in this context. Everything in the issue is like that. Too pat. Too expected. Too much following the trail we've seen blazed in a million fantasy stories over the years.
I suppose it's no surprise that a video game spin-off series ends up lacking so much substance, but then I remember "The Sky Pirates of Neo-Terra" from last year, and how much soul and charm and freshness that series had. "Dragon Age" doesn't reach that level. Not yet, anyway. After this first issue, it's just a mild disappointment. But a good-looking one.