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Swordquest Comic: It's Over


The Electric Frankfurter

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Swordquest #5 landed this week, and the comic series that started with a whimper goes out with a sigh.  If you were hoping the whole thing would marshal in the closing chapter and redeem the four issues of blechhh that preceded it, you were sadly mistaken and extremely naive.  Chad Bowers and Ghostwriter X stay true to their formula of bland characters, grade school level art, and dull storytelling to grind this terrible comic to a close.

I would warn you that this review contains spoiler alerts, but the word "spoil" indicates that there is something "ripe" here that can go bad, and that would be inaccurate.  To briefly summarize, Protagonist (I still cannot tell you his name, is it Chris, or Peter, or maybe Chad?) manages to get the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery and is teleported to Atara where he learns that he is the re-embodiment of Rulero (it hurts to type that) and that Atara has fallen into ruin under the rule of Tyrannus..  He uses the sword to teleport back to earth just in time to kill Konjuro, but not before the villain has stabbed the eye of the big man-bun guy.  After explaining to his friends what he learned in Atara, they all decide to return to Atara to fix that world, because they were somehow so competent on this world that their winning ways are sure to carry over.  That's it.  Oh and Man-Bun turns out to be a minotaur, because sure, why not.  But this summary doesn't really do justice to the steaming pile that is issue #5, so let's dig in and really appreciate how bad comics are made.

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We start with this incredible cover!  This is the final issue, right?  So it needs a really gripping cover that conveys all the drama and excitement to be found in the concluding chapter of this fantastic story, right?  So what do we get?  A guy in a suit with a face half-shrouded in shadow.  That's it.  Who is he supposed to be?  All of the major characters in the story have been revealed so the nature of the shadowy face is a curious choice.  The suit and mutton chops suggest that its Konjuro, but Konjuro wouldn't wear his tie that loosely, he's (as consistently as Ghostwriter X can muster) always been represented as very well kempt.  And again, why would he be in shadow, we already know him well.  It cannot be Protagonist because he's a complete mess adorned in a t-shirt and jacket.  It cannot be Man-Bun, he's dressed like a biker.  It's not the Dunmer because this is clearly a man (although based on Ghostwriter X's skill that's been up for grabs from panel to panel).  So it can only be the other guy.  But though he wears a suit, Other Guy is black and the skin on mystery cover guy is blue.  Unless that's yet another bizarre style choice, that rules out Other Guy. So we have a final issue cover that features a character that is entirely unrelated to the comic book it contains OR is a character we already know but inaccurately represented.  No matter who or what that is, it's a boring, boring, boring cover for a final issue.  A guy in a suit. Off to a GREAT start.

IMG_3339.JPGInside, for certain Ghostwriter X has pulled out all the stops and sharpened all of his/her pencils to give us something special for this big finale.  Can anyone tell me what's going on in this panel?  Context says that Other Guy is really angry that Protagonist has vanished and is going to try to kill Konjuro, but a robed cult guy has grabbed him to prevent that from happening.  But taking this panel on it's own, I'm left to wonder if Other Guy has sprouted some caucasian arms and is doing some kind of lewd dance.  If there were more than four colors in play in Ghostwriter X's palette, then maybe it would be clear that there was cult member back there at work, but since everything is gun metal gray, who can really tell.  Also, it kind of looks like the cult member's arms are there by accident, as if Other Guy stumbled into his embrace.  It certainly doesn't look like he's being restrained.  I shouldn't be stymied by a single panel this early in the comic.  This is page two, panel two.  Hopes are not rising for a big finish.  Oh, and dear Dynamite, either swear in your comics or don't, but don't swear and then cross it out.  It makes you and me look stupid, and I don't like to look stupid.

As the good guys reel from Protagonist's disappearance, Konjuro threatens to blind Man-Bun if Man-Bun doesn't tell him what he wants to know: something about magic or how to get back to Atara, or something.  Honestly, Konjuro's motivations have been all over the place, so who can tell.  In any event, he's got Man-Bun by the neck and he's weaving a magic dagger with which to stab him in the eye.  These are the pages in question:
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Zoom in and get a good look at the Dunmer's face in panel 2.  More on that in a minute.

Pretty exciting right, with the eye-stabbing and all.  Except, please explain to me how we get from the panels at the bottom of the left page to the dramatic action of the first panel on the right page.  Again, Ghostwriter X reveals his/her failure to understand basic storytelling.  On the left page Konjuro has Man-Bun by the throat.  His left hand is holding Man-Bun's throat.  Admittedly, in panel 5, that grasp is somewhat ginger and delicate, but we can assume that this is the beginning of the much tighter grip in panel 7.  Let's do that.  In panel 6, Konjuro is so close that he can place the tiny magic dagger right up to Man-Bun's eye.  Panel 7 confirms this proximity by pulling out a bit to show us Konjuro threatening him with both arms clearly bent.  Heck the one is so bent, it's coming from somewhere around his waist, which is anatomically impossible, but that's really par for the course at this point. We also know he's close because he's grabbing Man-Bun so hard his head is tilted back. So we leave the left page with Konjuro rather close to Man-Bun threatening to stab him in the eye.  Then suddenly at the top of the right page Konjuro stabs Man-Bun in the eye as promised, but he does it from what has to be at least four feet away (the wife and I recreated this scene sans the eye poke to prove the point).  So what happened in the gutter between the left and right page?  Did Konjuro back up 2 paces and then lunge at him to stab him in the eye?  Why would he do that?  All he has to do is pull his arm back and then stab.  There is no need to back up and lunge.  He's poking an eye not punching through a wall.  And the stab is pretty wimpy at that because he only uses the very tip of his magic dagger to complete the act.  This should be a dramatic moment, but it is completely devoid of impact by Ghostwriter X's desperate attempt to make it more dramatic.  However his/her inability to understand bodies moving in space creates a ridiculous situation.  I'm pretty sure a close up eye-poking can be rather dramatic, see also the Joker in The Dark Knight Returns movie.

After failing to get what he wants Konjuro prepares to make good on his threat to take both of Man-Bun's eyes, but our hero reappears just in time to vanquish the evil villain.  To convey this, we get a full page splash panel of Protagonist stabbing Konjuro in the back, the most noble and heroic way to defeat a bad guy.  Sure, it's in line with his established, cowardly loser character, but if this is the final act and his character arc is going to demonstrate some amount of change, beating the bad guy by stabbing him in the back isn't going to cut it.  That's bad storytelling with no confidence in your characters to be more than they are.
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Ghostwriter X's art isn't helping Bowers story here either.  Why is the main character's back to the audience during the most dramatic moment of his story arc?  Why do we not see his face and the emotion thereupon?  If Protagonist is right handed, then maybe turn the scene around to set up a proper moment of victory.  It wouldn't be that hard to do if you thought about more than just the panel you are currently drawing.  But instead we get a loser dealing a cowardly blow to the enemy with his back to the audience, the stance of a coward, liar or thief.  Konjuro looks like the victim here for sure.  He's the only one facing the camera.  If I didn't know anything about any of these characters and you showed me this panel I would assume the bad guy has stabbed the good guy in the back while the good guy was trying to help the guy at the bottom right.  Bad, bad storytelling.

Of course, that thrilling moment is followed up by commentary from our favorite Dunmer with malleable features:
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Five issues and her snaggle-toothed face is still all over the place.

So Protagonist goes on to explain that when he got the sword he was instantly transported to Atara where a robed figure reveals that he, Protagonist, is the re-embodiment of Rulero, the true ruler of Atara.  And then the robed figure lays it all out for us:  not only is Protagonist Rulero, he's also the avatar of Herminus, the thief from the REAL original Swordquest comics, and his two friends, Dunmer and Other Guy are the avatars for Torr and Tarra, and they have relived the quest for the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery.  So, I guess, somehow Herminus is really Rulero, which makes absolutely no sense at all if you know anything about the original Swordquest comics, but hey, for this slopfest of a story that desperately tries and fails at fan service, sure, why not?  For the record, the lovely wife pointed out the twins thing back in issue #2, though I will admit the Herminus/Thief angle was totally lost on me because Herminus was a clever and conniving character and Protagonist was a mopey loser.  I also figured that Man-Bun would be the avatar of Herminus since they both lost the same eye, but he turns into a minotaur when they go back to Atara, so that opportunity was wasted.  I guess there is some reveal here after all.  It's a miserable reveal, but a reveal nonetheless.

The rest of the issue drones on in it's drab and dreary color wash tones as the group is surrounded by the cops, then Protagonist teleports them all away with his magic sword.  After a brief stop back at his house in Chicago, Protagonist explains that Atara is in trouble and since he's a dying loser on Earth, he may as well go try to set things right there instead of waiting around for the death he deserves.  The twins put up a token resistance and then all decide to go with him and see what adventure awaits.
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Ghostwriter X will someday be allowed to use more than three colors.   

So any kind of real, actual fun adventure will happen off panel, after these five miserable issues of whatever this was.  Honestly, looking back on it, if everything that had happened in this mini-series had happened in issue #1, with this splash panel:
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as the final page of that issue, this might have had a chance at being a good story.  If we spent 22 pages of setting up a pathetic loser in need of redemption-before-his-death with an opportunity to seek that redemption by living his dream of questing for the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery in a mystical video game realm, and then spent the next four issues telling that tale, we might have had something worth reading.  You could have even given the audience and the main character their ultimate dream of completing the never finished Airworld game (and comic).  But instead we spend five issues with this band of cardboard characters who are completely devoid of substance and end up with a story that I am hopeful I can forget as soon as I publish this blog post.  Seriously, just condense this 5-part story down to it's essence, drop pretty much everything except the idea that your main character needs personal redemption and cannot find it in the real world, then have someone show up to whisk him away to Airworld or wherever to complete the quest.  You'd have four full issues to explore Airworld and complete the quest and maybe have some character development.  Heck you could even work in Torr and Tarra, and Mentorr and Mentarra, and Konjuro, and all of it.  But no.  No.  We get this.  What a slap in the face to the very thing is purports to honor.  After a fun little fantasy story constructed by comic book legends like Gerry Conway and George Perez, we get a rotten egg laid by Chad Bowen and Ghostwriter X, someone who doesn't even want to put their real name on their work.

If there is any parallel here at all between this comic and the original Swordquest games and comic it's that both ended up being colossal disappointments.

Now that this is over, never let us speak of it again.

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