October 29, 2011

Our final thoughts on Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light


Let's get this out the way right up front: Visionaries didn't go away because of low toy sales or low ratings of the show, it disappeared because Hasbro became increasingly dissatisfied with their contract with Marvel/Sunbow and decided not to renew said contract when it expired. I honestly don't know what the numbers were for Visionaries, if it was a bomb, a modest blip, or a potential smash, but it had the pure dumb luck to take its first lap in the race just as the arena cleared its seats and the building was torn down. The ending of the contract caught Marvel/Sunbow completely off guard and is the reason My Little Pony and Jem went away, why new episodes of Transformers stopped appearing anywhere outside of Japan, why G.I. Joe suddenly leapt to being a DiC production, and why a little note announcing the cancellation of Visionaries was stuck on the last page of part two of a four part comic book story. It apparently took a bit of doing for Marvel to hold onto the licenses for the popular Transformers and G.I. Joe comic books, but even those left the studio several years later.

The other reason we never saw Visionaries resurface again like the more prominent Hasbro properties is because, while they were creations owned by Hasbro that had been licensed to Marvel/Sunbow, Visionaries was a co-production. Both the toyline and animated series were created in conjunction with one another under the supervision of Flint Dille so as to create a new level of cohesion between the two instead of show writers being forced to make due with whatever new toys were dropped on their desk. Why this didn't extend to the comic, which was kind of its own spin on the material, is beyond me, but with the two companies divided, there's no way the series could have made a comeback unless either both sides paired up once again or one bought out the other's share. And this may be where sales numbers came in. Again, I can't see those numbers, but I can't imagine Visionaries was a show that blew minds and stuck with a mass audience straight out of the gate. Not because I don't love it, but because the designs and concepts don't have that iconic hook, and it's mostly the eccentric execution of the show that made me love it and guaranteed it could have built a cult following had it been given the chance.

So let's talk about this show, this crazy, post-apocalyptic tribute to cheesy ballads of clashing knights, smiting monsters, and wandering on quests for an ambiguous wizard that plays both sides. This is a land where a mustachioed King will charge headfirst into battle, only bringing backup when they think to follow his path of daring do. This is a culture where both heroes and villains have to suddenly adapt to the crash of an age of technology and the resurfacing of a now forgotten era of magic and monsters. This is a world where grown men will combat a miniature furball menace with oversized shaving implements and birthday cakes. This is a really wild show. Sometimes too wild, but often nailing a satirical smirk that actually adds realism and humanity to the harsh world these people find themselves in.

The big problem, as we often pointed out, is that Leoric and the Spectral Knights, the heroes of the tale, are stiff. There are a few points where disagreements arise, but they're always such upstanding pillars of moral do-goodery that there's no real depth to make them compelling. I mean, sure, we eventually get charmed by Leoric's ridiculous bravery, or Feryll's youthful impulsiveness, or the tender romance between Cryotek and Galadria, but they're all just so bland. There's no comic relief, leaving everyone looking silly in their medieval forms of knightly logic, and no Shipwreck style rebellious jackass who shouldn't be in such a position of honor but has earned a place because, despite his shiftiness and whining, rises to the occasion when the cards fall.

Instead, all our heroes are vastly overshadowed by the villains, the Darkling Lords. Darkstorm, basking in silly displays of his own ego like forcing his citizens into trapdoor games of human chess. Reekon, the sly thief who's always working an angle and only fights for the side he does because they pay him to do so. Cindarr, the lovable slab of muscle with a gentle heart for whom it hasn't yet sunk in that he pledged his loyalties to the wrong side. Cravex, the berserker barbarian whose every line is delivered as a shrieking roar. Lexor, the coward who only fights where there's other people between him and his foes and runs like hell or hides in his armadillo form when he becomes the center of attention. Virulina, who's so badass she once turned into a shark and swallowed her leader whole. And then there's Mortdredd, bootlicking Mortdredd, who desperately tries at every occasion to makes his beloved leader Darkstorm proud, no matter the humiliation and sacrifice he himself must endure.

The big problem with this show is you don't want to watch the heroes, you want to watch the villains. Case in point is "The Overthrow of Merklynn", where the villains conquer the world, then have to outrun a massive armageddon scenario they accidentally triggered. It's hilarious, it's epic, it's wildly entertaining, and it leaves the following episode, "The Power of the Wise", where the Knights find themselves playing out a similar story formula, left completely in the dust as the Knights show again how boring they are in the face of their charismatic foes.

But this is not something that couldn't have been fixed. I know there was a new batch of characters set to debut the following year, but they could also have shaken up the team a bit, have some people flip sides. What would happen if Cindarr finally got it through his skull that he was on the wrong side and took his uncontrollable power of Destruction to that of the Knights? What if someone like Witterquick, who has a bit of a temper and often finds himself on the opposing side of ethical arguments, gets into such a heated disagreement with the other Knights that he falls into the lure of Darkstorm? I don't know if either of these would make the show better, but anything that spices up the Knights can't be a bad thing.

All that aside, let me conclude by saying I really enjoyed this show. The lead characters are a little bland, there's the occasional fumble of an episode, and sometimes Flint Dille's trademark sense of humor can fly a little too free, but they don't detract from the overall experience. It's a very intelligent and sly show that both parodies and nails the ballads of ancient heroes and villains, all overseen by an ambiguous wizard that plays both sides to his own ultimate advantage. The post-apocalyptic world where technology collapsed and magic arose is strikingly designed and there's a few episodes that are among the most beautifully animated of that era. There's so much fun to be had and so many genuine dangers to be fought that I absolutely have to recommend tracking it down. The comics you can skip - there's some good moments, but it's ultimately dry and gets cut off before it can really make its own statement - but definitely hunt down the animated series Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. You'll laugh, you'll be swept up in adventure, and you'll fall head over heels for the wildest batch of unforgettable villains you've ever seen.


When Noel and I landed here on the planet Prysmos some 13 episodes, 6 issues, and a brief sidetrack into the realm of Dragon Strike ago, I thought I knew what we were in for. After all, Visionaries came with a certain pedigree. 80s? Yes. Hasbro? Mm-hmm. Sunbow? Naturally. But, to my surprise, this was a series that refused to play by the rules.

Visionaries is what I would describe as being “morally complicated” - relatively speaking. In an age of righteous heroes, dastardly villains, and cookie-cutter plots, it was striving to be something a bit deeper. Good was good, but Good wasn’t always right. Evil was evil at times, but they were also human and their actions were sometimes justifiable from their point of view. Trying to tell a nuanced, sophisticated story in an 80s cartoon must’ve been a bit like trying to do jumping jacks while wearing a straight jacket.

But it wasn’t all naval gazing and moral relativism. Thankfully, series creator Flint Dille was smart enough to infuse Visionaries with a sense of humor, too. Near the end of the series’ run, it began to get a bit broad, but at its best, it was sharp, winking, and tongue-in-cheek. Well, at least for the bad guys. Our heroes were about as colorful as an Ansel Adams photograph.

So now to (try and) answer the question that was on our minds when we began: Why did Visionaries fail to catch on and become a phenomenon like other Hasbro/Sunbow collaborations? Quite inadvertently, I answered that in my review of the fifth issue of the comic book series.

...as I was reading "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 1", it dawned on me why Visionaries failed. Its media isn’t “toyetic” enough. While this is artistically commendable, it’s business suicide. I’m not suggesting that the material is above kids’ heads, but it doesn’t capture that sense of simple fun and wonder that makes little Tommy throw a temper tantrum in the toy aisle of his local K-Mart until his Mom gives in and buys him a Witterquick figure.
In the end, Visionaries was a good animated series, a pretty good comic book series, and a good toy line. But the media often seemed to be at cross purposes with the toy line, a sure recipe for disaster because, in the world of 80s cartoon/toy line hybrids, as go one, so go all.

Having now completed our final quest with the Knights of the Magical Light known as the Visionaries, it’s time for us to depart the world of Prysmos. And as we leave, I take one last look back and see Witterquick waving goodbye. Or is it Arzon? Or Feryl? Maybe... maybe it’s Ectar. I don’t know, I never really did learn to tell them apart.

Goodbye, brave knight. We may not remember your name, but your deeds will never be forgotten.

Tune in next week when we announce the subject of our next Showcase!

October 22, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 6 - "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 2: Wings"

In issue six, the quest for the Four Talismans continues...

Arzon and Feryl, riding in their Capture Chariot, follow a Spirit Guide (a glowing ball of light) provided by Merklynn that will lead them to the next Talisman. As always, the Darkling Lords are not far behind. Following their own Spirit Guide (a green lizard-bat) Cindarr and Virulina waylay the Knights in a treacherous mountain pass by causing an avalanche that damages the Chariot.

When the dust settles, Arzon sees something bird-like streak past overhead. The mysterious figure attracts the attention of the Knight's Spirit Guide, which begins to follow. Leaving Feryl behind to repair the Chariot, Arzon assumes his eagle persona and sets off in pursuit. Nearly getting lost in his animal persona, Arzon isn't aware of the ambush awaiting him. He's caught in a net and transforms back to his human form, much to the chagrin and confusion of his mysterious captors.

Merklynn watches the troubling events in his magical pool. The old wizard is fading and the recovery of the Four Talismans is the only chance he and Prysmos have for survival.

The Spirit Guide returns to Feryl just as he finishes the repairs on the Chariot. Realizing that Arzon still hasn't returned, he commands the Guide to lead him to his friend.

Arzon awakens in the mountain top "nest" of Icara, a female member of the High-Flyers of Avitrix, a people with large man-made wings who can soar through the heavens like birds. Arzon soon learns the source of their flight has nothing to do with their wings, but rather the second Talisman, The Crystal of Flight. He tries to explain to Icara that evil forces will soon attempt to steal the crystal, and if the High-Flyers will make a deal, the Spectral Knights will offer them help. The offer is rejected by the Icara, who feels that so-called "Mud-Crawlers" like Arzon are beneath them.

The Guide of the Darkling Lords, which had been following Arzon, returns to Cindarr and Virulina and tells them the Knight has been captured by the High-Flyers. Feeling now is their time to strike, they make plans to head for the mountain and steal the crystal. But Virulina isn't so sure about taking the Talisman to Darkstorm once they have it. She proposes that she and Cindarr keep it and begin their own dynasty. Cindarr lashes out at the traitorous notion and knocks Virulina to the ground. Using her newly granted Spell of Disease, Virulina causes Cindarr to become deathly ill, only reversing the effects after he begs for mercy.

Back at the mountain, Arzon awakens to find that the High-Flyers have been afflicted with disease. He begs for his staff so he can cast the Spell of Knowledge and find the cause of the sickness as well as the cure. The arrogant Icara initially refuses but, fading fast, she eventually relents. The Staff reveals the cause, Cindarr and Virulina, as well as the cure, a nearby vale filled with blossoms. The two set off to gather the blossoms in the hope they're not too late.

Cindarr and Virulina march toward the city and victory only to be cut off by Feryl. Virulina, confident in her new powers, also strikes him with her spell, causing him to become wracked by the same sickness.

Arzon and Icara gather the blossoms, but Icara can barely stand, let alone fly. Arzon prods her pride, "If you don't help, your people will die! It's up to you! Are you a High-Flyer or a mud-crawler?" This spurs Icara on, giving her the strength to take flight and spread the blossoms over the mountain. Their healing power is almost instantaneous, curing her people, as well as Feryl.

Their plans foiled, Cindarr and Virulina flee. The High-Flyers meet and, though it means they may never fly again, agree to give the Knights the Crystal.

"Without your help, we wouldn't even be alive. Besides, we've been above the world for far too long. It's time we were simply... human."
The last panel shows Arzon and Feryl with the Talisman.

"You know, Arzon - By now the other Knights and Lords will have collected the remaining jewels. When we get back to Iron Mountain, we'll finally learn the truth of why Merklynn wants these Talismans so badly."

"I hope so, Feryl. And whatever that truth may be, I have a suspicion we may not like it."
And in the bottom right hand corner a small box reads:

But that truth must remain un-revealed, for sadly, dear readers, this is the final issue of VISIONARIES.
That tingling sensation you feel in your groin region are your balls turning blue.

Just as in Part 1, the focus here is the effect a Talisman has on the society which posses it. The arrogance the High-Flyers gain as a result of their power of flight is fascinating and I wish there had been more time to explore it. I really love how writer Gerry Conway doesn't pull any punches here, at one point having Icara refer to Arzon as a "wingless cripple". Conversely, their change of heart feels a little too easy and convenient . I can understand and believe that they would have been humbled by the experience and grateful for the Knight's help, but to hand over the source of their flight powers, a trait that has shaped and defined their whole society... I call B.S.

Another aspect I like is Virulina's growing confidence thanks to her new found powers. Having sidelined the females for most of the series, it appeared the creators were finally serious about letting them be involved.

The last panel is certainly awkward, both hastily wrapping up the search for the Talismans and setting up the meeting with Merklynn that would never come. In their defense, there's no good way to give closure to your story when the rug is pulled out from under you like this. All you can do is sew up what you can and leave the rest to the imagination of your readers.


I think the biggest flaw of this issue is that Conway is essentially writing the same story as he did in the last. The Knights encounter a society with a deep religious belief surrounding the power of a Talisman, something that zealously makes them feel superior and special and chosen as they look down on all outsiders. The Lords are always at our heroes' heels, ambushing them whenever possible and launching a huge attack that brings us into the climax. And instead of the Knights having to make the difficult choice of stealing a relic that's so important to this community, the choice is ultimately forced by the action of the Lords, saving our heroes from an ethical grey zone.

It's a good plot, but it's way too redundant to tell it twice in a row, even if the specific details are changed, and there's a wave of nitpicks I have. If the Talisman gives them flight, why do they need the artificial wings? Why doesn't it give them real wings that disappear when the stone is gone? Why doesn't Arzon get the same power when he's within range of the stone? If the ability to fly fades with distance, why do we not see such an affect on the abilities of Icara (I see what you did there with her name) on the two occasions where she flies beyond the mountains? How is Virulina able to cast her Spell of Disease three times within the course of an hour or so with no time to recharge in between? Does sickening an entire village not sap her own life energy like when Galadria used her powers in the last issue to cure an entire village? Speaking of last issue, why is Virulina's power suddenly Disease instead of Poison? And why are a random patch of flowers a cure for a disease created by Merklynn's magic? And if they are a cure, why don't they cure Icara while she's picking them instead of after she lugs them all the way back to the village and rains them from the sky?

Most disappointing of all is, as Tony pointed out, the villagers just randomly deciding to hand the source of their powers over to the Knights, even though it will force them into sweeping societal changes, given that they have no houses or farming skills and, hey, how are they going to get down from that spiny mountain peak now that they can't fly?

I'm sorry to constantly tear at this issue, but they did drop the ball with this one. The art is still great, it is a decent setup for a story, and I absolutely love finally seeing the female Visionaries so strongly featured - Virulina in this issue, Galadria in the last - but there's so many details that the story stumbles over that it just doesn't hold up for me.

And why was there so little exploration of Arzon wanting to just cut loose and fly when talking him down could have actually *gasp* given Feryl something to do in the story instead of hanging out off screen and fixing a broken engine.

And what the hell is up with Merklynn? If he's getting weaker, then why is his shiny bald dome suddenly covered with a thick head of hair? That's an odd beneficial side effect to fading out of existence.

And how the hell does Icara keep from constantly flashing people when her top is essentially a plate-mail flap attached at the neck and dangling in front of her boobs? You can see the colorist caught on to this part way through because, on later pages, she's trying to make it look like Icara has a halter top under there, but she's full on hanging out sideboob the first few times we see her. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

And what about -- ?

Tune in next Saturday Morning as we share our final thoughts on Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light.

October 15, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 5 - "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 1"


Nearly a year after he first gave the Visionaries their powers, Merklynn once again summons the Spectral Knights and Darkling Lords to Iron Mountain and appears to them in his giant stone face form. He tells them the world is in danger and that they have to recover the Four Talismans - Earth, Air, Water, and Fire - and bring the jewels to him before the hour of the Summer Solstice. When Galadria and Virulina point out that they've been overlooked in that, unlike the men, they have no special powers in the form of a Staff or vehicle, Merklynn gives each a magical shield, one with a spell of Healing, the other with Poison.

Merklynn creates magical guides in the form of glowing spheres and animals to lead the Visionaries on their separate quests for the Talismans. Leoric proposes a truce between his Knights and the Lords, but Darkstorm quickly shoots it down, seeing this as yet another sign of the king's weakness as a leader. They all split up.

Galadria and Cryotek head off in search of the Earth Talisman and share a bit of flirting when they camp around a pot of Cryotek's delicious stew. That night, they're ambushed by Cravex and Reekon who open fire on the Knights with their Dagger Assault. Things look pretty dire for our heroes until a tribe appears and defends them. Cravex unleashes his Fear spell, but it also catches Reekon, causing the Lord at the wheel to race the Dagger Assault off into the night.

The tribe, led by a man named Trakk, loathe the machinists they feel represent the old ways and prosper in the nearby fields due to a magical God Tree that makes all of their crops grow fast and full. The God Tree, of course, bears the Earth Talisman that our heroes are after. Galadria tries to talk to Trakk, to convince him that people in the world beyond are suffering and could desperately use such prosperous crops, but Trakk believes his people were chosen by the God Tree and what happens to the outside world is of no concern to them.

Before the Knights can better convince the man, Reekon and Cravex once again show up, now claiming that the Knights are lying thieves being hunted as traitors. Suspicions flare among Trakk's people, which Cravex fully ignites by once again activating his Fear spell. The people go nuts, attacking the Knights. Cryotek is forced to assume his Bear Persona and creates just enough chaos for Galadria to slip away. She encounters the Lords just as they pry the Talisman loose, but they take her down, set the Tree on fire, and make their escape.

Cryotek gets lost in the rage of his Bear Persona, until Merklynn's spirit guide catches his attention and draws it to Galadria and the growing flames. He once again resumes human form and uses his Strength spell to smother the flames. Galadria comes to in his arms and they look to Trakk and his people, who wander in injury and despair at the situation and the loss of their deity. Galadria uses her Heal spell to repair wounds and bring the now powerless Tree back to life. She tells Trakk that his people now have to live as others do and learn to share as she shared her magic with him. And while they weren't able to save this Talisman from the hands of the Darkling Lords, Cryotek vows that the remaining three will be saved for the cause of good.

Say, how many of you expected this tie-in to a tv series that's a tie-in of a toy line to feature a story about religious philosophy just five episodes in? None of you? Same here! But, wow, what a doozy of a tale as the limited worldview and now past desperation makes a compelling case for why Trakk's people would come to believe what they did, as well as their hesitation to believe outsiders that bring with them strange magic, unusual armor, and dreaded machines. This is something the television series touched on in the mildest, most family-friendly of ways, but Gerry Conway doesn't have the same limitations as Flint Dille, so he refuses to sugarcoat it. What we have here is the reality represented by the Knights conflicting with the religious faith as represented by Trakk's people, and there's no way the two can ultimately survive when one needs to take the stone and the other needs to keep it. I'm not saying Conway expresses everything in the best of ways - the worst example being the heavy handed "Now that's being a Visionary!" lesson about sharing - but I don't feel he's trying to preach so much as he's representing a genuine conflict of viewpoints.

All that heavy stuff aside, we still have a damn solid issue. The romance between Cryotek and Galadria finally makes it to the page. There's more exploration of how Visionaries can get lost in their animal Personas. There's great use of spells and how they can sometimes backfire if you aren't careful. We get some hints that all isn't well with Merklynn as we see a bit of his desperation for this mission's success. Galadria and Virulina finally get some kickass special magic, even though I did sigh a bit that the boys get offensive weapons and cars, and the girls get shields to hide behind. If there's anything wrong with the issue, it's that Dave Simons' inking isn't as strong as Romeo Tanghal's has been on past issues, leaving the art a little looser. But that's it.

Bring on the next three Talismans, says I!

(looks as single remaining issue)

Bring on the next.... one Talisman.... says.... says.... aw, damn, I'm missing this series already.


The ugly little not-so-secret of Visionaries, just as with Masters of the Universe or My little Pony, is that the cartoon and the comic books were designed to help sell toys. The goal is to get kids hooked on the media first and then they would want the toys they promoted. If it all goes to plan, media and toy line form a symbiotic relationship, one feeding the other and both milking the wallet of parents and grandparents everywhere. I mention this because, as I was reading "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 1", it dawned on me why Visionaries failed. Its media isn’t “toyetic” enough. While this is artistically commendable, it’s business suicide. I’m not suggesting that the material is above kids’ heads, but it doesn’t capture that sense of simple fun and wonder that makes little Tommy throw a temper tantrum in the toy aisle of his local K-Mart until his Mom gives in and buys him a Witterquick figure.

Now, to the issue itself.

I’m going to surprise you, or at least maybe Noel, by saying that I believe they should’ve pushed things a bit further. On one side, you have the tribe who own the talisman and worship it as a gift from their God. On the other side, you have the Knights who need it to help the cause of the “greater good”. That conflict should’ve driven the story. Having failed to convince Trakk and his people to share the talisman, what choice do the Knights make? Do they take the talisman by force, justified by “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”? Or do they respect that, whatever the cost, they shouldn’t take what isn’t theirs? Our own history is filled with these kinds of choices, from Manifest Destiny to the exploration and destruction of tropical rainforests. Having the Darkling Lords come in and snatch the talisman amongst a lot of magical hocus pocus feels like a copout to me. I wanted to see the Spectral Knights have to make the tough choice, not deliver some simplistic lesson on sharing. That’s not to say this isn’t a good issue, I just think it could’ve been so much more.

Knowing as we do that the end is nigh, it’s sad to see so many interesting plot and character threads beginning to un-spool. The budding romance of Galadria and Cryotek, the emergence of the female knights as actual characters, the mystery of Merklynn. We’ll never see these fully flower, nor find the answers to key mysteries. It’s like reading a book only to find that the pages are all blank after the sixth chapter.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for the final Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light adventure in "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 2: Wings".

October 8, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 4 - "Dream Maker"


A siren of dreams. A desperate quest. Witterquick naked. It's all here in Visionaries, issue four: "Dream Maker"!

On the planet Prysmos, two very different men have the same dream. A beautiful woman, Sirena, held captive by a demon inside a double-horned peak, implores each warrior to recover the Star of Tisandra. The gem, embedded in the forehead of a large statue many leagues away, will free her from her prison and the man who recovers it first will be her champion. Each awakens with a start. Convinced their dreams were real, Spectral Knight Witterquick and Darkling Lord Cindarr set off in search of the gem.

The two men converge on a small village, home to the statue bearing the Star of Tisandra... and a tyrannical warlord who rules his people through intimidation and fear. Witterquick witnesses the warlord's brutality, but he can't get the image of Sirena out of his mind. Vowing to return later, he presses on, only to discover that Cindarr has arrived first. The Darkling Lord nearly has the gem when Witterquick uses his speed to catch up, tackling the Darkling Lord and sending both of them toppling to the ground. The two foes get to their feet and are about to engage when Cindarr tackles Witterquick, saving him from an arrow. The warlord and his men are closing in and the two agree - reluctantly, on Witterquick's part - to join forces. Cindarr uses his poem of Destruction, which creates enough of a diversion for both to flee. Witterquick escapes to the mountains and ponders his next move. Exhausted, he falls into a dream... and out of his clothes. Standing stark naked before Sirena for reasons I can't fathom, the weary Knight is emboldened by Sirena's plea, as well as her kiss. Before he wakes, she tells him about a secret cave below the statue that will allow him to climb to it undetected. However, there is a beast lurking within.

With renewed vigor and purpose, Witterquick navigates the dark cave until he arrives at a set of steps leading up towards the statue. Just as he starts to ascend, the beast emerges from the shadows and attacks. Turning into his cheetah persona, he bites the arm of the beast and escapes. He sprints up the stairs and arrives at the top of the statue, only to find Cindarr there with the gem in his hand. But how did Cindarr know about the cave? Before the question can be answered, the gem is knocked from Cindarr's hand by an arrow. The warlord and his men have again arrived. Witterquick uses this moment to recover the gem, using his Speed poem to catch it before it hits the ground. He then cuts the legs of the statue and flees. The statue topples to the ground, nearly taking out the warlord and his men. Cindarr survives the fall by turning into his gorilla persona. The warlord begs the raging Cindarr not to kill him and the Darkling Lord obliges, knowing that by humiliating the warlord in front of his people, he has effectively ended the man's reign.

Cindarr sets off in pursuit of Witterquick, but he's unable to keep pace with the faster Knight. Sirena again comes to him in a vision, but now her form is more cruel. She tells Cindarr that Witterquick will free her and that the Lord is no longer needed. He's just "a complication". Just as she's about to strike, Cindarr begins his poem of Destruction. There's a massive explosion, and then only silence.

Witterquick arrives at the peak and is met by the demon. He tells the young Knight that Sirena is a witch and that he has stood guard over her prison for a thousand years. Witterquick, deep in Sirena's spell, doesn't believe the guardian and uses his speed to get the upper hand. Just as Witterquick is about to free Sirena, he's tackled once again by Cindarr in gorilla form. The gem goes flying from Witterquick's hand into the gate. The stone slab beings to glow and, inside, Sirena smiles.

Cindarr reverts back to human form and tells Witterquick that Sirena is evil and was only using them, that once she's free, they'll be nothing to her. Witterquick doesn't believe him until he sees Sirena begin to emerge from her cell, an evil gleam in her eyes. Shaken from her spell, he agrees with Cindarr to use their Staffs together. With their combined power, they destroy the peak that was her prison, and Sirena along with it.

Both men survive and share a brief moment of unspoken respect and understanding.

Witterquick: "In the end, we fought as allies. Imagine if our leaders could find a way to do the same..."

Cindarr: "A pretty dream."
The demon, really the Guardian of Dreams, tells both men that the world is fortunate that two bold friends such as them stood firm against Sirena's wiles. Both men scoff and go their separate ways.

This was a fantastic issue. Easily the best of the run so far and one of the best comics I've read in some time. There's so much to love here that I don't know where to begin.

First off it's just a good, clear, hard-hitting story and I was surprised to see it was written by Gerry Conway, the same writer as the last two issues. The prose he uses here is so much more artful and sophisticated that I thought surely it must've been someone new. And the artwork, again by Mark Bagley and Romeo Tanghal, is cleaner, bolder, and more striking than previous issues.

The shifting of focus from the two larger groups of warriors to just the two knights really helps to develop that characters that had previously blended together into a bit of a blurry watercolor, and the complex moral shading that was hinted at, but never really developed, in the cartoon blossoms well here. It's Witterquick who sees the brutality of the warlord and yet ignores it to continue on with his quest. And it's Cindarr who saves Witterquick's life, not once, but twice, and then, for reasons he can't later articulate, humiliates the warlord knowing this will end the man's reign of terror.

While the previous three issues had their moments, they were uneven, cluttered, and, at times, uninspired. But from start to finish, "Dream Maker" fires on all cylinders. If this is a harbinger of what the final two issues will bring, it makes the short run of this series all the more tragic.


Tony, remember when I said we were in good hands with Gerry Conway? The man was one of the top writers of his day. He's the dude who wrote the death of Gwen Stacy. It took him a couple issues to find his footing with Visionaries, but I agree that he's now sprinting for all its worth. Some of the best stories of the animated series came when we got to break away from the pack and follow some of the lesser known knights. In comic form, it's even stronger as Conway's vivid prose lets us into their heads.

I love how Witterquick, the noble Knight, is willing to pass the opportunity to take on a tyrant because he's so obsessed with his dream quest, but Cindarr, the brutish Lord, doesn't hesitate before saving Witterquick from a lethal swarm of arrows. I don't agree with Tony that the ethical gray zone was under-developed on the show, but it is great to see it survive the transition to the comic. Especially when the two work together in the end, share a moment of respect, then scoff at the idea of them being friends as they head their separate ways.

That said, this isn't without a few problems. How did their combined Staffs do what they did? If they joined, I could understand a fast earthquake, but not such a massive explosion that it wakes people miles away. There's some handwavium there that cheapens the climax a little. And the giant monster demon revealed as The Guardian of Dreams? Wouldn't he exist within dreams as opposed to being a physical thing located in a single spot on this whole world? And they drop a line about how he didn't do a very good job and that he was overpowered, and that makes him a pretty damn lousy Guardian of Dreams. He's a monster guarding a witch. That's all you need. Guardian of Dreams just overly complicates it and makes no sense.

None of that makes this a bad issue, though. Far from it. Siren is strikingly designed and makes a great lure and foil for our leads, and I like that they did stop and think about how her imprisonment was affected by the planet's Magic/Technology shifts. The fight on the statue and battle with the monster were exciting. The background story of tyrannical Master Kravor gives things a nice extra layer. I love how Leoric is fully supporting of Witterquick's quest, whereas Cindarr has to kick himself loose from the Lords. The Bagley/Tanghal art is as great as ever.

It's a solid comic. I won't go as far as Tony and say it's one of the best I've read in years, but it's certainly of a much higher quality than one would expect from such a short-lived tie in as this.

I also noticed that, beginning with the last issue, the book is published under Marvel instead of the kid-friendly Star imprint of the first two strikingly dark issues. That would explain the Witterquick ass shot.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light adventure in "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 1".

October 1, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 3 - "The Star Stone"


Two months after our last story, Harkon, the smith who created the Sky Claw, is running for his life. Soon after completing construction of the Dagger Assault for the Darkling Lords, Harkon discovered a scroll that holds a secret which could bring an end to the Age of Magic. Naturally, he'd much rather see this info in the hands of the Spectral Knights. And naturally, the Lords don't take too kindly to this as they violently pursue him. The Sky Claw swoops into the fray with Spectral Knight Arzon at the controls. He fights the Lords off and makes for New Valarak with an injured Harkon and the scroll.

Harkon is unconscious, leaving Arzon and Leoric to make what they can of the scroll. They can't decipher the ancient writing, but recognize the coastline indicated by a map. Unfortunately, the coastline is also recognized by Reekon and Mortdredd, who snuck into the palace in their mystic forms (the comic's term for their animal totems) to steal back the Sky Claw and once again give the Darkling Lords vehicle dominance. Which they do.

Leoric sends the Knights to the coastline on the map (quietly pursued by the Lords, of course), while Arzon and he go to Merklynn to see if the wizard can translate the rest of the scroll. He's cranky and calls them out as idiots because Arzon could have easily read it himself by using his Staff of Knowledge. Arzon does so, and learns of a meteorite that hit the ground a thousand years ago during the dawn of the Age of Technology. The meteorite contained minerals that could affect the energy fields of Prysmos, so it was constructed into a doomsday bomb that could fill the atmosphere with particles and instantly cut off all technology. Arzon speculates that, with the energy fields already switched to magic, the bomb could be used to flick things back in technology's favor. He celebrates this idea as he feels it could end all the pain and suffering caused by the sudden dark age. Leoric is less certain and worried that doing so would tamper too deeply with fate.

Merklynn teleports the two Knights to Meteor Peak, where they meet up with the others and realize the hill overgrown with weeds is the ancient bunker housing the bomb. While they're still debating what to do with the weapon, the Darkling Lords attack. Darkstorm first wants to destroy the weapon to keep the Knights from getting an advantage over him, but when Leoric decides the bomb is ultimately too risky to use, Darkstorm changes his mind too and decides to take it. The battle is heavy and fierce, especially when Galadria throws herself in front of Darkstorm's Decay spell and is nearly killed. The tide turns when the Knights Feryl and Ectar discover their magic can activate the Lancer Cycle and Capture Chariot vehicles which are also housed in the bunker.

By the end of the battle, the whole building is coming down and both the Knights and the Lords flee. The weapon is destroyed.

There's a few stumbles with this story. While I like the philosophical debate between Leoric and Arzon, I got a little tired of the argument that the Age of Magic shouldn't be undone because you'd then be undoing destiny itself. Who is Leoric to determine what is and isn't destined? Isn't it possible that destiny wants them to use the bomb so that Technology can be reborn? Would the map have fallen so easily into their hands if destiny didn't want them to pursue its destination? I like the added argument that you can't end all pain and that pain is a necessary part of life that can never be easily escaped, but the destiny angle is hammed on far too much.

A few of my other issues are more technical. I like that we got a little more exploration of the animal totems, especially in a great bit where Leoric ponders what effect such shifts could have on people after long term use, but the Power Staffs are severely overused to the point where the climactic battle is a clutter of people reciting poem after poem after poem. And what's with the scene where they go to Merklynn for a translation only for him to say they could have done it themselves? It's a wasted scene there for no reason but to slip Merklynn in. You can already see Gerry Conway struggling to keep the wizard involved in the story after the choice was made to remove the constant quests to his castle for a recharge. And the Knights just happen to find vehicles randomly left behind in the bunker? They just happen to be in perfect working order after a thousand years? You couldn't save them another issue and have them be yet more creations from Harkon, who is now in New Valarak?

Other than these complaints, I like the book. There's some great ancient backstory (the weapon was never used because it was forgotten after a sudden coup), it's built around an interesting attempt to explore the shifting nature of this planet's energy, there's a lot of great action as it opens with a bang, there's some wonderful interplay between the characters (great background bit of Lexor sheepishly hitting on Virulina), the art by Mark Bagley and Romeo Tanghal is as great as always, and I wish all the Knights had the capes Leoric and Arzon wore during their visit to Merklynn because they looked pretty damn badass.


When you're only into the third issue of a comic book series and the plot revolves around a McGuffin that will essentially undo the entire premise, you know before you read the first page that, in the end, they won't use it. As a writer, all you can do is build the tension and hope to cause a smidge of doubt in the reader's mind. To that end, I think that "The Star Stone" would've been much more effective had it been Leoric who wanted to use the doomsday weapon, with opinion amongst the other Knights divided. We all know that Leoric is the leader and that, in the end, he makes the call. If he begins the story as the opposition, you have nowhere to go dramatically. It would also make more character sense for the leader to feel the weight of the struggles and pain of his people and want to use this potentially terrible weapon for good. To up the ante, have Darkstorm and the Lords fighting to stop Leoric from using the bomb because they don't want to surrender their new powers. Right there you have the good guy doing the "wrong" thing for the right reason and the villains doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Noel mentioned the incessant use of "destiny" in this issue and I agree with him one hundred percent. Leoric throws it around like a philosophical "Get out of jail free" card. One of the aspects I appreciate about this series so far is that the heroes are often conflicted about the best course of action, or the "right" thing. But for it to really work, you have to have two or more clearly articulated ideas that are in conflict with one another. We don't get that with all this destiny mumbo jumbo. It's lazy writing. It works better within the context of something like Star Wars, which is built upon the spiritual elements of The Force.

Another lazy aspect to this story is having the Knights find fully functioning vehicles buried with the bomb. It made me to do the rare simultaneous face-palm/sigh, which caused me to knock the air back into my lungs. The Knights have Harkon now. Why do they need to find vehicles when he could've simply built them? What's he going to do now, change the oil in the Sky Claw?

One of the elements I did like, though it wasn't explored very deeply (maybe a set-up for another issue?), was the idea of the effect the animal transformations might have on our characters long-term. It's one of a few smart little nuggets inside this otherwise stale cookie and something that could be used to help pull Merklynn into the story in a more organic and less forced way. Did he know the magic had this effect? And if so, why didn't he tell them? It adds further shading to his already murky character motivations.

"The Star Stone" is a broadly interesting concept held together by a weak sinew.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light adventure in "Dream Maker".