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".