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".

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