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".

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