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.

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