Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Delving Into Magic: The Gathering Fiction

Those who knew me as a teenager will remember that I spent far too much time and money on the collectible card game, "Magic: The Gathering." It started out at summer camp Mi-Te-Na, and though the cards were banned the first year after they started appearing in the counselor's luggage, the bug had already bitten me. I sold my collection in college for far, FAR less than I had spent over a decade of playing the games, but I'm fortunate that my exhaustive collection of M:TG fiction novels has survived the passage of time.

While looking for inspiration for my Warhammer army, I decided to pick up a few of the old novels and see if the background was still as exciting as I remembered. The first was the one that stuck out most to me in the background... The Brother's War. I was pleasantly surprised that the book was just as good, if not better than I remembered. Jeff Grubb does a great job setting up the relationship between the brothers and making it plausible that two people who loved each other so dearly in their youth would end up leading opposing armies against each other. It was interesting to note how little of the book was devoted to the actual war, which seems to take up only a few chapters at the end. Most of the book is spent getting to know the characters and their motivations.

After The Brothers' War, which spent a good bit of time pondering ancient Thran artifacts and the culture that created them, I immediately had to reach for the novel that dealt with that culture, suitably titled "The Thran." I was less impressed with this novel. While it was interesting seeing the birth of Phyrexia and the man who created that artificial plane, Yawgmoth, the novel just didn't seem as enthralling to me. Maybe it's because of the overwhelming theme of politics in the novel, but it didn't seem as exciting to me. The motivations of the character on the cover, Rebbec, also seemed confusing to me, as did the concept of the power stones making people sick. Do they still have that effect? Was it all lies on the part of Yawgmoth? Are the intricacies of pseudo-grecian politics really that fun to read about if you're a twelve year old male in 1995? The answer to the last one is, "probably not." The heavy-handed scheming and persecution themes are interspersed with some big battle scenes which would probably make a good movie, but something about this one left me wanting more. Also, "Yawgmoth" is clearly an evil, evil name... probably oughtta call him something a bit more neutral sounding at the beginning of this novel if you don't want to telegraph that he's eventually going to turn evil. Maybe I'm missing the point.

A quick trip to the trusty ol' storage space reminded me that I had a couple mid-90's M:TG comic books done by Armada, an Acclaim imprint. (Wait, Acclaim the video game company? They had a comic division? Ah, the 90's.) So I grabbed them and have been trying to crank through them in the past few days, since I have SO MUCH to do lately and I really can't afford another distraction. Anyway the Antiquities War and Fallen Empires series left a bit to be desired. The artwork didn't impress me and the writing didn't hold my interest. Also whoever they got to do the letter was an amateur at best and downright terrible at worst. But I was pleasantly surprised by the Homelands comic. I've been scanning the MTG Salvation wiki lately, looking for connections between different parts of the fiction and trying to keep characters straight, and the site does not have a glowing opinion of the Homelands card set. It is described as a low point in game design for MTG, but a high point of background and storytelling, which seems appropriate given the comic. The brothers Hildebrandt did the cover, which I found interesting, but it's one of my pet peeves that the interior artwork looks nothing like the cover, which I've always found to be false advertising. Fortunately the interior art is by Rebecca Guay, and is PHENOMENAL, if you can get past her particular painterly style. It makes everything sort of mushy and watercolory, but is very beautiful, I think. The writing is also a high point of this one. All of the comics so far have jumped around in time and place, which from reading the editorial notes sounds like a conscious decision to allow Armada to "stake a claim" to all of the various settings in Magic's multiverse. It makes the books feel a bit rushed, as they introduce you to a character, kill them off, then move a hundred years into the future to show the results of said character's demise. While it made the Antiquities War series seem like more of a "highlight reel" of the events that take place in Grubb's "Brothers' War" novel, the Homelands comic seems to be working with a smaller universe and cast of characters that makes the chronological leaps feel more logical. The whole thing has a beginning, middle and end that leaves you wanting more, but there's a feeling of completeness to the story that I found refreshing after the Fallen Empires and Ice Age comics. Did I mention Rebecca Guay's art is FREAKIN' BEAUTIFUL?

1 comment:

  1. Oh man I love those M:TG novels. I have all of them up to a series that never really interested me, when MT:G started making black novels. I have all the coloured cover novels and 6 black ones. Never read more than 1 of those new ones though. Devoured the others. Also have all the earlier novels, mostly collected stories and lore.