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Comic Review – Dragon Age, Volume 1 | Level Up News

Comic Review – Dragon Age, Volume 1

 

Written by: Orson Scott Card with Aaron Johnson
Art by: Humberto Ramos and Mark Robinson
Published and Distributed by: IDW Publishing, An EA Comics Production
Buy it now: Amazon, iTunes

Don’t let the cover fool you; I thought based on the artwork that this would be a story about the Grey Wardens. (That does look like a warrior, a mage in Morrigan’s clothes, and a Templar going up against a dragon in the shadow of the Circle Tower, doesn’t it?) Instead, the graphic novel follows the story of a seventeen year old apostate named Gleam, the illegitimate daughter of a Circle Mage and a Templar (not the ones on the cover, either—in fact, just ignore the cover completely). Dragon Age by sci-fi author and Hugo-and-Nebula-award-winner Orson Scott Card with Aaron Johnston is both an introduction to Gleam and her struggles to avoid the Templars as well as introduction to the plight of the Mages within the world of Dragon Age itself. Though someone who has not played Dragon Age may not appreciate the story as much, the tale of Gleam is still enjoyable for anyone who likes classic fantasy.

Caution: Some spoilers below

The first part of the graphic novel very quickly covers the whirlwind (and forbidden) romance of Circle Mage Veness and Templar Sadatt. Their one-night stand leaves Veness pregnant, and she spends the next eight months concealing her pregnancy. When the Templars discover that she’s with child, Veness ends up running away from the Circle. Deep in the Ferelden woods, she gives birth alone to a baby girl she names Gleam, immediately handing her over to a traveling smithy, begging him to take her child. With the Templar’s hunting her, Veness buys the smithy time. It’s Sadatt in the end who, doubting Veness ever loved him to begin with, kills her. He then punishes himself for his action, re-swearing his oath to the Templars, and changing his name to Duty as he feels his duty is all he has left.

Gleam

The second part of the story jumps forward seventeen years. Gleam, now a teenager and an apostate (a Mage outside of the Templars’ watchful eyes in the Circle), has been kept hidden by her family in fear of the Templars. She shows natural talents for wielding fire and healing, abilities she unknowingly shares with Veness. Later, when Gleam’s adoptive parents are killed by a band of thieves, Gleam, her little brother Agmo and her younger cousin Datlin flee, on the run from the murders, and eventually the Templars. Little does Gleam know the Templar hunting her is her birth-father Sadatt—though he is fully aware of who she is.

Gleam is undoubtedly the central character of the graphic novel. Despite the shady circumstances surrounding her adoption, her parents love and care for her like she was their own child. Through several examples, readers get the sense the entire family is close-knit and very caring of one another. It’s this family’s love that makes it heartbreaking when they’re casually murdered by a band of thieves, making the reader feel for poor Gleam; her entire world has been pointlessly taken away, forcing her to go on the run from what is left of her biological family.

If Gleam’s the main protagonist, then it’s her cousin Datlin who’s the antagonist; his jealously towards her and his inability to think things through leads them into ever-increasing danger. It was Datlin’s big-mouth bragging to a dwarf that eventually led to the murder of Gleam’s adoptive parents, and his boasting at a town fair that set the Templars on their trail. Despite Datlin’s annoying-belligerent naivety, Gleam never abandons him, which further presents the theme of the importance of family, even though she probably would have been better off if Datlin was as far away from her as possible.

The subtleties of the graphic novel are what truly make it enjoyable. Card and Johnston nail the animosity between the Mages and Templars, and just how dangerous it is for apostates in Ferelden—a theme that is ever-present in Dragon Age II. But it also touches on another strong theme in Dragon Age II: the fine line between right and wrong. Gleam’s fate is eventually placed in Sadatt’s hands. Does the Templar Father turn his Apostate Daughter over to the Circle knowing full well how she’ll be treated, or does he go against his oath to the Chantry to protect her? Combining that with the look of the worlds, the character design, the clothing, the names of towns, Gleam’s tale could easily be a main quest or an origin story in Dragon Age: Origins. And speaking of the pretty pictures, the artwork is beautiful. While uniforms and settings were borrowed from the games, there is enough artist interpretation to give the comic its own look.

The only issue I had with the graphic novel was the pacing. At first I thought the very rushed romance of Veness and Sadatt was understandable as their story was merely set-up, but later on they became more important characters, and I would have liked to have seen their story developed a little more. Even parts of Gleam’s story seem to happen too fast with too many things going on at once. It’s like the authors wanted to shove in more Dragon Age: Origin references, such as a random encounter with a band of blood mages. Other than to prove how evil blood mages can be, the brief cameo wasn’t needed as the thieves who murdered Gleam’s adoptive parents already had a blood mage with them. The same purpose had already been served.

Illegal mages aren’t something Dragon Age invented, nor are blood mages, Templars, or the Chantry, so taking out all the Dragon Age references wouldn’t change the core story all that much. But it would have changed the impact. The conflicts between Mages and Templars is a driving debate in the overall mythos of the game’s franchise, especially when it comes to Dragon Age II. Dragon Age fans will find this a nice companion piece to the game’s setting, another tale of an apostate being hunted down by the Chantry, and will be able to appreciate Gleam’s story more than someone who doesn’t know a Grey Warden from a Kirkwall Guard.

Things are hinted that there’s more to Gleam’s story to come, but there’s no information on a sequel. I really would like to read what happens to Gleam, so if anyone knows when the rest of the story is going to be published, please let me know!

 

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About the author

Ever since her father introduced her to arcades at age four, Jennifer has been a gamer. Known around the office as the walking Star Wars encyclopedia, her favorite games include Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, Metal Gear Solid, and Mass Effect. Follow her on Twitter! @jennifervolpe

 
 

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