Swordquest #3 landed this week and sadly things did not get any better. If anything this comic tumbled straight down the hill and landed squarely in downtown Crapsville. Since it was very cathartic for me to take issue #2 apart, I figure why not vent my frustrations on issue #3 in the same manner and maybe we can all learn a little something about how not to make terrible comics in the future.
I got lucky (?) this month and my comic shop owner had pulled the Cover “B” variant for me instead of the dreadfully mundane Cover “A” in the style that bored us all to tears last month. The Cover "B" variant featured a striking image of Torr and Tarra from the original (good) Swordquest comics by legendary, and original SQ artist, George Perez. This was bittersweet however as it kind of looks like Perez wasn’t at this best and maybe rushed through the project in order to do work he actually wanted to do. There is a sketchy quality to it that, while still distinctively Perez, is uncharacteristic of his usual polish. Still, even on his worst day, a George Perez cover beats a computer-enhanced image of a woman holding a flashlight…
But that’s just the cover and results may vary. We’re here for the riveting story and excellent storytelling that is sure to be found within these pages…
Well, crap, we’re 6 panels in and off to a thrilling start. Our main character’s (I still don't recall his name) suddenly chesty and square-jawed mother (whatever happened to her pointy chin from last issue?) has wandered downstairs to find a note that suggests that maybe something might actually be happening in the story to move the plot along. Don't get too excited. You would kind of hope and assume that with three issues under his/her belt, Ghostwriter X would have settled in with these characters and gotten comfortable drawing them. Nope. It looks like every panel is a struggle just to get coherent lines on the page. I'm definitely not against new artists getting out there and doing stuff, but I expect a much higher level of execution from a $4 comic book from a company that wants to be a major player on an esoteric comic that is going to have to work very hard to find an audience outside it’s minuscule native one. This first page, and protagonist’s mom, are a mess.
Things don’t get much better as the (lack of) action picks up on the following pages. Our intrepid team is heading to LA to steal the Sword and apparently drop in on Konjuro, I mean Konrad Juros, for reasons unclear. In what I can only assume are supposed to be character building and plot justifying moments, we get some very awkward moments between our cast members, not the least of which is this bizarre moment where a stranger approaches the brother of the Dunmer girl because he recognizes him from a reality TV show (makes it topical and relevant). During this exchange, for no reason I can discern, we get this panel featuring the Dunmer brother as the chef from Burgertime…
What the ass? This goes completely unexplained and is just there because video games. Maybe it’s there to break up what is otherwise a very dry and tedious interaction. It’s kind of like on the next page where it’s clear that Ghostwriter X read on an online forum that to make talking heads more interesting you just move the camera around willy-nilly so that the characters are all at different and unnecessary angles.
And then there is this moment where the Dunmer and the Protagonist share an uproarious laugh. Look at those two. They are breaking up with hysterics. Try to calm down you two, you’ll get booted from the airport.
And before you accuse me of just being a big bully about the art, I want you to remember that this guy
is also this guy
Ok, I’m going to try to give the art a rest and focus on the miserable story it’s so desperately trying to tell. The team goes to LA and they get there a couple days ahead of the convention where they are going to steal the sword, so with the extra time they decide to look in on Konrad Juros, you know, for no reason at all that I can determine. It is unclear what they hope to gain apart from finding out if he is really an evil wizard from a comic book. And if they do discover that, what then? If he's an evil wizard, he’ll just kill them, and if he’s not then we’ve got a scene worthy of inclusion in the Twilight books.
They get to the office and Protagonist uses his “notice words in the room around you power” to convince Konrad Juros to see them despite their lack of appointment or general purpose in life. When we meet Mr. Juros it appears he’s put on some pounds since his appearance in the magazine at the end of last issue. It also appears that Ghostwriter X got ahold of a comic book where Steve Dillon drew Wolverine and decided to copy that work for exactly one panel. (I know, I tried to restrain myself).
Juros let’s our team into his secret arcade of games he created but never released and sure enough in that arcade is the long lost and lamented Airworld, the final game in the Swordquest series. Juros eagerly allows Protagonist to give the unreleased game a try and hands him an Atari 2600 CX40 joystick that is either connected to absolutely nothing, or is connected to a nearby arcade cabinet. Either way, what the hell?
But I’m getting ahead of myself and have skipped over two video game-related gaffs that are absolutely inexcusable. First, Konjuro explains away his coincidental name by claiming that it was the way programmers worked their names into video game related materials since there wasn’t room in the game programs for credits. This is complete and utter bullshit and an outright lie. There was plenty of room to program your initials or other credit into Atari 2600 games. You can see this in numerous games from back in the day where programmers snuck their initials into games either on the sly or legitimately. Hell, there’s an entire credit screen in the Asteroids game that says Atari, 1980. It’s an entire screen JUST FOR CREDITS. Tell me there isn't room for credits in the game. BULLSHIT. The real story is that Atari refused to allow programmers to put their initials or names into games because they didn’t want to give their programmers independent credit for their games. Don’t believe me? Find a programmer’s name in the Missile Command manual. This is largely why Activision was founded and why you get an “about the programmer” page in every Activision game manual. This is why Atari programmers had to hide their initials in their games as Easter Eggs. This is why the most famous video game Easter Egg, Warren Robinett’s secret credit room in the classic Adventure game exists. Not because there wasn’t room, but because Atari didn’t want their programmers to get credit. But this is an Atari sponsored comic, so I guess the truth can be flexible.
However, that makes the second gaff even MORE inexcusable. In the same panel, Konjuro provides a second example of programmers hiding their names in game stuff by citing Yars’ Revenge as being Ray Kassar’s name backwards. First, the nitpick: Yars’ Revenge backwards is Egnever ‘Syar. Not “Ray Kassar.” And while it's true Yars’ is intentionally Ray backwards with an S, (the story goes that the game was Ray’s attempt to get back at the programmers who left to form Activision) the game was programmed by Howard Scott Warshaw, NOT Kassar. Kassar’s name was used for the game title and other aspects to be a tongue-in-cheek “screw you” to the programmers who wanted credit for their work. Kassar is reportedly the one who told programmers that they were no more important to the video game process than the assembly line workers who constructed the actual cartridges. Ironically, and apparently obliviously to Chad Bowers (our esteemed writer), Howard Scott Warshaw had to hide his initials in the Yars’ Revenge game as an Easter Egg as well. But again, this is video game history according to Atari as told to Chad Bowers, so the truth is subjective. (I’ve met Howard Scott Warshaw, he’s a really cool guy, this is a complete disservice to him)
Absolutely unacceptable. If you are going to write a comic book about classic video games targeted to an audience of classic gamers, YOU SIMPLY CANNOT make these kinds of errors or rewrite real history the way you rewrite the history of the Swordquest world. Complete horseshit. All of this is common knowledge in the classic gaming world, you can’t swoop in with your revisionist comic and try to sell us crap goods.
But back to the story. So Protagonist is left alone with Airworld so he can give it a try. Konjuro is unworried because he knows the game is unsolvable due to impossible rooms in the game. Moments later, Protagonist comes out of the room claiming to have solved Airworld. Our team leaves and Juros checks out Protagonist's claim. Sure enough, the game says, in far more text than the screen would be capable of displaying along with a playfield, that he did indeed defeat the game. This is the same game that doesn’t have room for the programmer’s initials, mind you. Konjuro does not look pleased. Of course, Konjuro was right, Airworld does contain impossible rooms, rooms where you can have tons of text and a playfield. If you are writing a comic about a specific video game on a specific system YOU MUST KNOW that game and system inside and out or you are going to look very very stupid to anyone who knows anything about said game and system.
And while we’re at it, what the hell kind of paddles are those? They certainly don’t belong to the 6-switch woody they are in front of. It would also help if they had cords…
Later, Protagonist explains that he was able to complete the game because the it was completely randomized and Biker Bun gave him the, not only unpublished, but completely never written or drawn, Airworld comic book which had all the clues in the right order. Then they all decide that everything that has happened is due to fate (not blatant cheating) and that they have no choice but to steal the sword.
The final scene is of Konjuro putting on his robe, because nothing could be more predictable and trite, and getting ready to confront Protagonist over the Sword.
Dear God, kill me now.
As a parting shot, the other bittersweet thing about getting the George Perez cover is the literal “bait and switch” tactic at play. You get a bright and colorful fantasy cover on the outside and THIS on the inside.
The textbook definition of “bait and switch.”
This is a great comic book written by someone who read three wikipedia articles about classic gaming when tapped by Dynamite for the project. This is a great first comic for a sixth grader who shows a lot of promise as a future sequential artist. As anything else, this is a giant pile of crap. Crap. And they want you to pay $4 for it. Don’t do it, let me take the hit for you. Spend your money on good comics like X-O Manowar or Motor Girl. As someone who grew up with and loved the Swordquest games and Atari in general this comic is a slap in the face. Pathetic.