Monday, August 7, 2017

Bad Comic: Swordquest #2

Swordquest #2 does pretty much everything wrong and may be one of the worst comics I have read in a long time.

Followers of EF's Facebook page know that I have been reading and lamenting Dynamite's Swordquest comic since its ill-fated #0 issue.  Honestly, the comic has been so underwhelming that when I saw issue #2 on the stands this past weekend, I was certain I already had it and that the series was at least on issue #4.  I feel like I've been suffering this comic for far longer than I actually have.  But issue #2 proves to be the worst issue of this dismal comic yet.

For those of you not reading the comic, let's do a quick recap of the series so far.  A confirmed loser moves back in with his mom after his apartment burns out.  While there, he discovers his old Atari 2600 and his favorite game Swordquest.  He recalls the nerd glory of the contest associated with the game and his near winning of it.  He also regrets not winning the ultimate prize.  Also he is gay and dying of some kind of disease.  So, with apparently nothing to lose, he decides to steal the prizes from the 30 year old contest which are conveniently on display at a video game museum, because that will make him feel less like a loser.  To hatch his ho-hum plot, he enlists the help of two of his childhood friends, one of which he had an unrequited crush on long ago.  Cue unnecessary awkward homo-hetero tension.  As they are plotting the crime, a bizarre biker dude with a man-bun shows up with a cryptic message about the very prizes the main character is looking to steal.  That's where we are at the end of issue #1.  (If it helps lend some insight into how compelling this story is, 3 issues deep and I couldn't provide you with a single character's actual name)

Now that you are up to speed,  let's take a quick look at how bad a comic can be.
Maybe they left the bottom right quarter blank in the hopes someone would print a good comic in that space.  I'd take a 30 year old Family Circus at this point...
Let's start with this eye-popping cover.  It practically crawls to the back of the shelf and hides behind better comics.  In all actuality, given the lack of action or excitement in the first two issues of this comic, this cover perfectly captures the dullness to be found within its pages.  Nothing screams "BUY THIS COMIC" like a guy with an Atari shirt checking his blank smartphone screen.   You are publishing a comic based on an ancient and esoteric video game.  Your target market is at the confluence of comic book fans and classic video game fans.  That gives you about 50 potential customers.  That means in order for this comic to be a success you simply MUST appeal to non-target comic readers.  This cover will not do that in any way shape or form.  If you are Spectacular Spider-Man and you are 200 issues deep, you can afford to have a cover with a pregnant Mary Jane as your only image.  If you are Swordquest #2, your cover needs to have a vampire AND an explosion.

Off to a snoring start, let's check out the insides!  Thus far the action in this comic has come down to the following:  There was a fire.  A guy who was clearly down on his luck moved back in with his mom, found his old video games and then decided to steal some modern artifacts from a museum.  All of that action required a LOT of walking, talking and sitting.  Riveting stuff.  So, I guess, to offset the tedium of yet another issue of non-stop common human behavior, this issue starts with some fantasy adventure.  The man-bun biker from last issue is regaling our cast with a fantastic story about the origin of the fantastic world, which supposedly actually exists, upon which the Swordquest video games were based.  As the story goes, there were originally four worlds with four powerful artifacts that eventually devolved into a single world with a single artifact: the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery (video game nerds will recognize this as the grand prize in the real Swordquest contest).  Only one man could wield this powerful weapon and rule the unified world (called Atara, just so you know). That man's name?  Rulero.  I kid you not. Rulero.  That's "ruler" with an "o" attached to it.  Rulero.  Now extremely nerdy fans like me will be happy to tell you that the actual ruler of the kingdom in question was Reullo.  Anyone with access to the original Swordquest comics would know this. I would assume that the creators of this comic would have access to that as well.  I mean, they got Konjuro right.  He's from the source material.  So why Rulero?  Also, why rewrite the original story from the original comics?  For my money that story is a thousand times more interesting than whatever they have done here.  Also, I can allow for names like Konjuro, Mentorr and Mentarra from a 30 year old comic I got free with a video game.  I cannot allow for sloppy crap like Rulero from a comic I paid $4 for in the modern day.  Come on.

At the conclusion of the needless retcon of the Swordquest universe, Konjuro sends the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery to our world, where I can only assume it ended up as the prize for the Swordquest contest.  Which brings us back to "reality" and present day where the man-bun biker finishes his story.  Our cast of contentious friends have different reactions to the story with only one of them dismissing the tale as bad fan fiction.  Considering that this comic is a work of bad fan fiction on the level of Stephenie Meyer, having only one character dismiss even worse fan fiction as fan fiction is pretty much par for the course, but I would hope that, if this comic is supposed to be taking place in the "real" world, pretty much anyone who isn't our loser protagonist would react like man-bun biker was a kook.  Instead, over the course of the other half of this comic, through lots of talking and milling about, all three characters eventually come around and decide that what was once petty larceny is now an epic quest.  To be continued.  That's right.  We are at the end of issue two and we haven't even started on the actual "adventure" yet.  We had two regular issues, plus a bonus "0" issue to set up a completely underwhelming story.  Three total issues and nothing, absolutely nothing of any consequence has happened.

There's just not much here to have sunk $10 into. Our main character is completely unlikeable.  He's basically an adult video game loser stereotype with some tacked on curiosities like homosexuality and terminal illness to add artificial depth, I suppose.  We have been given no reason to root for him or wish him success in his mission.  His motivation is weak at best if it exists at all. He doesn't want to be a loser anymore.  None of us do.  But the path to cool doesn't begin with "steal video game artifacts from a museum."  His mission is to commit a crime, and not a noble one against a greater evil, but a meager one for petty personal gain.  How are we supposed to relate to and cheer for this character?  And it's clear that the supporting cast doesn't like him either.  His mother is apathetic to his situation at best and his two friends are openly hostile toward him.  The most he can hope for from any of his friends is pity.  And I guess that's the most the comic can hope from us as well.

I would comment on the story, but there hasn't been one yet.  At most I can tell you that the idea of a loser plotting petty larceny at a video game museum doesn't exactly inspire me to great things.

As for the art?  Back in the mid 1990's I read issue #9 of X-Force, which up to that point had been penciled by then hot up-and-coming artist (and now parody of himself artist) Rob Liefield.  Issue #9 however, had a guest artist, someone called Mike Mignola.  It was, hands-down, the worst superhero comic art I had ever seen.  This Mignola guy was an obvious hack.  Just horrible.  Of course, the only horrible hack in this story was me.  Mignola is a genius and a master storyteller.  He was also the one who opened my eyes to comic art beyond that of dynamic superheroes.  It wasn't that Mignola was a crap artist, it was that he was doing art that was a perfect match for horror comics or fantasy comics (check out his work on the Chronicles of Corum) and was completely different than the hyper-real super hero stuff I was used to. The moral of my tangent is that I am capable of understanding when an artist is working in a particular style or within the framework of a specific theme.  I no longer cringe when I see Jim Mahfood's name on a project.

That is not what is happening in Swordquest.  This art, by the enigmatic Ghostwriter X (I can see why they don't want to include their real name), is neither stylized nor thematic, it's just amateurish.  For a comic that features a LOT of talking heads you would hope that the artist tapped for the job would be good at drawing faces.  Not so much the case here.  Take a look at these not-at-all generic faces for our cast of characters.

This is our "hero."  Look at that guy.  Winner.  He's a very low rent Alton Brown.

This is his mom.  Notice how her facial features can morph at will. Her hairstyle can change almost instantly to hide or reveal her inconsistent forehead.  Sometimes she has a pointy chin, sometimes rounded.  Sometimes wide nose, sometimes narrow.  She's clearly a shapeshifter...with man hands.

This is one of his friends.  She's clearly an member of the Dunmer from Skyrim, although what she is doing in our world is yet to be revealed.  Sometimes she has cheekbones, sometimes not.  At least her forehead is consistent.  Ghostwriter X graduated from the school of "draw a head and then draw a face in it. Make it fit."

And I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  If you are going to read this comic, be prepared for confusion as to who is talking and when.
Lots of great pages like this to keep you enthralled
Ok, so maybe talking heads isn't Ghostwriter X's strength.  Makes him/her an odd choice for this comic, but ok, we can always fall back on the action scenes to carry us through the tougher conversation pieces, right?  Well...

First panel, I'm not sure what kind of green crotch monster they are fighting, but the woman has clearly missed her target with her green energy shooting sword.  Maybe it's due to her bizarre anatomy.  Anyone who can tell me what's going on with her stomach gets a bonus.  Rulero also gets credit for holding the world's thinnest and slightly bent spear.  And let's not forget his legendary wrist strength.  He can hold a thinly handled broad axe way down at the other end with just one hand.
Second panel, that is one lackluster murder.  Tyran puts about as much effort into regicide as he does taking out the trash.  And maybe he's cold blooded, but his facial expression is more one of boredom than "I'm killing the King to take over the throne!"  Just killing the king, doing his job.
Third panel.  Let's ignore Tyran loitering back there in the hallway, because that's a whole other paragraph and let's just focus on the softcore porn in the foreground.  I may be new to the ways of Atara, but where I come from females do not have an extra skin pocket on their hips for which to stick one's hands during copulation.
So even when things are happening in the comic, the art creates more problems than it solves and makes an already dull comic confusing and incoherent.

But at least the storytelling is solid, right?
Only if you are engrossed by powerful sequential art like this:
That's right.  Three panels of blank smartphones, two coffee mugs and a hand.  Gripping.  Really moves the story along.   And of course, issue #2 ends with a SHOCKING reveal:
That's right, Konrad Juros is none other than Konjuro himself!  You're telling me KONrad JUROs is really Konjuro?  Thank goodness for that spilled coffee or this madman would have gone completely undiscovered.  Oh, and who is Konrad Juros?  Well, he's supposedly the one behind the whole Swordquest thing here on earth.  Sure thing.  No one tell Nolan Bushnell or Ray Kassar.  Look at that guy. Unless Flock of Seagulls was higher up in the yuppie executive world than I remember, that guy was not an 80's power broker.

Two of these are the masterminds behind the Atari 2600 and it's success.  One is not. You tell me

The whole comic feels like something written by someone who has heard of the 1980's and classic video games and Swordquest, but never really experienced them firsthand.  Case in point, each issue is littered, and I do mean littered, with little panels of what are supposed to be Game Tips.  I think the idea is that we are reading a comic book about video games so these Game Tips are supposed to make us feel like we are also reading a video game magazine circa 1992.  "It's video game stuff, just toss a bunch of it in there so we look like we know what video games are." The main problem is that these "Game Tips" aren't even remotely close to being game tips.  Like this helpful fellow here:

A Game Tip is "Look behind the giant Ruk's Egg at the top of the tower to find the ultra-powerful Phoenix Materia."  A Game Tip for Swordquest is "Leave the Grappling Hook in Cancer and the Rope in Leo to get the third clue."  A Game Tip for this comic is "Read X-O Manowar instead."  What they are printing as "Game Tips" are just obvious writer commentaries that pander to the audience.  Bad idea, poorly executed.  And the comic is loaded with junk like this that either name drops popular video game icons or tropes or try too hard to be "in the know."  It's like when your non-drinking buddy tries to tell you that dopplebocks are his favorite ale.   Just admit you don't drink, dude.

Swordquest is a bad comic book.  It's a bad video game-based comic book, but it's mainly just a bad comic book.  Completely unlikeable protagonist.  Bland and unsympathetic supporting characters.  A plot that hasn't started yet, but centers around committing a minor crime in the name of helping the main character not feel like a loser.  Amateur art that neither paints a striking picture nor successfully articulates a story.  Swordquest is "How Not To Make Comics" primer for anyone starting out in the industry.  I've sunk $8.25 into this disaster.  Don't you do the same.  Dreadful.
Its-a me, Konjuro!


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  2. Hey Dynamite, hire good artists, re-release the other three comics (Earthworld, Fireworld, Waterworld) with the release of the long awaited, never released before comic of AIRWORLD! You are even welcome to use my theories and outline to make a good story. :D

  3. Hey ElectricFrankfurter, thanks for writing such an interesting review of Swordquest #2. I wanted to give this series a chance, mainly for nostalgic reasons, because I bought Earthworld for the Atari 2600 back in the day. Never competed the game, but the George Perez artwork in the comic was great.

    I agree with every word in your review. I really don’t get the alternate history in Issue #2. King Ruello/Rulero was originally a thief who stole the 4 elements/talismans and melted them down and forged the Sword himself with his amazing blacksmithing skills? Then he walks nekkid into a crowd of bickering tribes with the Sword and they all bend the knee and make him King? He explores and conquers the rest of that world (still nekkid)? Then all of his subjects can whisper amongst themselves, “I’ve seen the King’s junk.”

    King Ruello/Rulero discovers clothing later, and has kids…Tarr and Tyrannus were twins? All of a sudden, Tarr goes from army commander to… crown prince? What?

    The younger twin Tyran/Tyrannus kills Tarr first (using the “old decapitation by strung wire” trick) and then his henchmen kill Wyla (who’s out on a picnic with her 10 year old twins) by shooting her full of arrows, before finally stabbing King Ruello/Rulero to death? These alterations make it impossible to reconcile the new series with the storyline of the original Swordquest comics. What were they thinking?

    Then there’s the art. I’m all for amateur art and all, people who have regular jobs and draw comics for fun. But fanart is usually FREE, uploaded to the internet for everyone to enjoy. The new Swordquest comics offers amateur art, but at professional art prices ($3.99 per issue). It’s not worth the cost, especially since $3.99 per issue can go a long way on ebay buying vintage comics with more coherent storylines and better art.

    If only Dynamite Comics would offer Airworld, drawn by real professionals, then I’d be on it. At least Airworld could be done in 52 pages, with a real ending. In its current state, the new Swordquest comics could just meander for a while, peter out and die without a resolution. So all the money invested in it would have been wasted on a story without an end.

  4. This thing is a total mess. They have made a total disaster out of the original story and don't have a good story to replace it with or justify it. Just terrible.