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The ‘90s Revisited: Magic the Gathering: Gerrard’s Quest #1

90s_revisited

magic_the_gathering_gerrards_quest_001Gerrard’s Quest Part 1: Initiation

Written by: Mike Grell
Pencils by: Pop Mhan
Inks by: Norman Lee
Letters by: Michael Taylor
Colors by: Dave Stewart
Separations by: Lisa Stamp, Stu Hiner, Brian Gregory, Harold MacKinnon
Cover by: Mark Harrison
Editors: Peet Janes and Ian Stude
Cover Date: March 1998
Cover Price: $2.95
Published by: Dark Horse Comics

I’ve been “aware of” this series for over 20 years. The original MTG comics were published by Acclaim, under their Armada imprint. Those lasted a couple years with a number of mini-series and specials. This, too, is a mini-series…but by late-1997/early-1998, the license had moved to Dark Horse. Also by this point there was a move toward a unified “whole” in the MTG continuity/story, rather than everything being a mash up of fantasy tropes and generic fantasy-style stories.

Here we begin “Gerrard’s Quest.” Despite that being the story title (even in the indicia!) it is NOWHERE on the cover of the issue. While the “issue’s chapter” IS “Initiation” that is what’s on the cover…where usually it would be interior-only, or in addition to the series’ subtitle. This is solely billed (cover-wise) as Magic the Gathering #1 of 4. Nothing to indicate anything came before…nothing to indicate (now long after the fact) that this is the first chapter of Gerrard’s Quest (as the long-outta-print collected volume is titled and the story referred to in general).

Without even looking back, I’m quite sure that even the Armada books had subtitles on the covers and/or the subtitle logos of whatever set the issue(s) contained stories for. So that’s a huge dislike of this to me from the start. Having only the MTG logo and the title “Initiation” at the bottom of the cover, it suggests to me that the issue is ABOUT some initiation. Into what, though? Is it the reader being initiated into the “I-read-Magic-the-Gathering-comics” portion of the comics audience? Is it about someone joining some group of planeswalkers banding together to save the multiverse? By the cover alone, the ONLY thing really of interest to me would be the MTG logo. The rest of the cover just looks like some generic fantasy-ish thing and even knowing the broad strokes (having read loads of the novels and re-read a bunch of the novels in the last 17 months or so) I’m not immediately sure who any of the characters/entities on the cover are supposed to be, outside of Gerrard.

The story in the issue is choppy and all over the place. It’s rather loose, and really seems little more than hitting bullet points. I’d have to practically re-write the issue to give it a proper summary here. Suffice it to say that it picks up with Gerrard lamenting others dying for him, and the burden of the artifacts that are his birthright, the “Legacy.” The ship he’s on gets to Rath, a lotta fighting happens, someone he apparently knew dies, other stuff happens and…yeah. Having read the anthology/novel Rath and Storm at least twice now (once back in 1999 or 2000, once back in late 2018 or early 2019) I have a vague idea from memories of THAT as to who THESE characters are and what’s going on.

Early in the issue I get the sense that the crew is on their way to Rath and the Stronghold to save Sisay. And then there’s some scene with people related to Crovax and then suddenly the Weatherlight and its crew are there…and after Rofellos dies, Sisay is with them.

What the heck did I miss?!?

This feels like little more than a generic visual review/overview of a prose story. And sure, it ends on a cliffhanger-like note with a to-be-continued promise…but strictly in terms of this issue, I’m not invested in any of these characters. I don’t KNOW who any of these characters ARE from this issue. (I only know the characters because I’ve read the prose novels!) Other than the clear sense that Gerrard’s upset about involvement with his “Legacy,” it’s just…pictures and dialogue.

I like the art well enough despite my clumsy attempt to describe it ahead: the layouts get sorta interesting and creative. The inks and colors work well. The overall visual experience seems a bit rough and angular and almost “gritty,” if that’s the word I’m looking for. It’s not awful, but it doesn’t have the smoother, sleeker sense of shiny wonder and just SOMETHING I can’t find the words for.

I finally tracked this mini-series down recently via a site I didn’t realize I COULD order comics from. Pulling this issue to read, I had visions of covering this whole mini-series…but assuming the subsequent 3 issues are on par with this one…I’m gonna be floundering for words and repeating myself and it’ll generally be a mess! The only REAL reason I would even suggest anyone track this issue/series down is if you’re a COMPLETIST on MTG comics.

Seriously.

In place of this, I would recommend tracking down the book or ebook of Rath and Storm, edited by Peter Archer, and read that instead. And that’s disappointing enough to say, given this is written by Mike Grell. But if you like his writing in general…find something else he’s written and read or re-read that and you’ll probably appreciate it more. I may yet read the rest of this mini, and maybe I’ll change my mind. But as of just this issue alone…it’s a disappointment and far more in the vein of “early MTG” than the far more epic, storied stuff that would come not long after in the novels and such.

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Magic: The Gathering “Classics”

I’m honestly fairly surprised in a way that IDW has not published (that I am aware of) any Magic: The Gathering Classics volumes. They’ve got a Classics line for several other licensed properties, so why not MTG? Granted, the property doesn’t have quite the same quantity of “classic” material as the others, but surely they could get at least a few good volumes out of what’s there.

Given I’ve seen nothing whatsoever regarding any actual volumes, here are the six volumes I’d propose for a series of MTG Classics volumes.

Vol. 1 – The Shadow Mage
Collecting The Shadow Mage 1-4 and Wayfarer 1-5.

This would make for a nice-size 9-issue volume…a bit thicker than your average 6-issue book but not so hefty as a 12-issue collection. This would be–I believe–the complete run of issues featuring Jared Carthalion, and be all the issues that did not focus on a pre-existing MTG card or story.

I put these in the first volume as The Shadow Mage was the first series from Armada, and I’ve just always associated it as starting everything off. I believe Wayfarer picked up the month after, so this is essentially a 9-issue story anyway, which would make for a solid single-volume I think.

Vol. 2 – Ice Age
Collecting Fallen Empires 1-2, Ice Age 1-4, and Nightmare 1.

I’d put Ice Age and Fallen Empires together as they tied together a bit. To go chronologically I’d probably put the FE issues first in the volume–with the origin of a major character that appeared in IA.

I place these here as they were the next series to come out from Armada

I’ve got the Nightmare one-shot here mostly for lack of good placement elsewhere. This issue was a bit on the early side of the Armada run, and would seem to me out of place to be grouped with the various Legends issues.

Additionally, it being extra-sized helps fill out the pagecount for the volume as it’s otherwise almost two issues smaller than the first.

Vol. 3 – The Brothers’ War
Collecting Antiquities War 1-4 and Urza/Mishra War 1-2.

While it would have been great to have the full intended “trilogy” of series that would have been the “entirety” of the story of the Brothers’ War, it just makes sense to me to put these two minis together. While technically only six issues, the Urza-Mishra War issues were extra-sized, filling this out to approximately an 8-issue size.

Even if this wouldn’t quite reach 8 issues, it’d be very similar in size to the previous volume, and could always be filled out a bit with a selection from the The Brothers’ War prose novel.

There’s also (as with previous volumes) the Seer Analysis and such “backmatter” that would fill things out a bit.

Vol. 4 – Legends I
Collecting Arabian Nights 1-2, Shandalar 1-2, Homelands, and Fallen Angel plus material from Convocations.

This volume and the next are sort of catch-alls for the rest of the Armada stuff.

Arabian Nights and Homelands fit together as they’re short stories based at least in part on actual MTG expansion sets. Though Shandalar was based on a story from a computer game, in its own way that could be seen as another expansion.

Since that would still leave the volume a bit short, I’d go ahead and put Fallen Angel here, to begin the series of Legends-focused issues. The volume could be rounded out with a few pages from the Convocations “gallery” issue.

Vol. 5 – Legends II
Collecting Elder Dragons 1-2, Dakkon Blackblade, Jedit Ojanen 1-2, and Serra Angel plus material from Convocations.

This volume would finish out the run of Armada MTG issues with the rest of the Legends-based specials. Considering the prestige-format issues to be roughly double-sized, this would be about 8 issues, and the Convocations pages not included in vol. 4 would up the pagecount a bit for the volume.

Just as I associate Shadow Mage as kicking off the Armada line, I associate these with the end of the line–as of this typing I actually don’t even yet own the Jedit Ojanen issues, just acquired Serra Angel and only found the Elder Dragons issues a couple years ago–at least a decade after the issues first saw print.

Vol. 6 – Gerrard’s Quest
Collecting the Dark Horse mini-series 1-4.

This would obviously be the smallest of the volumes with only 4 issues–moving from the Armada comics to the 4-issue mini produced by Dark Horse Comics. This would basically be a reprint of the Gerrard’s Quest TPB with a new cover.

I know Wizards of the Coast has produced plenty of their own MTG material, and there are at least a couple graphic novels out from them. I don’t know that any of that would fit well here, and as those are relatively recent, they wouldn’t really fall into the realm of “classics” the way all these others do.

I’d expect these volumes to be at least $19.99 cover price…though that could feel a bit rough as Shadow Mage and Ice Age in particular seem to be pretty common bargain-bin issues. It’s the later issues that had smaller print runs and grew quite rare. As such, it would seem a bit on the expensive side for the content; but then in turn, the prestige-format issues were $6 or so apiece, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of those in bargain bins, so it would all balance out.

The sixth volume would seem to me ripe to be priced at $14.99 or so if not bargain-price it to $9.99, as with only four issues it’d be about half the size of the previous volumes.

So there you have it–the contents and collections I’d imagine as ideal for production by IDW, assuming they thought the sales warranted (of course, they probably don’t). Heck, these could even be shrink-wrapped with reprints of key cards from the time of the comics, with the old art. Whether playable or not, I don’t know.

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