Greg Rucka (W), Carmen Carnero (A), Sachin Teng (Cover)
Dark Horse Comics
This review is based on an advanced reader copy provided by Dark Horse Comics.
“Tessa and Marius are mercenary partners, eliminating those who use blood magic to hurt others, but when a powerful patron employs them, they realize this next job may be their last . . .”
Magic is the source of many problems in the world of Dragon Age. Those who have it are powerful, but in many places, they are also persecuted. Mages are locked in towers and tortured by the Chantry and their templars, who are meant to be guardians but are oppressors. This is at the heart of much of the conflict within the Dragon Age lore, culminating in the Mage-Templar War that permeates BioWare’s latest Dragon Age game, Inquisition (read about my journey as a dalish elf in Inquisition Diaries.)
Magekiller takes place between Inquisition and Dragon Age II, where the actions of a particular mage in Kirkwall skyrocketed the mage-templar animosity into full scale war, though the battles are fought in many different ways. Here we meet Tessa and Marius, who are paid to hunt mages. While not all mages are bad, there are certainly those who take their abilities too far, tapping into the Fade through the use of blood magic, and opening themselves up to the risk of demon possession in exchange for greater power.
Whatever justification a mage may have for their actions does not matter to Tessa or Marius. Tessa is obviously in it for the money, but her thus-far-unexplained link to Marius gives her at least the appearance of higher motivation. The story is mainly told through her point of view, opening with a powerful narration that reveals Marius as more than just a killer-for-hire. He understands the cost of taking a life, even one with dark intentions. Initially, the reader could assume Marius is a man hurt by magic due to his past as a Tevinter slave, motivated by vengeance to take up this particularly risky career choice, but his stoicism and Tessa’s revelations suggest there is far more to him.
I am used to Dragon Age supplementary stories mostly being written by David Gaider or Patrick Weekes, both senior writers on the game series itself, but seeing Greg Rucka’s name in the credits certainly made me leap at the opportunity to read this series. Not that I wasn’t going to read it anyway, as determined by my well documented obsession with BioWare games, but Rucka’s impressive resume—including some of my favourite titles like Veil, Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia, Batman: No Man’s Land, Elektra and Wolverine: The Redeemer, Lazarus, and Batwoman: Elegy—raised my expectations immensely. While I love his characterization and plotting, one of my complaints with Gaider’s recent Dragon Age comic series is that his storytelling style isn’t conducive to the format. It felt like the story skipped too many beats in order to tell everything Gaider needed to within the limited pages of the medium. Rucka is someone I consider to be a master of the medium, who also writes great characters and plot, and easily slips into various worlds. This is his first adventure in Dragon Age, and I am not the least bit disappointed in his efforts after only one issue.
While this is considered dark fantasy, Dragon Age has always employed a lightness to its storytelling that is reflected most often in the dialogue and endearing characters, which Rucka captures nicely. Tessa’s snark as she converses with her stoically silent partner is a welcome contrast to the scene before, where the pair almost succumbs to the wrath of a mage. Likewise, Carnero’s art does not shy away from the gruesome when necessary, but holds on to a sense of brightness through colour and detail.
I’m fangirling a bit, of course, and my obsession with all things BioWare is certainly colouring my review, but I feel that I can step back enough to agree with Dark Horse’s assessment that this is a good place for any dark fantasy fans to step into the world of Dragon Age without feeling lost. While the locales are familiar to fans of the game, we have yet to meet any of the familiar faces that populate the game lore, so the characters are just as new to me here as they would be to a newcomer. Moreover, Rucka’s story quickly ventures off to Tevinter, a place fans have heard much about, but have rarely seen in play. It is also a place that Marius has refused to return to, but dark circumstances have forced his hand, which is where the plot twists nicely to hook you in for the next issue.