Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones Crystal Frazier, Tom Garcia, Morgan Hickman, Thomas Napolitano Dynamite Entertainment January 30, 2019 I’ve played a lot of Pathfinder in my days, enough that I recognized Crystal Frazier’s name when it was attached to this comic. (She’s also written adventure paths for Paizo. I own those too.) So, a fellow trans author writing
Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones
Crystal Frazier, Tom Garcia, Morgan Hickman, Thomas Napolitano
January 30, 2019
I’ve played a lot of Pathfinder in my days, enough that I recognized Crystal Frazier’s name when it was attached to this comic. (She’s also written adventure paths for Paizo. I own those too.) So, a fellow trans author writing comics set in the world of one of my favorite tabletop games. Some things you’re just an easy mark for.
See, when you have the very specific background that I have, a book of this kind is like candy. It’s structured and paced like a tabletop adventure, but without any of the long-winded asides or inane jokes a gaming group will end up wasting an hour on. Because of that, it feels lean and satisfying.
Spiral of Bones is another chapter in the story of Pathfinder’s resident official characters—you know, the ones you see when you open the Core Rulebook and look at the chapter on classes? Those ones. Specifically, it’s the story of Valeros, the fighter (get it, because he’s valorous) dying. Sort of. Valeros grabs a thing he shouldn’t grab, and because of that he ends up in the afterlife, about to be judged. Only, he’s not actually dead. His body is still up and moving around on the prime material plane (shorthand for “the world the majority of the game takes place in”). It’s just got a different person at the helm. Trouble is, the entities in the afterlife that handle the judging of souls can’t functionally tell the difference; Valeros’ soul is in the courtroom assigned to this other soul, and so for all they can tell, it’s the other soul they’re judging.
It’s a cute bit of mixed identity that’s bolstered by some well established character archetypes; Valeros, as a Fighter, is strong and thick-headed while Merisiel, the Rogue, is clever and a little bit flexible on the bounds of morality. Because these characters are the default archetypes for their in-game classes, they’re formulaic, but in a way that’s intentional, expected, and refreshing. Like your regular meal at a familiar restaurant.
The art sort of carries that feel too; it adheres to the basic stylings of the world of Golarion. Costuming and architecture feel like what you’d expect if you’ve ever taken a look at a Pathfinder sourcebook. The character work is strong; each character in the story carries an individuality beyond what they’re wearing. They’re easy to tell apart, and the penciller, Tom Garcia, has a way with expressions that can be positively delightful.
The linework is bolstered by Morgan Hickman’s thoughtful coloring; Pathfinder as a whole is imbued with a lot of browns and reds, and Hickman’s work takes care to differentiate between many shades of those without anything feeling too monochromatic or tired. His work really pops once the story shifts to the underground catacombs where most of the plot takes place; the vibrant tones set against dark and gloomy stone really sells the atmosphere of the story.
Letters are handled by Thomas Napolitano, and he’s another example of really going the extra mile to serve the story. The verbal components of spellcasting are portrayed as another language within the Pathfinder setting, and a cypher script would’ve been enough, but the lettering changes color as well, to really highlight and differentiate that characters aren’t just speaking another tongue, but are actually using words of power. Napolitano also takes care to imbue different types of creatures with different fonts and weights; a troll in the beginning speaks in large, craggy block lettering, for example. I’m actually curious about the choice of color in fonts and speech bubbles both; I don’t know whether it’s the province of the letterer, the colorist, or a collaboration of both. Either way, it’s incredibly effective.
Also delightful is Crystal Frazier’s writing; a passel of characters doesn’t mean anything if you can’t do anything with them. In this five-issue arc that is ostensibly about a male character, Frazier takes care to focus on the adventuring party’s female characters, hilariously consigning the other male members to damsel status, trapped inside of an underground chamber and awaiting rescue. Of those female characters, the Half-Orc Inquisitor named Imrijka is a particular enjoyment. She’s loud and boisterous without being portrayed as uncivilized or unintelligent, she carries both faith and education in her, and proves ready to fight for what she believes if she has to. Frazier also understands what the people want, and Imrijka GETS SOME.
The writing is also careful even with bit characters; that troll in the beginning, for example, isn’t some simple monster out for blood, but a fortune teller who’s mad about a transaction gone bad. Later, Valeros encounters a demonic creature in the afterlife who has no real hold or claim over him, but is menacing and threatening for a moment anyway, just because of her very nature. They’re little touches that enhance the story and make it far better than I was expecting.
I suppose that’s the take from all of this. With a licensed comic, your results are all too often sort of low-effort tripe; a basic effort is made to adhere to a given licenses characters an aesthetic, but they too often don’t hold up to the source material. In Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones, every person involved brought an abundance of effort and care, and the final product shows; it’s good. Not just good for a licensed comic, but plain good. Enough that I’m now considering going back to pick up the other six volumes in the series.