As a kid I loved The Three Musketeers and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I loved the big feathered hats and the rapiers, the swashbuckling and the adventures. I was therefore thrilled to discover Heir’s Game by Suspu, a Webtoon with all the rapiers and adventures anyone could want, and also, queer protagonists!
September 9, 2018-present
The premise of Heir’s Game is straightforward: in an alternate universe loosely resembling 18th century Europe, Theuden, the heir to the duchy of Belluna, has just come of age. Tradition dictates that duelists from all over the world must fight for the right to become the duke’s new bodyguard in the titular Heir’s Game. But one duelist in particular, Isran, catches this heir’s eye, and their love will change everything about how the game progresses and the future of the duchy itself.
Heir’s Game is immediately compelling because of the depth in its cast of characters. The nobility, the duelists, the revolutionaries, and the incidental locals all interact in interesting ways. I love the friendship Isran builds with some of the other duelists, and how that changes the way he fights each duel. I love the developing relationship between Theuden and Isran, and Theuden’s complicated relationships with his family.
The duels themselves are choreographed with an attention to detail that almost calls to mind sports anime and manga. Each fight is different and memorable, making use of the environment and the distinctive traits of the individual characters. Isran is quiet and doesn’t really respond when bantered with, Cesaire fights dirty, Ilkka always plays by the rules, and these different fighting styles all clash with the clangs of their swords.
The attention paid to realism in the fight scenes means they can also get more gruesome than some readers may be comfortable with. In a Q+A update Suspu explained that he gives the characters unusual (and very painful-looking) injuries instead of cool shoulder slashes to make it feel “like they’re in real peril and they’re made of flesh and blood.” Injuries aren’t healed instantly, but have lasting effects on the characters for the rest of the story.
The tonal shifts from sweet and gentle queer romance to gory violence can be jarring, but it feels intentional. The heightened emotionality and low-fantasy setting means the story reminds me more of a musical or a stage play than any other form of media. There are some great comedic moments, too. Suspu has a knack for drawing funny and expressive faces, something that has been consistent since his earlier work.
I started reading Heir’s Game after finishing Suspu’s first Webtoon, Shootaround, about a high school girls’ basketball team faced with the zombie apocalypse. Heir’s Game feels heavier in tone, with more overt violence between fully-realized human characters (rather than mindless zombies) and a cast of adults dealing with adult themes and problems. I would still recommend it for fans of Shootaround, however, because Suspu’s strengths (character acting, pacing, action sequences, comedy moments) all carry over well to a new genre and new visual style.
The simmering threat of revolution, and the more immediate problems of the dueling game Isran participates, in keeps the tension high enough to make me read the whole thing in one sitting, and the various subplots and minor intrigues are compelling in their own ways as well. I really like the slowly building love story between Sevilia and Ilianna and how it contrasts between Theuden and Isran’s relationship. It’s also really comforting to read about queer characters by a queer creator. I can trust Suspu to treat the characters with respect.
As the comic is currently on season 3 out of an estimated 4 or 5, it feels like it’s right smack in the middle of where it intends to go, and I’m eager to keep reading and find out where it ends up. Heir’s Game has swordfights and ballgowns, revolutionaries and tavern bards, and feeds the part of me that would hit my cousin with a stick while yelling “En Garde!” when I was five.