Today we are going to talk a little bit about comics. Since 2012 Dynamite Entertainment have been producing licensed Pathfinder Role-Playing Game comics using the Golarion setting and the iconic characters from the Pathfinder game books. Tomorrow, with the debut of the Pathfinder: Worldscape comic written by Paizo Publishing Publisher Erik Mona, the Pathfinder setting is brought to the center of a fantasy cross-over unlike any other.
Comic fans love a good cross-over. They like the idea of their favorite characters sharing a universe, ever since the Justice Society of America first brought together characters like Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman and The Flash together in the winter of 1940 with the third issue of All-Star Comics.
Dynamite Entertainment loves a good crossover, too. They've crossed-over the various pulp characters they publish in a couple of Masks miniseries. They crossed over many of their female characters in the Swords of Sorrow miniseries. They've had The Avenger meet up with Doc Savage and The Shadow in a Justice, Inc. miniseries. They've even created steampunk alternates of many of the characters that they publish for the Legenderry miniseries created by comic creator, and former RPG artist, Bill Willingham. People like cross-overs.
Gamers like a good cross-over as well. Ever since the AD&D Deities & Demigods book published stats for Michael Moorcock's Elric characters and H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, gamers have been finding ways to have their characters meet the characters from fiction, comics and movies.
Pathfinder: Worldscape draws inspiration from the father of modern comic cross-overs, Marvel Comics' 1984 miniseries Secret Wars. Like in the original Secret Wars comic, the characters are transported to a world made up of pieces and chunks of many other worlds, and the heroes and villains brought to that world must battle for supremacy and survival. Also like Secret Wars, Pathfinder: Worldscape takes place outside of continuity, so the actions of characters won't have repercussions upon the stories happening in their main books.
As a comic fan, I approve of this approach to a cross-over. There is really nothing that I hate more with a cross-over than having to pick up both a miniseries and a bunch of specials in order to keep up with the story. This approach does have the weakness of the fact that anything that occurs during the story is likely ignored once the story is over, because everything is reset to the status quo again. When dealing with a group of characters owned by a number of different people, this probably makes the most sense.
One flaw with the story may be that it won't be inviting to the casual reader, or to Pathfinder fans who don't read a lot of comics. The cover of this first issue promises that we will see Red Sonja, John Carter and Tarzan, but the main cover of the first issue also features the obscure public domain Golden Age character Fantomah (another creation of creator Fletcher Hanks, the man who brought us Stardust The Super-Wizard) and the story itself features an appearance by Princess Pha of The Shareen (another public domain Golden Age character previously resurrected by Dynamite Entertainment in their Thun'Da miniseries from a few years ago). One of the antagonists of the issue is another public domain comic character, Camilla, Jungle Queen.
It will probably be easy enough to just roll with all of the characters introduced. While I knew of the character of Pha from the earlier Thun'Da miniseries, it didn't occur to me until I was nosing around the internet to prepare for this review that Camilla might have been a repurposed public domain character, and not knowing that didn't take anything away from the character's use in the story. However, the barrage of characters might be a lot for some. We will have to see how Mona deals with all of this in the upcoming issues.
The issue ends with the start of a gladiatorial match between Valeros (from Pathfinder) and Red Sonja. It is interesting because it shows that, while Valeros has only been on the Worldscape for a few days, Red Sonja has been there for months. I'm not certain if Mona managed to adequately capture the character of Red Sonja in these few pages, replacing a character who plots and thinks before responding with violence with one who reacts solely with murderous intent. Don't get me wrong, the character of Red Sonja is an unrepentant killer, but there is something in Mona's portrayal that falls a little flat for me. It is great to see these two characters get matched up, and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top in the next issue.
The first issue of Pathfinder: Worldscape was an entertaining comic. There are flaws to it, but the issue has a really good energy that pulls you into the story and leaves you wanting more. Ultimately, this is the test of a quality comic. At the end of the 23 pages I wanted more, but unfortunately it will be a month before we will know what happens next. There might be a high bar to entry for casual readers, and hopefully that won't keep them from enjoying an otherwise well-written story by Mona. The art is serviceable, like much of the output from Dynamite Entertainment, nothing about it really elevates or hinders the telling of the story.
Pathfinder: Worldscape is a treat for fans of fantasy fiction in comic books, particularly the Golden Age of the jungle tale. Knowledge of the characters used by Mona will add richness and history to the story, without overly detracting from casual readers.
Unfortunately, the Pathfinder-related back matter of the comic was not included in the preview from Dynamite Entertainment. Since their mailings go out primarily to comic book websites, I am sure that they thought those sites wouldn't be as interested in role-playing material. After the physical issue comes out tomorrow, I will update to talk about that material as soon as possible. I am looking forward to seeing, over the course of the issues, how in depth the Pathfinder material will be, and how well it can be repurposed for home campaigns.
The character we get written up from the first issue is Red Sonja. I'm not as familiar with Pathfinder, so I can't comment directly to how well done the write-up is done (but I would figure that if anyone knows the Pathfinder rules, it would be Erik Mona) but it is interesting. Red Sonja is a CR 7 Ranger. The new Sword-Devil archetype is usable for Rangers. The new special abilities that the archetype gives some very Red Sonja-like abilities. For example, the archetype gives a character their Charisma bonus to their AC when unarmored and unencumbered. It also allows a character to channel their fury and determination in some ways that can be very nasty towards opponents.
I would have thought that Red Sonja would have been some variation on barbarians, but the combination of Ranger and the Sword-Devil archetype makes a lot more sense for the character. I think that it will also open up some interesting choices for player characters using this archetype. There are also two new feats that help optimize a Sword-Devil character.
The game mechanics section is rounded out with a short encounter based on Valeros' arrival on the Worldscape.
If you're buying just for the gaming material, that might be a little slim since there is only four pages of it at the end of the issue. If you want to bedevil the characters in your Pathfinder campaigns with everyone's She Devil With a Sword, it is worth the price of admission.