Dragon Age: Until We Sleep #1
Writers: David Gaider, Alexander Freed
Artist: Chad Hardin
Colorist: Michael Atiyeh
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Disclaimer: I haven’t played any of the Dragon Age games or read any of the previous comics.
While I was reading this comic, I was bombarded with names, concepts, and places that were extremely unfamiliar to me. However, the framing narrative and accessible POV character of this book add layers to the story and make it accessible for new readers. There are also interesting concepts and themes in this book, such as blood magic and dragon’s blood. But this issue also shows the issues with adapting any kind of epic fantasy to comic book form, especially a three issue miniseries.
The narrative of this book jumps around a lot, but by the end of the issue, the reader can place the events in chronological order because there are logical transitions and overlapping characters, much like the film Pulp Fiction. But one thing that Pulp Fiction didn’t have was loads and loads of text box expositions. However, this exposition is needed to let readers know what exactly is going on. However, Gaider and Freed write pretty good dialogue giving the main POV character a dwarven rogue Varric his share of wisecracks. There are a few cliched moments with a female character pretty much saying “Eyes up here.” to a character in the middle of a tough brawl.
While reading this book, I felt like I was eating the hors d’ouevres platter of a seven course meal at King’s Landing. There were little references, like to Varric’s badass crossbow Bianca, that I didn’t pick up on, but some of the references to Dragon Age lore was compelling and shed light on the characters and their motivations. For example, there was a story about the legendary ancestor of one of the protagonists Alistair Theirin having dragon blood that tells why the main baddie blood mage Aurelius Titus is like them. Despite being steeped in lore, all the characters, both good and evil, have believable motivations. The Qunari, who are semi-allied with Alistair, Varric, and Isabella, help them because they’re afraid of Titus’ power. However, they’ll only bomb his fortress Ath Velanis with their airships.
This comic did the best job it could of introducing the three main characters, their enemies, allies, and even some of their back histories. Varric was a great choice for main POV character because he’s a typical badass hero that isn’t afraid to speak what’s on his mind or acknowledge the stupidity of people around him. The solicitation of the book called it a “perfect entry point”, and it mostly works because of Varric’s narration and action scenes. Even the most boring exposition can be spiced up with a dwarf sneaking around and taking out mooks with his magic crossbow.
Chad Hardin’s work in this book isn’t super-detailed, especially in the big bombardment, but he excels at drawing characters that are actual believable and showing their subtle emotions. There are little touches like female lead Isabella actually getting dirty in the bloody battle against Titus’ goons, the sorcerer Aurelius Titus actually wearing armor, and the twisted faces of Titus’ torture victims. With the help of colorist Michael Atiyeh, he also gives each flashback and different feel. Atiyeh also does an excellent job of differentiating all the bursts of magical energy from each other and cleaning up the battle scenes.
This book isn’t a “perfect” entry point into the Dragon Age universe, but it has great fight scenes, some interesting lore, and likable characters. There are some confusing elements for new readers, like the motivation of the Qunari in helping Alistair, Varric, and Isabella and also the sheer amount of flashbacks. This issue acts as setup for the real action against Aurelius Titus and Ath Velanis in the following issues. With the exposition and back-story out of the way, the scene is set for an all-out blood magic brawl.