Making The Saving Throw: Pathfinder #7 Review

pathfinder_7_cover-155712338Dear Dynamite Comics: please reconsider the font you use to number issues. With God as my witness, I thought Pathfinder #7 was actually a #1. It’s the only reason I bought it.

Because normally I would never buy a sword and sorcery book, at least not sight unseen. I have a mental block when it comes to genre stories about quests and swords and paladins and magic users. You can give me a story about a hero in spandex attacking a giant monster, the same story with a hero with a laser pistol and a giant robot, and the same story with a dude with a sword and a dragon, and I will pick stories one and two almost every time. I’m the same when it comes to role playing games: Shadowrun and Call of Cthuhlu, yes; Dungeons & Dragons, no.

But I review comics, so I bought what I thought was a first issue, because frankly, I need to file copy almost every day, and hey: you never know. But while I was disappointed when I saw that it was actually a seventh issue, my spirits were lifted when I saw it was written by Jim Zub, the writer of Skullkickers, a sword-based adventure story that is a favorite outlier in my eyes due to the presence of a gun, and metric buttloads of solid humor.

Pathfinder #7, however, is no Skullkickers. It is a far more conventional D&D-style story, by which I mean it is very much like a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Zub gives us the well-balanced party of adventurers, cast as if by a demanding DM, with modern-style dialogue and some of the classic obstacles and antagonists of that game.

It is also a well-executed entry point for new readers, introducing a new adventure for the party, demonstrating internal conflict, and teasing one of the great battles one can find in a game of D&D.

You know, if you like that sort of thing.

We meet our party of protagonists – Valeros the warrior, Mersiel the elf scout, Kyra the healer, Harsk the dwarf, Ez the mage and Sioni the… I dunno, thief, maybe? Anyway, we meet them in training, and then at the local pub, where they whack away stew and ale before being approached by a local, offering them a reward in exchange for discovering what man or beast has been slaughtering the local livestock. While the party investigates and finds a giant black tooth jammed in a horse’s ribcage, a dude named Thelsikar, who I imagine is a heavy based on his skull mask, prays for and receives the knowledge to find and destroy the party. Anyhoo, then the party, having staked out some bait for whatever dentist-needing monster dropped that black fang, is drawn away by cries for help by what turns out to be bandits in an ambush trap. Violence ensues when the party hears the roar of something taking their bait. When they return, they are told what the monster was and, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t “dungeons” or “&”.

So first of all, if this kind of story is your thing and you happened to miss the first Pathfinder arc as I did, Zub has created a solid, approachable entry point with this issue. The initial training sequence teaches us most of the party’s names, shows us Mersial and Valeros nature and relationship, and Kyra’s apparent hesitancy over using her power capriciously on these people, all in about five pages with some decent sparring action to mask the character exposition. Through the remainder of the issue, Zub makes sure we are shown that Harsk is a tracker, Ez is a magic user, and Sioni is… hmm, maybe some kinda alchemist? It doesn’t matter; what matters is that Zub goes out of his way to make introductions to his characters for new readers, does it for the most part by showing and not telling (although Kyra’s issues are a little talky), and therefore, this is a good place to drop into this world. You know, if you like that sort of thing.

This story is also gonna be easily accessible for anyone who has spent nights around a gaming table arguing about Thac0; everything in this story feels like it could have come from any Dungeons & Dragons campaign run by any group of gamers with characters above level 20 (Hey, I said I preferred Shadowrun over D&D, not that I never played it). It has all the elements: the party drinking in a local tavern (“Roll the dice to see if I’m getting drunk!”) before being offered an adventure for a reward, followed by an ambush by faceless, overmatched bandits and the implication that they’re gonna be facing off with a dragon? That’s so old-school it might as well have been in The Keep on The Borderlands. But more importantly, the dialogue between the characters in the party is modern in nature and filled with generally good humor, just like a group of friends rolling dice around the table. After all, no matter the setting, no gamer actually tries to talk like they are actually from there. Except for one kid who played on a Call of Cthuhlu game with me one time; he said his character was Irish, so he spent the entire fucking game talking in a Lucky Charms accent, until the game master got so sick of it he sent Yog Sothoth to drive his character insane. And then I nailed his girlfriend. Seriously: fuck that guy… but that’s not the point. The point is that, if you’re a D&D player, you’re going to find a lot to relate to in this story. You know, if you like that sort of thing.

Jake Bilbao delivers some decent fantasy art, without getting into your standard giant pectoral, half-naked writing chick standards of the genre. He works in a fine line, with figures and faces a bit on the cartoony side at time, but detailed without resorting to a bunch of crosshatching to show the world of detailed his work is. His facial expressions are clear and not overly exaggerated – it is easy, without reading the dialogue, to tell by the faces that the opening sequence is a friendly spar, without emotions so exaggerated that you wonder if swordfighting is giving these people inappropriate orgasms. Bilbao’s panel layouts and pacing are clear, and although it felt to me like there were too many panels with no backgrounds, it was easy to follow his action and fantsy storytelling. You know, if you like that sort of thing.

But therein lies the problem: I really don’t generally like this sort of thing. So while Zub really nails the feeling of a good D&D adventure, it didn’t set my world on fire, as I am not a fan of that kind of story, and there wasn’t really anything compelling enough in this issue to overcome that feeling, the way there is in Skullkickers. So while it’s well-constructed and friendly to new readers, there isn’t anything here to really compel someone who normally likes superhero comics or sci-fi to jump genres on a regular basis. If you’re a D&D fan, you’re probably gonna really like Pathfinder #7, and for you, I highly recommend it. But if you’re not? You should probably save your money. After all, there’s always Skullkickers.