Alistair Grows Up: A Dragon Age Library Edition Review

500px-Dragon_Age_Library_Edition_Volume_1_HC_cover_artAuthor: David Gaider
Artists: Chad Hardin, Michael Atiyeh
Release Date: June 6 2014
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Source: Dark Horse digital promo
Genre(s): Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Spoilers: Moderate for the games and mild for the comics

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Classic Alistair

I’m no stranger to the Dragon Age game series, being that Origins is one of my favourite RPGs. The strength of writing has always set Dragon Age apart, so when you see that David Gaider, lead writer of the games, has signed on- you know it’ll be something special. The Dragon Age Library was my introduction to the comic book series, and what a fine impression it has left. This edition is a special compilation composed of three comic series that are about 70 pages each, adding up to nearly 240 pages of content. This hardcover is clearly intended to be a collector’s item- it includes an exclusive “sketchbook” section at the end consisting of concepts and original cover art, but more importantly it’s loaded with comments from the creators on the making of the series. Seeing the rationale behind certain decisions and the impact of story on art and vice-versa was really, really cool.

The trilogy follows Alistair, Isabela and Varric on a quest to find Alistar’s father, King Maric, who has been missing at sea for many years. Alistair narrates The Silent Grove, Isabela gets Those Who Speak, and Varric closes with Until We Sleep. Character development is a major theme in the trilogy, and each character sees this adventure differently. We get to peek into their heads and see what makes them tick, see how they handle loss and grief and the differences between how they see each other and how they see themselves.

Isabela and Varric’s series, especially, tread new ground into their back stories, which was definitely a treat for me. I’ve been missing all three of these characters since we said goodbye, and I got them back true to form with a few surprises as well. Gaider did a great job with characterization and giving everybody a unique flavor, using Isabela’s potty mouth, Alistar’s deadpan humor, and Varric’s constant unreliability as facets of their storytelling.

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Expect a lot of reading

The significance of Alistair’s choice to find his biological father was not lost upon me. In Bioware’s canon Alistair became the king of Fereldan at the end of DA:O. As an illegitimate son, his chances of ever obtaining the crown were slim to nil, yet somehow things played out in a way that brought him there. Alistair always had his parentage in the back of his head, even if he thought it would never amount to anything. Even now with a palace and throne to call his own he isn’t sure of his own ability to rule. So the fact that he goes on a crazy man hunt, going against very powerful individuals, with nothing more than two rogues at his back, harkens back to his glory days as an adventurer with the Grey Warden where all the odds were stacked against them. His true motivation for rescuing Maric is never explicitly stated, but hinted at enough times to make it a compelling mystery.

Did he need guidance, a fatherly hand? Did he need freedom, thinking that Maric could come back and rule for him? Alistair is the type to say one thing but have another in the back of his head. It’s hammered home time and time again how capable a ruler he is, but that praise falls upon deaf ears. To me, Alistair needed to make this journey in order to come into his own as King. He needed some time to grow up and come to terms with this reality. And that’s a very powerful message about maturity. He learns things about himself and his heritage that he will never forget.

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In many ways throughout the volume each character lets go of something and embraces something new. They grow and mature, coming to terms with some dark secrets. But even with this heavy focus on salvation and a propensity for violence, Library manages to be quite funny as well. Isabela and Varric are a damn formidable comedy duo. In addition to our tried-and-true favourites Library introduces a few new characters, including Isabela’s crew, a witch, and some of Varric’s interesting connections. Gaider never misses the mark with these new additions to the lore, and despite not featuring most additions for more than one miniseries they are all interesting and well-designed characters. You even get to bump into another familiar companion from DA:O.

As far as art goes, Library leaves nothing to be desired. The action flows smoothly from panel to panel, everyone looks like their 3D counterpart, colours and lighting are excellent as well. The landscape shots are exceptional. Even more importantly, body language is very well done. Everyone character looks realistic in their posing and expression, and it’s a very subtle effect with huge ramifications on how the art is perceived. Sometimes Hardin will take liberties with the panel format, which is always refreshing and well-done. Panels and boxes are usually quite large, but the story definitely shows more than it has to tell, and they’re usually not placed in a way that detracts from the great art of the compilation. And seriously, have you seen those covers? They’re done in an amazing renaissance acrylic portrait style and loaded with detail. Just like how the entire series is loaded with subtle details, actually.

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Isabela’s parts were my favourites in the series

To be honest, I don’t have any real complaints to offer up against this well-paced, well-drawn, well-written comic series. Obviously, this would be a much harder read if you had no clue who Alistair, Isabela, or Varric were, but that’s clearly not the target audience of the DA comic series. The aim of these releases was to bridge a gap between DA2 and Inquisition, to throw fans a bit of meat and shine some light on these misunderstood characters. These comics go above and beyond that goal to deliver a great story, one that I would recommend to any DA fan in a heartbeat. The hardcover is simply a neat bit of packaging for these stories, useful for collector value, resilience, and prettiness. Oh- and those comments. Have I mentioned them? They were really great. Anyway, can you go get this? You have no idea what you’re missing out on. Your library will thank you.

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