Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones #1
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Writer: Crystal Frasier
Artist: Tom Garcia
Cover: Diego Galindo
Colors: Morgan Hickman
Letters: Thomas Napolitano
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
While I have not done much pen-and-paper roleplaying in a very long time, the Pathfinder setting and game system have long intrigued me. One of the points that has always worked to the game’s favor is that it builds on classic 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules, while also being an evolution of that system. That makes it both accessible to longtime gamers (or even gamers who only know D&D from video games like the Neverwinter Nights series), but also a promising system in its own right.
With that in mind, it’s good to see Pathfinder being revisited by Dynamite, which has a solid history of producing good fantasy comics. This particular series, Spiral of Bones, focuses on several of the iconic Pathfinder characters as an adventuring group. Though I’m new to the setting, upon reading this book, I see potential to this setting and to Pathfinder as a comic book franchise.
Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones offers a good start to a promising fantasy series, though it may yet have some room to grow from here.
I have somewhat mixed feelings about this cover, because it has some points working in its favor. Overall, I don’t think this is bad composition at all, and there are elements that work quite well. The troll, for instance, is extremely well drawn, and he looks menacing and physically imposing. The adventurers are likewise well drawn, and their faces are all expressive, helping to get across the tone of the piece. Valeros casts a striking heroic presence as the main character, though I wish the focus had been somewhat more on him. On the other hand, this image looks somewhat cluttered, and it may be because Seoni and Merisiel are a little too prominent in the piece. Because of this, I don’t get a sense of what I should be focused on as a potential reader, aside from perhaps the troll. Additionally, there isn’t a clear story being presented with the cover, which doesn’t draw me to turn the page. This is a shame, because there’s much to like with both the cover and the interior comic.
Tom Garcia is an unfamiliar name to me, but he puts in a solid effort with this first issue. One of the challenges with a RPG adaptation is bringing a complex world to life through the visual presentation. This likewise involves being able to realize distinctive people and creatures through the storytelling. In those respects, Garcia’s work succeeds quite well here. Though I’m not in a position to determine how faithful he is to the source material, what Garcia shows here is visually interesting and a place worth spending some time in. He presents the sprawling city in a medieval style, hinting at a greater complexity under the surface. Though the storytelling focuses on the adventurers, as it should, the city of Kaer Maga looks lived-in and credible. A wide variety of creatures roam the streets, and the non-humans particularly look interesting as shown here.
It should also be pointed out that one of Garcia’s principal strengths is in portraying monsters and non-human creatures. This is certainly true of the Imrijka character, who may be the most fascinating, but also the troll in the marketplace and the monsters that lurk in the caverns. If the art here lacks in any respect, it’s the portrayal of the humanoid characters, who look somewhat less distinctive as portrayed here. As someone with no knowledge of the characters, Seoni and Merisiel look almost too similar in places, with only Meri’s elven ears to distinguish her. In fairness, the panel layouts and visual storytelling work well here, and I had little difficulty in following what was going on.
The coloring here is provided by Morgan Hickman, who does capable work on these pages. The coloring does a good job of setting the tone of the story, keeping the adventure light and fun. The use of warmer and brighter colors maintains the swashbuckling flair of this story, particularly during the daytime scenes up in the city streets. However, there are moments where the coloring works effectively to help tell the story, such as the use of colors to show the troll as he regenerates from his wounds. The gradual fading from red to green is a good visual technique that hits the correct storytelling notes. The coloring also helps highlight certain dramatic moments, such as using deep red shading to highlight a major injury done to a character. Hickman’s colors help to reinforce the important story points at just the right moments in the issue.
Our letterer for this issue is Thomas Napolitano, who always puts a good effort on every title he works on. I doubt there are any deeper praises that I can offer for his work, since he carries many of his usual strong points over to this issue. One point of interest is Napolitano’s decision to use a large, bold font when capturing the troll’s manner of speech; this conveys character quite well and hints at a deep, booming voice. This issue is somewhat heavy on sound effects, but Napolitano gives each of them a distinct and appropriate look, while also making them relatively innocuous. As always, space is managed well on the page, and even the large captions introducing the setting and backstory don’t overwhelm the artwork. Napolitano’s lettering is always delightful on just about any issue he does, and that holds true for this comic as well.
Although Crystal Frasier is a name that is new to me, she is a writer with a fair amount of experience in working with the Pathfinder setting. That comes across well through these pages. Unlike with many first issues, I got the sense of a writer with a firm understanding of the characters she’s writing from the outset, as opposed to someone trying to find her voice with them. This helps especially in these early scenes that are designed to establish who these heroes are and what their story objectives are. Frasier also had the foresight to make certain the book is accessible to new readers, offering brief moments of character to show us who these adventurers are as people. Though there are characters that are briefly glossed over, a newcomer can get the sense of the larger picture without ever having played a Pathfinder game before.
In terms of the plot itself, it mostly is an issue about setting up the adventuring group, but also about setting up the adventuring hook. Mostly, that involves a dungeon crawl, with most of the group exploring the tunnels beneath the city of Kaer Maga. These elements are solid, and the characterization and light touch of humor are interesting enough to offset the simplicity of the adventure hook. I found myself liking these characters as I read the issue, and the half-orc Inquisitor Imrijka particularly stood out as a promising character as portrayed here. Unlike many adventuring groups I’ve seen in comics, I felt like I wanted to spend time with these characters and get to know them better. This also succeeded in making the shocking swerve at the end carry a greater impact, as the reader is invested in the fate of this particular hero.
If there are any negatives to consider with this issue, it’s that there are moments that aren’t necessarily so clear in introducing these characters. Seoni and Merisiel aren’t introduced quite as well as the rest of the group, and a new reader will have to do some deduction to figure out who Ezren and Harsk are from the dialogue cues. There are also times when the humor doesn’t always connect for me, but mostly it does succeed at setting the tone of light-hearted adventure. For the most part, though, this is an entertaining issue that convinces me to keep reading.
This issue of Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones includes the main story, which I’ve already discussed at length, but it also includes a bonus story set in the Starfinder universe. This backup story doesn’t offer much that is worthy of discussion; it’s solid setup with an ending hook that would have more impact if I had a better grasp of the Starfinder setting. However, the real drawback is that the issue doesn’t clearly mark where the main story ends and the backup story begins. This made reading the issue somewhat more jarring and took me briefly out of the comic. That having been said, it’s not a significant drawback, so much as a concern I hope Dynamite will avoid from now on.
Beyond that, this is a solid beginning for the Pathfinder comic series, and it is a good introduction to these characters for the uninitiated, and I can recommend it on that basis. While this is an issue that is worth reading if you want an entertaining fantasy comic, I question the decision to charge $4.99 for it. That is a price that should be reserved for only the highest quality titles, and I don’t think Pathfinder rates quite that highly, though it may be that will change in the future. If you’re a huge Pathfinder fan, then may be worth it to you, but otherwise it may be worth waiting for a lower price or a sale before buying this. I find that regrettable, because at a slightly lower price, I would recommend this more enthusiastically.
Still, for all these concerns, Dynamite has given us a promising fantasy title that is worth checking out. On that basis, Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones earns a troll-bashing 8.0/10. It’s a good gateway issue into the world of Pathfinder and the characters are endearing, and that’s good enough for the time being.
Written By Steve Sellers
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