Ever since Jim Zub began writing the “Dungeons & Dragons” comics, we’ve followed a party of adventurers through multiple trials and tribulations. We’ve seen how they work as a team, now “Evil at Baldur’s Gate” is giving us a series of one-shots focusing on the individual characters. Can one character carry the comic as well as a party? Let’s find out, with minor spoilers.
Written by Jim Zub
Illustrated by Harvey Tolibao
Colored by Juan Manuel Rodriquez
Lettered by Neil Uyetake
Delina-The Wild Way. The Baldur’s Gate heroes return to the city at last, but their time adventuring in Ravenloft and the frozen northern reaches of the Realms have changed them. Each of them must face great trials ahead before they’ll be ready to embrace their destiny. Delina searches for something to cure her wild magic, but the solution she seeks plunges her into danger unlike anything she’s faced before.
When the “Dungeons & Dragons” comic took its cast to the dark land of Barovia from “Curse of Strahd,” then into a struggle against giants from “Storm King’s Thunder,” I assumed that it would be following the D&D adventure books that were coming out at the time. But instead of going to Chult to face Acererak and the Death Curse from “Tomb of Annihilation,” we instead returned to Baldur’s Gate to get individual issues focused on character insights and development.
And you know what? That’s good too! Character development is vital to any good series, and while each member of the party had moments to shine in the previous series, we get a much better look at what makes them tick in “Evil at Baldur’s Gate.”
(Coincidentally, the next D&D adventure, “Dragon Heist,” will take place in Baldur’s Gate, so the comics beat the books to the punch this time.)
This issue gives us a focus on Delina, the elf sorcerer whose wild magic more or less kicked off the whole adventure. This issue takes her to Mechanus, an awesome but often underutilized plane within the D&D cosmos.
Thematically, it’s a perfect place for her character-wise. Her wild magic causes chaotic surges, so the contrast with the insanely orderly world she’s in works wonders on many levels – as a fish-out-of-water story, as a stark opposite to the disorder she presents, and as a warning of what too much order will bring. In-character, it makes sense for her to be sent there to find a way to control her powers, to bring order to her inner chaos.
Artistically, it’s a great location too, because the way Harvey Tolibao brings Mechanus to life is excellent. The architecture is made out of a mass of gears and clockwork, and even when the background is faint we can still see the outline of a massive gear, turning with the world. It’s intricate and huge, with action from the moving parts clear in every panel.
Juan Manuel Rodriquez’s colors gives everything a golden orange tint, like sun reflecting off a stopwatch. Delina’s white and red outfit stands out well against it, and the colors shift when the scene or mood changes, going through aquatic blues, mystic greens, and aggressive reds. The colors of the scenery and characters create a good contrast with one another, adding to the otherworldly feel of Mechanus.
Additionally, there are the character designs. Delina’s design has been well-established, but she comes through very clear here. Of more interest are the inhabitants of Mechanus – mechanical constructs of varying shapes – Monodrones, Duodrones, Quadrones and more. They’re true to their designs from the D&D Monster Manual, but Harvey Tolibao gives them appropriately creepy expressions, with large facial features and programmed smiles. It’s a great choice that makes the drones just slightly unnerving.
Jim Zub also does a fine job giving the Modrons voices. The mechanical way they speak, often finishing each others’ statements, adds to their nature and behavior as constructs, while at the same time giving us one of the best responses to the “Look over there!” trick I’ve seen in some time.
When we get to see other denizens of Mechanus, more unique designs come through. We get a being resembling a ghost-like mechanical puppet, as well as a council of gnomes with excessively tall hats, all of which seem perfectly in place in this clockwork world.Continued below
But as fascinating as Mechanus is, and as great as the artwork may be, it’s the character work that’s at the center of the issue. As Delina acts as the audience surrogate, we get to learn about this strange world and its ironclad rules at the same time she does, sharing the sense of panic and confusion. Her desire to control her wild magic surges makes sense, given the times we’ve seen it kick in at the worst of moments, and even from a D&D mechanics standpoint, wild magic sorcerers do eventually gain more control over their surges.
When she’s forced to confront her past, we see again her childhood and her twin brother, the villain of the “Dungeons & Dragons” comic’s first arc. It reiterates the pain that her magic has caused her, illustrated perfectly by the artwork showing her metaphorically drowning within her own mind.
It’s her acceptance of her powers and her identity that creates a strong character moment for her, a clear “level up” in terms of development (if not an in-game level). While her emotional outburst may not be particularly helpful in a court on Mechanus, what it means to her as a character and us as readers is a great step forward and a satisfying moment.
I should also mention that the court and trial itself is particularly clever and amusing, as we’ve come to expect from Jim Zub. The lengthy list of overly complex violations Delina has committed, including the crime of “dust dispersal,” is both humorous and an indication of the insanely strict order of the world she’s landed in. We also get an amusing list of potential punishments, including “Modron cleaning” and “legal file alphabetization.”
In the end, “Dungeons & Dragons: Evil at Baldur’s Gate” #3 proves to be a great addition to the storyline. It has some amusing moments, some great character development, good worldbuilding, and art that makes great use of the otherworldly designs and color work. Even if it’s just read as a one-off chapter, it’s still one that will entertain anyone who enjoys high fantasy or D&D.
Final Verdict: 7.9 – A great character-focused chapter, with a good blend of excitement and humor. Harvey Tolibao and Juan Manuel Rodriquez bring the world of Mechanus to life, while Jim Zub’s story and dialogue make it a pleasure to read.