Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Enchanting Worlds #1

Fantasy February and Magical March!
Enchanting Worlds #1

Lemme break it down for you: one world, no enchantment

"Kings, Wizards …and Lasers?”
Written – Dan Debono
Art – Mike Vukelic
Art on “Visions” and “Preview” – Jeff Austin
Letterers – Jeff Austin and Dan Debono
December 1995

Let’s admit that we are all comic book guys and gals. And not just that, but that as comic book guys and gals we tend to judge books by their cover art. Especially unknown books with no-name talent. Cover art can create just the right amount of force to push us over the tipping point when it comes to making a buy or no-buy decision.

That’s why cover art that speaks to us is so important. And I don’t mean breaking the fourth wall-speaks to us, I mean emotionally moves us.

What can we say about Enchanted Worlds number 1’s cover then? It doesn’t sell the insides of the magazine well would be one place to start.

To know what it is that cover should be selling, Worlds is supposed to be an anthology title featuring two stories per issue. In this issue, the first story combines science-fiction and fantasy in an interesting premise that is poorly executed. The second story is a muddle of three pages where we are introduced to a character and nothing happens then it rambles into a preview of things to come only to end on an unfunny joke. It is a terrible mess and devalues the entire book.

While that cover does convey a bit of the thrown-together-at-the-last-minute style of the back portion of the book, that really is the worst part of the book and shouldn’t be shoved in audiences faces. The joke on it falls flat and the out-of-context floating head effects make it difficult to understand what the book will be about. The funny thing is that neither of these characters get more that three to four pages inside the issue. It’s a dumb gimmick that falls flat.

Cover aside, how is the book? That first story is where we should concentrate our time, not the nonsense at the back. It’s a weird little tale called “Kings, Wizards,…and Lazers?”, a laundry list of elements it contains that again seems a bit jokey which is strange for a story that is played essentially straight. Let’s take a look at what we’ve got, shall we?...

We begin the book with a spaceship crash, told in a manner which gives me a bit of a problem. Our first panel works, as we have unseen crewmembers speaking to each other in a way that explains the ship is in danger of falling out of the sky.

We don’t get names here and that’s fine at first. Names can come after the initial jolt of action that peaks our interest enough to keep reading. Now what the writer needs to do is unwind this action and show us a few of these characters reacting as the crash happens. Unfortunately, writer Dan Debono, who also goes by the pseudonym of Gareth Blackmore, doesn’t do that. Instead he does this:

He takes us into narration mode. That is a big mistake.

Why is it a bit mistake? Narration creates distance between the reader and the characters. Better to pick a protagonist and stay in his head for heavy emotional scenes. Scenes like reacting to the trauma of being the sole survivor of a spaceship crash, now marooned on an unknown planet and alone.

The writer also commits a second grievous error in his pacing of the story. He’s quick to get things moving, but he sacrifices moments that would allow the characters to have things like personalities and meaningful dialogue. We get to know very little about our main character by the end of this issue, yet he has been through a couple of rough fights, engaged in a training montage, discovered the planet’s secret and unseated the local government. All of it in the span of 16 pages.

That’s too fast. This first story should have had the entire 20 pages to do its business AND it should have only told half this much plot. We have four panels here where our unnamed-as-yet main character has dealt with the death of his friends and shipmates, decided on approaching the beings on this planet for food and set off for a settlement near his ship which appears rather rustic, yet we see no reaction shot of our spaceman. There is a lot of emotion that could have been mined here. Things that would connect the reader to the person he is reading about. Instead we get cold narration and a feel that we are being hurried along to the next plot point.

I sincerely hope this gets better.

But it doesn’t. We stay in Narration Mode for vast parts of this book and that leads to yet another issue: the issue of showing vs. telling. This book TELLS you everything that occurs. You don’t get moments of being shown in a narrative sense a character’s struggles. It appears in a box of narration like the writer is giving you a present of not having to mess with all that distracting dialogue with its hard to fathom intricacies.

Take this part here in the bar at the TOP of the next page. Our protagonist orders food and drink paid for with coin he earns…off camera and without us hearing a stitch of dialogue…doing hard labor. For who? How? There was an opportunity here for a few panels of interaction between characters that could inform us of what this guy we are watching is like. But no, instead we get pushed back from the actual story and told stuff happened. This is off-putting and wrong in all ways possible from a storytelling perspective.

And it happens again and again in this story. The sad part is that while there isn’t much special about the fish-out-of-water, alien-on-fantasy-world storyline, the writer has a decent plot laid out. He is in a rush to tell it though, and that’s always a bad thing. When I see this in books, I immediately wonder if he wrote this expecting the book to never get a second issue. If there wasn’t confidence the comic would sell and his story would remain unfinished forever, I get why he rushed this. I understand that impulse, the impulse to complete your vision of a thing. I would say that one of the things a writer should build in themselves is the conviction that what they write is worth a second issue and the confidence to trust that if they tell a good story, the audience will give them time to complete it.

But when you do things like this…

Where you keep a story in narration mode through dialogue that creates and explains characters emotions, motives, personalities and thoughts. You are doing a HUGE disservice to both your audience and your writing. This is the introduction of our main antagonist and a major supporting character and still not a word of dialogue has been spoken. We are being told the tale and it is whizzing by so fast that we don’t have time to stop and enjoy any of it.
Finally, on page 3 we get this brief exchange between two people…

…and then back to third-person narrator-mode. The artist is doing his best to tell the story, but all this narration makes me feel like the writer doesn’t trust him. Note below where he tells you that people are fighting among themselves, which is clearly visible behind our main character. And while the art isn’t jaw-droppingly stupendous, it is serviceable at conveying what is going on. I’m disheartened that our storytelling team appears to be at odds with each other and we are only on page four.

Also this “Wes issues a challenge to Bahlrot” box would have been much better as…well, you know…WES ACTUALLY SPEAKING WORDS THAT GOADED BAHLROT.

Again, we have the writer narrating what we can plainly see…

…but at least we have some dialogue, so I should count my blessings.

Oh and I forgot! In the excitement we got character names too. Our protagonist is Wes. Our antagonist, seen here after being dropped to the floor by a second stun beam, is Captain Bahlrot. And the wrinkled old man is called “old man”. Okay, so two out of three and all that.

He’s also a wizard, which I didn’t expect from a more science-based storyline, but you’ll be TOLD how that fits in just a moment. 

Next page and TWO WEEKS HAVE PASSED…as have loads of character interactions we’ve missed. The old man has revealed himself to be Olin, the former court wizard and he is hiding this Prince who was chased off his throne by his uncle, Duke Kel. All of this could have unfolded naturally, told over the course of one issue with dialogue and court intrigue and some suspence, but instead the sole word bubble we get is “More rabbit, Wes?” Ugh! It’s becoming frustrating. It’s burying the story in layers of third person narration. 

Then the old man shows that his appearance is an illusion and he is in reality a much younger man. Not wanting you to miss any dialogue, we get two panels of Wes trying to teach the young prince fighting skills and getting schooled in the process.

The trio trek back to Wes’s ship and remove the laser gun and power supply. All of this in line with a plan they’ve come up with in a bid to unseat Duke Kel and place Prince Merritt on the throne.

While wizard Olin is resting from the exertions using magic causes him, Wes digs around in parts of the ship he didn’t in the week before he left for the village. He enters the captain’s chamber and we get a full half page of text TELLING us the audience that this planet was a dumping ground for the results of unauthorized experiments in cloning. The clones exhibited psychic powers that could be termed “magic.” The ruler of the colony established for the clones was the officer in charge of the project, one Bearl Pyrchalla. The log reports that the galactic confederation lost contact with Pyrchalla and after that all contact with the planet was lost. That was over two hundred years ago, and this mission was to reestablish contact with the clone colony.

I guess no one got around to telling the crew what they were doing there. Pretty dumb decision given what happened to the captain.

Oh, and bad way to convey this information in the form of a half page exposition dump, too. It’s getting so I hardly care anymore. Let’s just get to the end of this mess so we can be done with it.

The group tests the laser next and finding it works satisfactorily they move of to enacting their plan. Olin disguises himself as an old man once more and Merritt as an attractive young lady. Then they bluff their way into the castle using the laser gun and threatening the destruction of the entire castle.

Now we have two conflicts going on simultaneously as Olin reveals himself to the duke and issues an ultimatum…

While Wes has to fend of Bahlrot who is closing in on the position the beams keep coming from.

Wes has a two page fight scene, which is mostly okay art-wise…

…in which he takes two arrows to the chest. (ouch!), and gets stunned by his own gun (doh!).

By then Olin and Merritt have taken the castle (in two panels of exposition, no less) and arrive to subdue Bahlrot.

And now Merritt is king. Ta-da! 

Ugh that was a slog. Olin, Merritt and Wes’s story would continue in the next issue of Enchanted Worlds as they faced alien invaders. Meh! I’ll pass. What else you got?

The answer is “not much”. The rest of this feels like our second writer-artist pairing didn’t get time to complete a story. We have this “Merri” three pager, concerning the girl shown on the cover who has this spurned lover wandering the forest looking for her on page one.

She tosses more than knives at him on page two, hurling barbs that sting him so bad he wanders off with a frowny face plastered on his mug. Tissue for cry, guy?

Then she conjures up a big toothed Orc-thing and they go off to do some “work”. The end. No, really. The END. Page one – guy looks for her, Page two – she says get lost, Page three – she makes a helper monster. 

This is like that story that Owen tells Billy Crystal in Throw Mamma From the Train. “Da man in da hat killed da other man in da hat…” It’s not so much a story as it is an abortive attempt at a story. This makes me feel bad for being so cruel to Growing up Enchanted for meandering around its plot so much... because at least it had a plot. This…had...nothing!

And we are next subjected to several pages of Dan Debono’s alter-ego Gareth Blackmore speaking to the audience and telling them how great the upcoming stories will be. Which is sad, because the stories he has to tout are…

…the one we just read about Wes, Olin, and the prince. Seems silly to remind us of the ONE actual story in the book. We aren’t likely to forget.

Next is worse, however.

This is “Justine Case” which is the most god-awful pun I’ve ever heard in the way of character names. Also who among you thinks this looks like a low-rent ripoff of He-Man and Masters of the Universe?

And they also remind us that there is that Merri thing that they seem determined to foist on us each issue apparently. Also, for the second time the writer uses the incorrect form of the word “you’re,” confusing the possessive with the contraction for “you are.” Did I mention there’s no editor credit on the book? 

This is the last page of the “preview,” which is supposed to come off as some kind of joke, but let’s be honest: the joke was on whomever plunked down $2.75 in 1995 dollars on a book that had sixteen pages of actual story, a three page go-nowhere backup and the five more pages of this preview nonsense. These aren’t previews. They’re Ads. You made your reader pay for a book where more than one-fifth of it is crummy ads for other books you haven’t written yet. 

Blackmore Publishing didn’t do well with its comics. Enchanting Worlds got a second issue at least, but the other two comics they released didn’t. They did have good success with a magazine that showcased other independent comic books writers and artists called Indy Magazine. It lasted 18 issues and then transitioned to an online version under another title I’m to tired to look up.

As for Enchanted Worlds #1? Color me unenchanted. It felt rushed in all ways possible. From the plot of the first story, which could have rightly spread across four or five issues comfortably, to the lack of a decent second feature to accompany the first, the book came off as if it had been done in a scramble. The art doesn’t show that, but the planning is all muddled. Who thought that second snippet of a story was actually worth printing? Who decided that the audience would react well to paying for ads in the form of a “preview”?

Whatever the answers there, Enchanted Worlds left a bad taste in my mouth. Let’s hope tomorrow's book can cleanse my pallet.

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