Writer B. Dave Walters and artist Tess Fowler love Dungeons and Dragons. That much is apparent within the first page, if not panel of A Darkened Wish – a dense, dazzling, and daring introduction to a new cast of characters, a new party paradigm, and a whole new set of stakes set in The Forgotten Realms. However, it’s also apparent that they have more ideas in mind than one issue can possibly contain.
What’s it about? IDW’s description reads:
” When war threatens the Moonshae Isles, legendary heroes return to defeat the forces of an unthinkable foe. The Forgotten Realms are changed forever as young wizard Helene and her friends grow from raw recruits on the streets of Mintarn into powerful warriors.”
Right away, it’s apparent that Walters writes with a cheeky reverence for the world of The Forgotten Realms, and Dungeons and Dragons in larger perspective, too. A Kenku that only speaks in mimicry? We’ve got that. Gender nonconforming elves? Got that, too. Dragonborns, wizards, high stakes and high fantasy – it’s all here, and for the better. Stories like this are infinitely more fun when its apparent the creators behind them care about the source material, and Walters absolutely does.
However, the scope is almost too encompassing. We’ve got flashbacks, flashforwards, characters becoming best friends after knowing each other for a short ship ride, and more. It’s simply too much for one issue, and the decent characterization of what seems to be our main character – the wizard Helene – is lost somewhere in the noise. I’m all for the eventual direction that the final page promises, a genuinely interesting heel turn, but I don’t feel like I got a decent enough sense of these characters – eschewed in favor of too many little embellishments in worldbuilding, cheeky references, etc. to be fully engaged just yet.
Similarly, Fowler’s art is detailed, impressively so, but also sense-defyingly dense. Favoring a collage-like approach to panel placement, the visual storytelling loses sense of momentum and flow easily. There are mind-staggeringly beautiful things here: densely packed and detailed mercantiles and bars, crowded cityscapes, high fantasy accessories and magic, and really well-defined characters (I love the Kenku’s look) but they don’t all get the chance to shine equally. This is a shame, one that I think will go away with time, as the narrative gets more room to breathe, but also and undeniable one. Each and every panel is beautiful, fantastical, fun – they just don’t get the credence they deserve with so much happening.
All in all, this is an interesting, genuinely engaging, but also frustrating first issue. Its readily apparent that these creators care as much about their story as they do the world at large, both in narrative and art, but the effort needs more honing if it’s going to cohere into something sensible.