Thursday, December 5, 2019

REVIEW: Letters from Midia

I am a big fan of fantasy dungeon crawling comics, a surprisingly small genre. So when a comic comes along that has magic and monsters and knights and adventure and quests, I get a little giddy. Needless to say, I was so excited to read Letters from Midia.

DISCLAIMER: I received an advance copy of Letters from Midia courtesy of its creator.
Opinions are my own.

A lone knight wanders through a distant land.Through strange environments, malicious mages and savage beasts, he cuts a path through the world on a hunt unrelenting. A missing princess is sequestered away in a dark cage. Stripped of her voice and entrapped by cruel kidnappers and wicked machinations, she writes in an effort to ensure that her story is told. The knight fights to close the gap between the two, taking on a world of insurmountable obstacles. However with each threat he overcomes, he finds not the princess, but still more Letters from Midia…

I recently reviewed a Rugrats comic and rewatched a Futurama movie that both boasted a fantasy video game theme. There were forests and caves and swords and some d20 imagery, but for the most part they were both just parodies of The Lord of the Rings.

This brought me to a realization that there are quite a lot of movies and comics and such that say they're "inspired by fantasy roleplaying games," but are mostly full of references to a series of books and movies that have nothing to do with gaming. Letters from Midia came to me at the right time.

Letters from Midia is nothing if not a labour of love, a true passion project for creator Boluwatife Oriowo who clearly put his entire heart and soul into this one. Taking nothing from Tolkien, Oriowo draws inspiration from everything from a Jack Kirby and Moebius to Samurai Jake and Legend of Zelda - there's even some Looney Tunes in here! 

The story follows Jason, a silent protagonist who wields a sword and shield and never goes anywhere without his trusted stead. Jason, up until recently a knight in training, had fallen in love with the Princess Midia before she was kidnapped by her evil uncle and a dark mage  intent on abusing her magical powers.

Midia is kept locked in the back of carriage and has managed to write letters to her beloved hero and leave them behind as a trail that he may follow and might one day reunite them. What seems like a simple plot designed to take us from one set-piece to another turns into a genuine love story about a long-distance relationship that perseveres through every perilous adventure Jason embarks on.

The worldbuilding here is beyond perfect. Our story begins in media res as Jason takes on a pack of green, pig-faced orcs. He then ventures to the Grand Bazaar, a massive market place sitting atop a mountain that looks just like an MMORPG hub town. The Bazaar is filled with all kinds of creatures buying and selling all kinds of magical items.

There, Jason encounters a mysterious figure dressed like a plague doctor with the beak and everything - turns out the beak is hiding his actual beak and the cloak was hiding a birdman's body. And he has these cool potions of different colors that all turn the target into different animals.

We later meet two other birdmen and they all look exactly the same, right down to their hats being patched up in the same place. Some may call this lazy character design, but I thought it felt like a video game where there are only so many character models to go around, so all of the enemies look the same.

If the art had to have a minimal weak moment, I'm fine with it being a few bad guys who are only in a short sequence. Every single page is beautifully crafted with imagination and wonder. No two areas look the same as Jason travels across a desert, into a mine filled with green slime, to a snow covered ruin, and beyond.

Due to our only two consistent characters being a silent knight and his horse who are usually up against raging monsters, many of the action set-pieces here are silent. Oriowo's artwork shines in these tense moments. In addition to being silent, Jason's face is mostly obscured - yet we feel his pain and anguish  - and his love for Midia - in every scene.

Letters from Midia is just plain beautiful. The artwork is gorgeous and features a variety of creative fantasy locations and magical concepts, including some common to the genre and some I've never seen before. The story is simple, yet heartbreaking. The silent protagonist allows for stellar action scenes and an immersive atmosphere.

My only real complaint is that the lettering seemed to be really, really tiny. This made it hard to read. If I didn't love everything else about the comic I probably would've quit because it hurt my eyes. But I think this may have just been an issue with my review copy being a print-ready PDF, and maybe half of the book doesn't even have dialogue so I stopped noticing it after a while.

Oriowo put everything he had into every page of this book, and the longer you look at each panel the more that becomes apparent. It's colorful, it's fun, it's sad, it's hilarious, it feels like a game and most importantly you know that the creator loved making this story more than anything.

Letters from Midia is available here as a paperback and here on Kindle. If you've ever loved fantasy. If you've ever loved roleplaying games. If you've ever loved comics. I promise that you'll love Letters from Midia.