Review: Pathfinder - Dark Waters Rising: Chapter 1 / by Erik Sugay

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Lured by some beautifully illustrated comic book cover variants, I checked out the inaugural issue of the Pathfinder series. No, this series has nothing to do with the critically panned, so-bad-it’s-kinda-awesome Karl Urban film of the same name. Rather, it’s based on the popular and incredibly involved tabletop role-playing game, born as a natural extension of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Paizo. To those afraid of delving into the deep lore of the exceedingly established franchise with this comic, worry not. As a Pathfinder newbie myself, I still found that, while it did not gracefully ease me into the universe, it appreciably presented a detailed and wholly realized setting in which to get engrossed.

The first issue hits the ground running. If the comic, entitled “Dark Waters Rising: Chapter 1,” is anything to go by, each issue of the monthly series will provide quick-witted comedy, brutal fantasy violence, and ample adventure while also acting as a substantial supplement to the main game. It offers the seeds for future branching storylines and plenty of background information for the game’s many iconic characters.

Thankfully, not too much happens story-wise in this first issue. It opens with our intrepid group of adventurers in the midst of battle. Here, we are familiarized with their roles and abilities, while also getting a glimpse of their personalities (from a pragmatic, no-nonsense human sorcerer to a sharp-tongued, flirtatious elven rogue). Afterward, the story progresses with a fair bit of seemingly incongruous character interaction and plenty of exposition. The issue then ends abruptly prior to what will likely be another bloodbath of a battle. This deliberate pace aids in keeping the story comfortably discernible.

Fortunately, should you want either a refresher or more extensive background information to further immerse yourself in the lore, the last 12-page section of the issue is dedicated to a considerable amount of backstory and data. Acting as a quick, but valuable reference guide, this section offers detailed information regarding the Pathfinder universe, specifically brief biographies of the characters you just spent the entire issue with (and some you’ve yet to meet), as well as meticulous descriptions of the various locales they’ve traversed, with maps that offer a grandiose sense of scale to their journey.

True to its tabletop role-playing game roots, this last section is also rife with plenty of attributes and statistics for characters and locations that’ll likely fly over the head of any non-players. At the very least, they offer a nice glimpse of how each character’s abilities relatively compares to any others. For Pathfinder role-playing game enthusiasts, however, the extras provided in this portion alone will likely be more than worth the cost of entry.

As Pathfinder is such a huge property to adapt to this medium, the effort put forth in this first issue is expectedly quite stunning. While the backgrounds are mostly noticeably bare, it isn’t due to lack of effort. Rather, the character designs (all of whom have impeccable physique) get the bulk of the attention in every panel, keeping the focus on their notable dialogue and telling physical expressions. It also helps make the dynamic action scenes gratefully easy to follow. Andrew Huerta’s illustrations and Ross A. Campbell’s coloring do a stellar job of bringing this imaginative world and fantastical cast to life.

The characters may certainly feel a bit too familiar right now as the story is merely in its infancy, but as a starting point for what is sure to be a long running series, “Dark Waters Rising: Chapter 1” hits all of the right notes. For both newbies and franchise stalwarts, the supplementary material is a boon of valuable information. For those interested in just the comic itself, the attractive art, amusing dialogue, and potential for rewarding narrative offer more than enough incentive to wade into the dauntingly established Pathfinder universe.

TL:DR – Great art depicts the ongoing adventures of some familiar-feeling characters. While the main story currently understandably lacks much depth, the bonus material more than makes up for it.

A new ongoing series published by Dynamite Entertainment, Pathfinder - Dark Waters Rising: Chapter 1 is written by Jim Zum, illustrated by Andrew Huerta, and colored by Ross A. Campbell. You can purchase the first issue here. Issue 2 is now available as of 9/26/12. 

A review PDF was graciously provided for free by the creators for this review. Thanks guys, we appreciate it.