The Witcher: Of Flesh And Flame #1
Writer: Aleksandra Motyka
Artist: Marianna Strychowska
Colorist: Lauren Affe
Letterer: Steve Dutro
The Witcher franchise is no stranger to comics. Dark Horse has managed to keep Geralt of Rivia’s story, the titular Witcher, expanding at a steady but measured pace. One tends to wonder why the series hasn’t amassed a more expansive cannon up to this point. Perhaps it has to do with how comic book adaptations of video games have fared in the land of monthly periodicals in the past.
Anyone remember DC Comic’s Uncharted comic? It was written by Joshua Williamson, current writer of Flash. How about Rage, based on the game by id Software? The comic was also published by Dark Horse, with Arvid Nelson (Queen Sonja) on writing duties and Andrea Mutti (Rebels) on pencils. Glenn Fabry provided the covers. Image Comics published a prequel to Dead Space: Extraction, with a script by Antony Johnston (The Coldest City) and art by Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night).
These comics had good reception and are often considered to be either good intros into game worlds and characters or good expansions on both main and secondary story threads. Dark Horse’s own Mass Effect comic has had a strong following due to careful world building and respect for video game continuity. And yet, video game comics still have a ways to go before being considered top players in the comics market. And while some of the newer series are aiming at higher quality, more thought out stories that live up to the games they adapt, Ales Kot’s Bloodborne comes to mind, The Witcher: Of Flesh and Flame offers one of the truest and most genuine game to comic transitions in recent memory.
The Witcher comic series as a whole follows a long tradition of honoring video game continuity and expectations that is highly characteristic of Dark Horse game adaptations. Of Flesh and Flame #1 continues this trend by making sure the world of the Witcher, its smallest details, general character temperaments, and various community activities are always present in each page. It truly feels like a natural extension of the game world.
Of Flesh and Flame made me feel as if the characters could decide at any moment to sit down and enjoy a game of Gwent, or accept a side-quest given by a barmaid who’s searching for a missing cousin. Or maybe even take a quick detour into a swamp village to dispel the ignorant superstitions of paranoid townsfolk in favor of keeping them safe from the real monsters that lurk in the wilderness.
The story sees Geralt in Novigrad, where after a run-in with the locals, he meets an old friend that suspects a vampire is visiting his daughter at night. Geralt offers his Witcher skills to shed some light on the mystery, on whether it truly is a vampire or a threat more human in shape.
The setup is simple and, like the game, it looks as if we’re in for a quick plot twist or two before it’s all said and done. This first issue feels like it wants to get the tone and the environment right first, and then take the three remaining issues of the series to let the narrative naturally develop in accordance to the rules of The Witcher’s world. There is a change of location in the story, for instance, that speaks quite well to how the world itself acts as the main narrative drive for the series. Fans of the games have a lot to look forward to given said location’s complicated history within The Witcher 3 game, which leads to an Achievement/Trophy unlock should players complete certain quests and acquire certain gear.
Having the world dictate so much of the feel and tone of the story means that we should be expecting a deeper dive into how different cultures interact within it. Novigrod, for example, is presented as a town blanketed by grey tones, a reflection of its populace and the horrors that hang over them. The city’s marketplace is busy with people blend into the area and further enhance the idea of an oppressively monstrous environment.
It should be no surprise, then, that Aleksandra Motyka’s script feels so well researched and connected to the games. After all, Motyka penned the script for The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. The dialogue, as one should expect, would fit in well in the game and makes the story feel more immersive and lived in. Having the game’s script writer expand upon the universe injects the narrative with authenticity rather than have it play out like an isolated incident that doesn’t really explore the source material. Stories like these are what actual video game DLC should aspire to.
Marianna Strychowska’s art further enhances the connection between comic and game by effectively translating Geralt’s unique gestures, his body language, into the comics page. Strychowska’s Geralt captures some of the mild arrogance of the character and manages to express his own approach to sarcasm when Motyka’s script gives him the chance to indulge in it. Characters feel as if they belong to a specific community. Strychowska doesn’t just illustrate random villagers. Everyone has a strong sense of visual characterization. No line is spared.
One great example of this creative team’s understanding of the story and its people comes in a scene where Geralt exchanges looks with a woman at a bar. Fans of the game and the books they are based on know Geralt has a very complicated love life and his approach to romance causes more problems than it solves. Motyka sets the scene up by having Geralt discuss another man’s romantic misadventures while Strychowska illustrates Geralt with a mischievous smile that promises he will soon fall victim to the same things he’s judging another man on. Small details like these are made meaningful and require an additional read to fully appreciate.
The Witcher: Of Flesh and Flame #1 might cater more to fans of the books and games than the casual reader. Dark Horse’s previous Witcher books, which have been mostly scripted by Paul Tobin (Colder, Prometheus: Fire and Stone), are more accessible, but to able to see a monster’s severed head hanging from Roach’s saddle, Geralt’s horse, and to remember actually slaying it in the game puts you right back into world of The Witcher. It makes you want more Witcher in your life.
If you’ve already logged hundreds of hours into the video games and are looking for another excuse to get back into the Witcher universe, Of Flesh and Flame is just the story you’ve been looking for.
You can pick up The Witcher: Of Flesh and Flame #1 in your local comic shop on December 19th.
Ricardo Serrano has a Master’s Degree in Comic Books from the University of Dundee in Scotland. His dissertation was on Ultron and Frankenstein’s Monster and how they dream of a world made in their image. He’s also the co-creator of Se Habla Comics, a Puerto Rican podcast geared towards Spanish-speaking comic book readers. He believes that robots have started taking over and that Dawn of the Dead is a documentary.