‘The Witcher Omnibus: Volume 1’ – Trade Paperback Review

My fandom for all things Witcher began in 2009 with game developer CD Projekt RED’s announcement that they were developing a new game, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, based on stories written by a Polish economist, Andrzej Sapkowski.  I was immediately fascinated by this new character, Geralt of Rivia, who was appealing as a protagonist due to his highly ethical stance towards others despite his detached nature.  Geralt was unique; he went through a painful bodily transformation.  Though still a man, his senses were mutated and heightened making him a perfect paid hunter of monsters that populated his world.  As a sword-for-hire, he was often feared and hated.  Hence, a complex character was introduced to American audiences through CD Projekt RED’s video games and Dark Horse Comics’ Witcher series of stories.

In early 2014, Dark Horse Comics announced the upcoming release of “House of Glass” comic book series to be written by Paul Tobin, illustrated by Joe Querio and with cover art by Dave Johnson.  The five-issue story arc would add to the existing universe established by Sapkowski and further expanded by CD Projekt RED.  The series was welcomed by fans of the franchise, especially since it would be another year before the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.  Over the following two years, “Fox Children” and “Curse of Crows” were released in 2015 and 2016 respectively.  Additionally, there was a one-shot [“Killing Monsters” (2015)] included with pre-orders of the video game released the same year.  This omnibus collects all four stories, plus some extras to entertain fans.

“House of Glass”
Creative Team: Paul Tobin (story); Joe Querio (art); Carlos Badilla (colors); and Nate Piekos of Blambot (letters).  Chapter breaks by Dave Johnson with Dan Panosian and Joe Querio

In the opening story that was originally published in a five-issue series in 2014, Geralt comes upon a man fishing and as they share food and wine, readers learn of Jakob’s sad tale of his undead wife.  After a few days, Geralt decides it is time to move on and Jakob decides to join him.  An ominous-looking forest holds secrets as well as the men in a perpetual maze.  A house in the woods is haven to more than Geralt and Jakob.

Tobin provided an easy entry point for readers unfamiliar with Sapkowski’s novels or The Witcher video games by subtly dropping in details about Geralt and his life as a witcher.  While the snippets of stories told around the campfire and in the banquet hall reveal more about Geralt, they are very much in the spirit of the novels and video games, so fans of both narrative mediums can engage on multiple levels. Also, the appearance of a drowner, grave hag, and leshen are all monsters that gamers would have encountered in any of CD Projekt RED’s video games.  “House of Glass” features the theme of love, and Tobin juxtaposes Geralt, Jakob, Vara, and Marta against each other as each character presents a different facet of love.  It’s a fascinating study and reveals that relationships are complex and not always what they really are once events peel back the layers and expose the truth.

Querio’s art does the story and the franchise as a whole justice.  While I would have liked more facial expressions showcased and more details included in the transition thumbnail panels, my visual enjoyment was not diminished.  Badilla harmonizes with the art; the subdued color palette and pops of color like Geralt and Vara’s eyes contrast well against the dark locale.  His colors evoke the tense and oppressiveness of the forest mansion and the various monsters and cursed creatures that inhabit the Black Forest.  Piekos’ letters round out the visual presentation, and, as always, he is a consummate perfectionist.  His lettering is well balanced and easy to read, and the script font of the narrative text is a wonderful choice.

“Fox Children”
Creative Team: Paul Tobin (story); Joe Querio (art); Carlos Badilla (colors); and Nate Piekos of Blambot (letters).  Chapter breaks by Julian Totino Tedesco and Joe Querio

In 2015, Tobin and the rest of the creative team from “House of Glass” returned for the second story arc, “Fox Children;” however Julian Totino Tedesco and Joe Querio paired up this time for chapter break covers.  In this story, Geralt is traveling with a dwarf by the name of Addario, a musician and a swordsman. When the companions hitch a ride on a ship, they meet a group of men looking to rescue a daughter who has been changed by a Vulpess. Although Geralt advised giving the she-fox a wide berth, the men are not swayed and a dangerous pursuit ensues.

Tobin, who professed being a fan of the video games and novels, once again captured the spirit of Geralt and his world, tapping into the original source material while nurturing and expanding the canon of this IP.  With my re-reading of this story, I again keyed into Tobin’s skill to include more of Geralt’s dry humor via the banter between him and Addario.  This contrasts with the important message of seeking nonviolent solutions rather than resorting immediately to violent actions.  Through Vulpess’ ability to evoke elaborate illusions, Tobin stresses that nature is a force more powerful than man.

As with the first story, I did feel that the facial expressions and characters could have been illustrated with a bit more detail, because, at times, the characters appeared flat on the page.  Regrettably, at times, it jars the reader out of the moment of the story; however, Querio excelled with his establishing shots, especially those of the ship positioned against sweeping landscapes.  Those images are reminiscent of sailing ship paintings of the 19th century. Badilla’s muted colors are exceptional; the blue and green hues are luscious and harmonious with Querio’s art, as well as Tobin’s narrative.  Piekos’ lettering is balanced and easy to read; he doesn’t draw attention to the text nor does he take away from the action unfolding on each page.  Highlights from the story are nicely captured in the chapter breaks and round out the reader’s engagement with the story.   

“Killing Monsters”
Creative Team: Paul Tobin (story); Max Bertolini (art); Carlos Badilla (colors); and Nate Piekos of Blambot (letters).  Chapter break by Joe Querio

Originally made available with pre-orders of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt video game in 2015 and then re-released with the expansion, Blood and Wine, this one-shot story explores themes of war and justice through the conversation between Geralt and fellow witcher, Vesemir.  There’s a generational difference between the men, and Tobin situates Geralt as the young witcher in contrast to his elder, Vesemir.  It’s an interesting juxtaposition to Geralt’s typical position as the voice of reason; that said, one can follow as Geralt struggles to balance the witcher’s teachings as represented by Vesemir to his own feelings towards wartime turmoil in which good men behave badly, hiding behind positions of power over the weak. Tobin’s exploration is as timely today as it was in 2015.

The artistic style of Max Bertolini is markedly different from the other three stories.  Bertolini’s line work is heavier and underscores the moral dilemma represented by the differing opinions of Geralt and Vesemir. The artist also incorporates skewed panel shapes and thick black borders to evoke a tense tightness of the story’s beats.  Badilla’s color palette includes lush darker hues to showcase the action and the locales.  As with Querio’s art, I do wish there was more detail in facial expressions; Bertolini uses a lot of shadows that obscures the characters’ faces.

“Curse of Crows”
Creative Team: Paul Tobin with Borys Pugacz-Muraskiewicz (lead writer with CD Projekt RED) and Karolina Stachyra (story); Travis Currit (dialogue); Piotr Kowalski (art); Brad Simpson (colors); and Nate Piekos of Blambot (letters).  Chapter breaks by Grzesiek Przybyś

The third story, “Curse of Crows,” is a five-issue series that was originally released in 2016 and marked the continuing collaboration between Dark Horse Comics and game developer CD Projekt RED.  Released after the hugely popular and critically acclaimed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, this series’ Geralt, Ciri, Yennifer, and Rockstride are most visually like their video game characters.  As with the two series and one-shot before it, “Curse of Crows” allows readers to further explore Geralt’s fantastical world and his mediation of fatherhood.

Along with Tobin, Borys Pugacz-Muraskiewicz and Karolina Stachyra tell a compelling, complex story filled with themes of war, poverty, betrayal, and parenthood, as Geralt and his daughter Ciri, also a witcher, are hired to find and kill a striga, a cursed woman who has been transformed into a hideous creature.  By far, the writing team, which also includes Travis Currit (dialogue), intertwines the most engaging and riveting story arc included in this omnibus, and the narrative beats are evenly distributed over the five issues, delivering a pace that keeps the reader’s attention.  Additionally, fans from the video games will recognize referenced cities such as Novigrad, Vizma, and Kovir, in addition to the various monsters encountered when playing the video games.

In this series, letterer Piekos is back and is joined by artist Piotr Kowalski and colorist Brad Simpson.  Kowalski delivers a well-illustrated story told in present time, as well as through several flashbacks.  In order to differentiate time periods for the reader, the artist uses heavier, more defined line work to denote the present versus thinner lines to convey past events.  Simpson’s palette complements Kowalski’s art by utilizing brighter colors for present events and more muted earthy tones for flashback scenes.  Because the monsters have a voice in this series, Piekos gets to add to his repertoire of fonts.  In fact, his font choices for the changeling and particularly the striga are excellent and seem to match up with their monstrous personalities.  And as with the other three stories in this omnibus, Piekos’ lettering does not draw attention to itself, except where it should (e.g., sound effects).  Rounding out the visual work is Grzesiek Przybyś, who created beautiful chapter breaks that add to the storytelling experience.

In the closing pages of the omnibus are The Witcher Sketchbook, The Witcher House of Glass Sketchbook (with notes by editor Daniel Chabon), An Interview with Paul Tobin and Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz, and a section of pinup art.

Readers new to this franchise can pick up this volume and use this as an entry point to the world of Geralt of Rivia.  Fans who have read Sapkowski’s novels, which have been translated to English and are readily available at Amazon, and/or played one (or all) of the video games will likely be captivated and entertained by the revisit to Geralt’s world.  Both groups of readers will not be disappointed.

Creative Team: Cover art: Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart / Additionally: Daniel Chabon (editor); Ian Tucker and Cardner Clark (associate editors); Chuck Howett and Brett Israel (assistant editors); Allyson Haller (digital art technician); and Skyler Weissenfluh (collection designer)
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Click here to purchase.

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