I’ve spent a lifetime skittering along the edges of the Magic: The Gathering franchise. Just about everyone I known has carried a deck with them at one time or another, and I’ve dabbled with the lore on more than one occasion. In the past, I’ve bounced off of it because of the sheer size and complexity of that lore, but recently I’ve been doing a bit of reading up on the franchise and decided I wanted to give it another try. As luck would have it, Magic: The Gathering – Chandra seemed like the opportunity to do just that.
Magic: The Gathering is a trading card game in the same vein as Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, or, perhaps, it’s more fair to say it’s the grandfather of trading card games. Magic: The Gathering has an expansive story centered around the main conceit of the game: There are many planes making up all of reality with their own rules and ideas. These planes are entirely separate from each other, except for the Planeswalkers, a select group capable of traveling between planes at will.
Chandra, the titular character of this trade paperback, is one such Planeswalker. The story picks up following the defeat of the powerful dragon, Nicol Bolas. The battle to defeat Nicol Bolas was a brutal one, and many of Chandra’s allies died in the process. She now struggles with the knowledge that even though she survived, she’s not quite sure that she won. Meanwhile, a demonic being named Tibalt feeds off of Chandra’s guilt, driving her further and further down her self-destructive path.
Magic‘s thick lore is both its biggest asset and biggest drawback in this story. The world feels rich and lived in, and Chandra is a robust character who is a joy to watch. Each plane feels like it could house a hundred different stories. On the other side of that coin, characters have a tendency of referencing people and places without much context. (Don’t get me wrong: The book gives you a lot of context clues, but there are over a dozen planes mentioned in this book alone.)
Past that, the writing is tight for the most part but does skew toward the hammy. Chandra’s obsession with fire puns was cute for most of the book but got a little repetitive during the final fight with the main villain. Speaking of Tibalt, he’s exists mostly to be a representation of Chandra’s guilt, but his own motivations feel paper thin and cartoony. I’m not sure if this is a problem with Tibalt as a character or just his appearance in this specific book.
Chandra is the true star of the show, both in the writing and artwork. The art all around is great; it’s this heavy line art style that fits fantasy settings nicely. Characters really pop off the page with this style. You can sense how much the artist enjoys drawing Chandra. Every frame with her and her fire hair is lovingly crafted and lit dynamically. There wasn’t a single frame where she slid into the background or felt out of focus which fits her pyromancer character perfectly.
Magic: The Gathering is a complicated beast to tackle. I’ve honestly only begun to scratch the surface myself, so I can’t say if Magic: The Gathering – Chandra will satisfy longtime fans of the series. But I found it to be a fun character piece set in a greater world. If nothing else, it made me want to read more about this world, which should be the first goal of any piece of media in a franchise.
Creative Team: Vita Ayala (Writer), Harvey Tolibao (Artist), Joana Lafuente (Colorist)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
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