Sunday, 6 September 2015

Walker of Night

In the last comic Armada published, Urza-Mishra War #2, mention was made of three comics that were planned but now cancelled: Alliances, Prelude to War and Planeswalker War. It turns out even more works were in the pipeline though! Obviously the story of Antiquities was still unfinished and would've been concluded by a third mini-series. Comics based on The Dark, Mirage and the then company mascot Hurloon Minotaur, as well as the rather random sounding "Merfolk" had also been planned. In addition to the comics, more games were also being developed. An arcade game called Armageddon, based loosely on the Planeswalkers War, actually got as far as having a few proto-types made! You can find some info and pictures here, and YouTube even has a low quality clip of some gameplay.


Jeff Gomez told me that the Ash Warlord Embereck was actually created by the designer of this game, Victor Mercieca, hence his rather out-there design: he was meant to look striking in an arcade game! In addition to Armageddon a fighting game for consoles called Ironblood and a PC RPG called Rise of the Mana Wraith where in the works.

Most of these comic- and game projects were still in early development, so little can be said about them. But Prelude to War, Planeswalkers War and a comic called Walker of Night all had gotten to the point where at least story overviews were made. A few years back storyline guru Zazdor was allowed to look at the scripts and now Jeff Gomez has, after verifying their accuracy, shared Zazdor's overviews with me, so I can share a summary of them with you all! This is stuff that has been hanging in limbo for almost two decades, with only small details slipping through to the storyline community, so I am tremendously excited and very honored to be able to do this! So... let me first thank both Jeff Gomez and Zazdor an infinite amount of times for enabling me to do this, and.. let's dive into our first comic!

WALKER OF NIGHT, written by John Tynes
"Walker of Night" is of course Leshrac's title, and this comic would have dealt with his imprisonment by Taysir. In fact, I've already spoke a little about it in my Alliances review, since The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel places the imprisonment in the same paragraph as the events of Alliances. I noted there that Zazdor told me Leshrac's events wouldn't have happened in Alliances and I speculated it may have been in Prelude to War, as at the time I didn't know Walker of Night was a separate project.



SUMMARY 
We open with a Prodigal Sorcerer called Arlen who left the Institute of Arcane Studies, last seen in the Harper Prism novel The Prodigal Sorcerer, to figure out why those born in the city of Estark, last seen in Arena, are so gifted in magics. He never figures it out, but his quest is witnessed by an invisible and intangible Leshrac, who gives a monologue about his fate. Apparently after Shandalar he had settled some old scores before setting up shop in Estark to try his hand at white magic! Everything was going swimmingly until Ravidel turned up and in the subsequent duel deliberately forced Leshrac to spend all his mana on counterspells and Nether Void costs. Leshrac was then trapped by Taysir in an Oubliette. (At least, I think the Oubliette is Taysir's. It's not mentioned explicitly, but I don't think Ravidel could trap Leshrac on his own. Plus Taysir pops up directly after the imprisonment, and Oubliette is an Arabian Nights card, so...)

Taysir told Leshrac of his plan to use his life energy to re-enter Rabiah. One very interesting bit of info here is that Taysir had first asked Kristina to give her energy for this and join him as his mortal wife on Rabiah. TSOTBR made it sound like she split from Taysir as she didn't want to be trapped in Rabiah after just being freed of the Shard, but here Taysir is asking quite a bit more!

Leshrac wasn't entirely out for the count though. As Ravidel and Taysir started draining his power he, eh... "made a desperate gambit". (That's how it is put in the summary. I'm sure the intricate magical rituals would've looked much cooler if they had actually been drawn!) It was a partial success. The portal to Rabiah failed and Leshrac lived, but only as an incorporeal shade, visible only to Taysir. His excess energy flowed into the people of Estark, explaining the abilities of the wizards there.

After he's finished recounting his history, Leshrac is visited by Taysir, but this is the post-Homelands Taysir. Reborn, but looking old and withered. After centuries with the Anaba he has come to check if Leshrac's imprisonment has had the same cleansing effect on him. Turns out, Leshrac has only grown in hate. In a scene that sounds awesomely evocative even in the summary Leshrac tries to torment Taysir with phantasms of "multitudes of dying, bleeding Taysirs; ravaged and tortured Kristinas; triumphant, betraying Ravidels." Taysir gets the mic-drop moment though. He tells Leshrac that he is sorry, and had no right to use him for his ritual. Had Leshrac changed, Taysir would've released him. But after revealing what a horrid, hateful creature he really is Taysir feels justified in keeping Leshrac locked up.

After Taysir leaves we get the horror movie style stinger. Leshrac's monologue and his discussion with Taysir all happened unseen in the campsite of Arlen, the Prodigal Sorcerer from the beginning. Still there, Leshrac manifests his hand in the real world and cuts the poor sap's throat, apparently just for the heck of it. Just that hand, just for that short time, that's all he  can manage for now, but Leshrac is confident he'll soon be able to escape completely. Considering he was just summoning images of Ravidel betraying his master, I imagine he's been scrying and has discovered Ravidel's plans for the Mox Beacon, as tapping into the power of the Beacon was how he escaped according to Battlemage.


Poor Arlen. Also: I miss the comics already. You always had a relevant picture!

REVIEW DISCUSSION
It's not possible to do a proper review of a just a plot overview. There's no art and very little dialogue to praise of critique. There are some things that can be said though. There are some very cool scenes described, like Leshrac trying and failing to torment Taysir, or his spiteful killing of Arlen at the end. The script is also a very good showcase of the two pivotal periods in the life of Taysir, his fall from grace between Ice Age and Homelands, and his quest to put things right between his resurrection and the Planeswalkers War. Leshrac remarks that Ravidel and Taysir are bad influences on each other, magnifying each other's hateful thoughts. Yet Leshrac himself is a remorseless conqueror and slaver, so we know the Multiverse is a lot safer if he is killed or robbed of his powers, thus Taysir's actions can still be seen as somewhat just. It's a very small nuance, but one that would've been good to see in a published comic. As it stands we saw Taysir go from playing the voice of reason in Ice Age to being a raving lunatic in Homelands, with the backmatter having to explained what happened to him in between.

I'll just use some random Leshrac-related cards as illustrations then.

Another thing I (obviously) like, is the integration between Armada and Harper Prism stories evident in this story. In fact, writer John Tynes was WotC's liaison with Armada, and in his opening remarks he mentioned that Walker of Night was written specifically to fix a continuity error with Arena! This error? The fact that the wizards of Estark are "able to summon creatures and use other planeswalker magics even though they aren't planeswalkers, can't travel the planes, and generally don't really know the first thing about the magic really works." Leshrac's imprisonment would've allowed those born in Estark to use "limited planeswalker magics".

Of course, in the canon sources Leshrac wasn't imprisoned in Estark at all, but in Phyrexia. So how to explain Estark's special wizards then? Well, honestly, I don't think we really need to. After Arena we saw, and will see, plenty of other wizards capable of summoning. Even in the Armada comics themselves we saw plenty of mortal wizards summoning creatures. Plus, I've got to disagree with Tynes idea that the wizards from Arena didn't know how magic really works. They knew about the different colors of mana, which turned out to be quite rare in these early days. In all the other Harper Prism books the colors of mana were only obliquely mentioned by wizards, if at all! The Estarkians had very strange ideas on how you could become a planeswalker, but magic? They had that figured out pretty well! At the time this story was proposed it might have been considered a continuity error for the wizards in Estark to be summoning creatures but stories released since then have ran with that interpretation, making it canon.The only strange thing about the Estark wizards now is their use of amulets, but Walker of Night says nothing about those!

One final funny thing to note: in his summary John Tynes mixes up Dominia and Dominaria at least once. Let me repeat that: WotC's liaison with Armada, the guy in charge of keeping the continuity straight, kept mixing up Dominia and Dominaria! I'd say that is the ultimate proof that retiring "Dominia" and just sticking to "Multiverse" was a good idea!

Oh Drew Tucker... If I was made art director of Magic, I'd hire you back in a heartbeat! I'd call you up right after the Foglios!

CONTINUITY
So... what is the continuity status of this story? Well, we know from some TSOTBR and Battlemage that Leshrac was imprisoned, but that it was in Phyrexia, not in Estark. Extrapolating from that the entire framing sequence in Estark can't have happened and even the flashback is on shaky grounds. As much as I would've loved to see this comic published and to have the events surrounding Leshrac's imprisonment expanded upon, I have to stand by what I said in the Armada continuity overview: published sources, purely for their accessibility to the fandom at large, have to get primacy over unpublished sources.

That said though, everyone is of course free to incorporate this story, or elements from it, into their own head-canon. Personally, I like to keep as much as possible from this script head-canonical. So as far as I am concerned Leshrac did settle in Estark to learn white mage, was confronted by Ravidel and then put in an Oubliette by Taysir and then used in a ritual to enter Rabiah. However, his "desperate gambit" must have involved trying to planeswalk away, leaving him stranded on Phyrexia. After Taysir's resurrection his first trip, as TSOTBR states, is to Phyrexia to see if Leshrac has rehabilitated, The meeting then plays out in the exact same manner, just in the Hell of Artifice, instead of in Estark. I know there has to be at least one fan of my head-canon: Arlen, the Prodigal Sorcerer, since he lives in this version of events!

Of course, I also like the idea that the shade of Leshrac is eventually discovered by Yawgmoth, leading to Leshrac having a hand in the creation of Rath. How that fits together with Leshrac still being imprisoned in Phyrexia after Homelands I haven't quite figured out yet. But that's pure fanfic and thus outside the scope of my blog!


TIMELINE
For completion's sake I would like to note a few things the overview says with regards to the timeline. For example, it opens with the following:
"The story begins in the "present day" of Dominaria, which means a few years after the events of the novel, Arena, and contemporaneous with the events of the Clayton Emery trilogy and the events of Shadow Mage #4." 
As you can see on my timeline, I have the Greensleeves trilogy and Shadow Mage happening over a 100 years apart. Due to the appearance of Teferi and the mention of Kaervek in Battlemage, the placement of Shadow Mage can't really change. The placement of Greensleeves is based on just a date released by Brady Dommermuth on a forum (as discussed in the Final Sacrifice review), but since the Walker of Night overview was dated September 1995, while the document Brady worked with references events from Dark Legacy, which was released in December 1996, I will stick to that placement, rather than the one given here. Clearly the amount of time between Greensleeves's adventures and those of Jared Carthalion was extended after the conception of Walker of Night.  I'm not that bothered by ret-cons if they happen to unpublished materials.

At the end of the document Leshrac states that he has been imprisoned for 800 years. Odd, since TSOTBR places his imprisonment before the Summit of Minorad, which even in the original Armada timeline happened 1280 years before Shadow Mage. So this time frame has been altered as well. Here's the funny thing though: as I discussed two weeks ago, the timeframe between the Summit and Shadow Mage has already been shortened a little, and it is possibly that if future reviews reveal that the Flood Age lasted several centuries, it will have to be shortened still. If that turns out to be the case, then suddenly it becomes possible again for there to be 800 years between Leshrac's imprisonment and at least the Greensleeves trilogy! (Shadow Mage would be a stretch though.) In that case I'd be super tempted to actually put Leshrac's imprisoment at ~3275, no matter how unreliable Walker of Night is as a source... I probably shouldn't though. Luckily that is of later concern!

One final timeline note: Up to now I've had my timeline say the imprisonment happens "After Alliances, before 3070". That 3070 date came from a reference in Arena that stated the first Festival of Estark happened a millennium ago. If the wizards of Estark took their power from Leshrac, that would mean Walker of Night would have happened before that moment. However, since it's now clear to me that canonically the imprisonment was in Phyrexia, not Estark, I will change the description of this placement to "Between Alliances and the Summit of Minorad".




FINAL THOUGHT

So that was Walker of Night, the first of the three unpublished comics I'll be covering this week! Yes, you read that right: I'm not going to stretch these reviews out over a few weeks, the other two will be up later this week, hopefully tomorrow and coming Wednesday! I'm way to excited to be sharing these stories with you all! (And also quite exciting to be moving on with the Duelist reviews.)

So check back tomorrow for Prelude to War!

7 comments:

  1. Can you share any other information about "rise of the Mana Wraith" ?

    I once spoke to someone on the internet that claimed to be a beta tester for an MTG RPG, but he declined to share any other information and I wrote him off as a liar.

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    1. I'll say a few things about Rise of the Mana Wraith in my Planeswalkers War review, but it certainly never made it as far as beta testing.

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  2. A little heads-up:

    The fact that the wizards of Estark are "able to summon creatures and use other planeswalker MAIGCS

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  3. Hey, Squirle. I'm short on time recently, but still lurking.
    It's great that these unpublished stories will be finally known more widely :)

    I do agree with your head-canon policy - keep as much as possible.
    That's why I'm tempted to reinterpret the events a little more and actually allow Leshrac to kill poor Arlen.

    I see the events in the following way:
    -Leshrac settles in Estark
    -Leshrac fights with Ravidel and is imprisoned by Taysir in the Oubliette
    -Taysir performs a ritual/casts a spell that's supposed to use Leshrac's essence to open the portal to Rabiah(s).
    -Leshrac disrupts the process in a way which redirects the energies.
    -That causes both infusion of part of his essence into the lands of Estark (which possibly saves his life (which actually reminds me a little about Windgrace's last act... so maybe Leshrac does the infusion first, which in effect disrupts Taysir's spell)) and later causes the appearance of the five Houses, while the rest of the energy goes to open the portal, but because of Leshrac's meddling - to Phyrexia instead of Rabiah. Taysir's spell goes to waste, which is all Leshrac's wanted at the moment.
    - Leshrac, or what's left of him, gets pushed through that portal to the other side.
    - after that, Taysir could close the portal to Phyrexia (or not, but the rift in the fabric of reality could remain, as we know that powerful magic of planeswalkers caused them to appear a lot).
    - Leshrac is near-dead, in a shadowy form (a bit like Bolas in PC?). Oubliette still affects him though and either because of the rift* AND/OR because that prison-spell somehow got infused with the portal to Phyrexia itself, AND/OR because Leshrac got pushed through the portal while under the effect of the Oubliette AND/OR because Leshrac partially infused his essence into lands of Estark... the Nightwalker is able to shift between the two locations on the two planes. Possibly Taysir could be oblivious to this fact and visit him only on Phyrexia. Serra Angel who reported The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel wouldn't know either.
    - During one of his spectral appearances on Dominaria, Leshrac finds Arlen, that poor chap. ;)

    * considering that rifts sometimes allowed even non-walkers to move between the planes (Myojin of the Night's Reach), it doesn't seem like a stretch that Leshrac would be able to do that too, provided Oubliette would allow it for reasons mentioned earlier.

    At least that's one of the possible iterations that could be nuanced and built upon.

    Possibly (if I could write the story), Leshrac's mind could have been torn up between the planes as well. Possibly still kept alive by some sheer metaphysical uniting power of the spark, yet torn, or "stretched" through the portal (or rift) into the two planes - because Taysir's unsuccessful spell would push some of Leshrac's essence trough the portal (misdirected to Phyrexia), while Leshrac was in the process of infusing himself into lands of Estark's to save his life. This weird state of split, tormented mind could increase Leshrac's insanity, wickedness and general mental instability.

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  4. Also, IIRC it was me who proposed the hypothesis of Leshrac's involvement in the creation of Rath. ;) Once I liked the version in which Leshrac does this himself, maybe promised a release from his prison (lied to!)... but actually it wouldn't make sense if Leshrac did that himself, or even mind-controlled (if Yawgmoth could reach him in any way, he would have never left him alone). A version of events in which Leshrac provides some important piece of information works much better now. Earlier, his magical prison could have been an explanation for Yawgmoth being unable to reach Leshrac, although a weak one. But of course, if the Nightwalker was so weak and shadowy as the unpublished material says, it now makes perfect sense that he was beyond the reach of Yawgmoth. Now it even makes sense if Yawgmoth never knew of Leshrac's imprisonment.

    As fun as it was to imagine Leshrac creating Rath, I still liked the official version the best - Yawgmoth being smart enough to figure it out. It was the flowstone that kept the boundaries of Rath from collapsing. Once Yawgmoth created the flowstone, maybe it was enough to inject it into a planar portal to create a stable bubble of new space "somewhere new"? Of course, as said before, some insight into the nature of the power of planeswalkers from Leshrac could still inspire such discovery, which would specifically be how my head-canon goes.
    A fan-fic of Yawgmoth-Leshrac dialog.... mmmmm.... ;)

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    1. Ah, you were the one who introduced the idea of linking Rath and Leshrac! It's good you're here so we can give honor where honor is due!

      Having Leshrac be able to move between Phyrexia and Estark is a neat way to resolve the problem! Straight into my head-canon it goes!

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  5. Oh, and btw - it's true, Oubliette is a card from Arabian Nights, but Taysir was Ravidel's mentor, so it is possible Ravidel learned that spell and originally imprisoned Leshrac.

    And I very much agree that wizards of Estark (or at least a good portion of them) had the magic figured out as few other cultures. It's not even that they used amulets infused with spells or that they were able to cast pretty powerful spells. It's not even that they had the colors of mana figured out. They had pretty much good understanding of quantifying mana, and even storing it in a way not involving a personal mental/emotional connection with land itself, but much like with the spell-amulets, they could use not their own mana lines and even exchange them via pouches with soil from different lands. They even had that mana taxed for Kuthuman's use (and for whatever Zareal managed to steal of that amount)... so that was weird, and one of most unusual approaches to magic among known cultures. It makes sense to 'blame' Leshrac and Taysir for that.

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