Comic Sans has been kind of silent the last few weeks, but it had to return this week. I finally got around to reviewing last week’s comics that I picked up, and one stood out as being more appropriate to this site than any other that I grabbed. Why, you may ask (but probably aren’t)? Because of it’s relationship to video games.
Dynamite Entertainment has launched a new series of comics that are related with a single parent group in mind: Atari. Yes, Atari game based comics. No, this isn’t the old series Atari Force returning to print, but rather books that are part of classic Atari games. The first book to launch: Swordquest.
Before we get to the comic, let’s give some history on Swordquest. How many of you remember this title?
Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s a game that has a history, but it’s definitely not a mainstream game unlike some other Atari classics.
Swordquest was planned to be a 4-part video game series for one of the first consoles ever, the Atari 2600. Each game was to have an associated comic book as well as a contest where individuals could win prizes. This was probably one of the first multi-media contests related to a video game series ever. And these prizes were not little certificates or the like, but substantial items. And in order to figure out the answers to win the contest, you first had to win the game and then find clues in the associated comic that the game would give you upon completion. So it was really an in-depth competition across both mediums, and then those who thought they found the answer needed to submit an essay to Atari about what they liked from the game and comic experience. The winner of each game would be awarded from the essays received.
The related comics were written by comic book legends Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, with art by George Perez and Dick Giordano. For comic fans, these names are exceptionally well-known. I’ve had the chance to converse with Roy Thomas via email a few times, and I cannot imagine a nicer man. The breadth of titles he worked on was enormous, and add in Gerry Conway, George Perez and Dick Giordano into the mix, and you have a creative team that was involved in just about every Marvel and DC comic in the 60s, 70s, and into the 80s. A better dream team for this contest was virtually impossible.
The first game, Earthworld, and the winner would win a prize known as the Talisman of Penultimate Truth. This was not just an amulet in the mass-produced sense of the word; no, this was a real amulet. There was only one awarded, and the odds of winning were actually quite high: There were only 8 winners identified in the time frame presented (and there was no essay yet). 20-year old Steven Bell won the contest, which was the Talisman… a real amulet made of 18 karat solid gold, 12 diamonds, and birthstones representing the 12 zodiac symbols embossed into it. There was also a small sword made of white gold attached to it.
Well, the fact that there was a real winner brought on a fury of players for the second game: Fireworld. Because of the higher expected turnout of winners, the essay component was now included as part of the game. 50 individuals were selected from Atari as finalists in the contest, which was won by an individual named Michael Rideout. His prize was called the Chalice of Light, an actual chalice made of gold and platinum and decorated with a significant number of gemstones, including pearls, rubies, and sapphires.
Game 3 was Waterworld, and its prize was the Crown of Life, an actual crown made of gold and decorated with many different gems, similar to the chalice. The Crown was won from a group of 10 winners, and that name was not divulged. This was the last prize awarded as Atari was running into financial problems and only went through with the contest because they were legally obligated to. This was also the last game released in the Swordquest saga.
The final game, Airworld, was never created. The prize planned was called the Philosopher’s Stone, a large piece of white jade that was stored into an 18-karat gold box adorned with jewels. The original plan was for the 4 winners to compete for the ultimate Swordquest prize – the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery, a sword with a gold handle (covered in – you guessed it – various jewels) and a pure silver blade. Because the fourth game was never released, the sword was never awarded. And the myth of what happened to these last 2 prizes have always lingered.
The new issue is written by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, who are currently well-known for working recently on Marvel’s X-Men ’92 series, which is a continuation of the X-Men cartoon from the early 90s. The art is from and individual named Ghostwriter X, whom I was not familiar with before picking up this comic. This trio have created a comic unlike anything I have read before, because of its ties to both that infamous mystery but also because it doesn’t revolve around anything directly in the story but rather the mystery to find the ultimate unawarded prize: The Sword of Ultimate Sorcery.
It’s hard to talk too much about this issue for a few reasons. First, the story is essentially the prologue to the story. It is a shorter issue, used to introduce the reader to the new Atari line coming out from Dynamite. Secondly, it followed the story of an individual who (like myself) is a child of the 80s and grew up playing all of these games. It definitely seemed like something I (and others I know – cough cough Jack McBastard cough) would do, simply for the challenge of it all. And finally, it was only a quarter. Yes, it was only 25 cents. No matter how I tried to spin it, I could not pass up picking it up for a quarter. And I’m glad that I did.
So, this review has a distinct lack of spoilers, and that is intentional. As I mentioned, this issue is a prologue, not a full issue. It was enough to tease me into picking up the first issue once released, and to give the other forthcoming Atari books a try. The first issue here comes out in June 2017, with the second title launching in July 2017… Centipede. Yes, they are launching a Centipede title.
For those who are classic video game fans, this is definitely a title to pick up. It’s definitely a fun read, I would definitely recommend taking a look if you are interested in this and other Atari classics.
Should you be interested in reading the original comics that accompanied the video games, they can be reviewed online: Earthworld, Fireworld, and Waterworld. The first few pages of Swordquest #0 can be found on Dynamite’s website.