Imprint: Top Cow
Story by Henry Barajas
Colour Artist Bryan Valenza
Penciller Rahmat M. Handoko
Letter artist Gabriela Downie
Imagine, if you will, a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Now imagine Mesoamerican history and culture. Together you have Helm Greycastle, a book that combines both in a way that surprisingly works given what at first glance these are not things that go obviously together.
We open with your classic D&D quest – retrieve a scroll from an army of skeletons using brute force, magic and tactics. However it quickly becomes apparent that there’s a bit more going on than your classic questing. Indeed the actual campaign is more related to rescuing a dragon child from well.. the Aztecs, specifically Aztec Mexica.
Yes you read that right. Aztecs. You may have heard of Montezuma, the famous Aztec king, but this book also brings in many aspects of Aztec mythology and ritual which, if you are like me, will have you heading straight to Google to refresh your memory or find out what the references mean. Which I am all for as I do enjoy comic books that encourage education. Of course it doesn’t all map exactly as Aztec Mexica is fantasy drawing on actual Aztecs. Just as D&D draws on classic western mythology so this does the same for Mesoamerica.
The art nicely reflects this fantasy world. The characters are well drawn and realised. There’s some real character in their faces and expressions. The Aztec characters also reflect the culture with some rather spectacular headdresses. The colouring also really lifts things, with warm colours for the interiors and a blue palette for the exteriors giving a real sense of where a scene is set at a glance.
For a first issue there’s some exposition but it is brief and anyone with a passing knowledge of D&D will understand it and ‘get it’. The plot moves along and nicely integrates the traditional D&D side setup with the slightly strange Aztec setting. I will be interested to see how these two elements continue to be balanced.
Interestingly for a book called Helm Greycastle, Helm Greycastle himself is merely one of an ensemble. He gets a bit more character background than some of the others in his band (most of whom we know nothing about but what they are and their name) in that there’s some slightly clunky exposition about his daughter but it works.
Of the other characters I am particularly intrigued by the dwarf Oskar Frostbeard because who wouldn’t be with a name like that? There’s also some interesting stuff going on with his loyalty to poisoned Orc warrior protector type Feng who bravely tried to fight off the Jaguar warriors kidnapping the dragon child.
The fact I got to write a sentence about an orc fighting off Aztec Jaguar warriors kidnapping a dragon child really tells you everything you need to know about this book. There’s the politics amongst the Aztec Mexica elite and intrigue amongst their court. There’s a lot of plot threads here to balance and I look forward to seeing where they lead. I also hope to see more of the characters, some of whom are merely namechecked but this is a first issue so that’s probably expected.
Overall if you like D&D and want to further your knowledge of Aztec gods or if you are an aficionado of the Aztecs and fancy playing D&D this is the book for you.
There’ even a supplementary game in the back for you to take on your own D&D style Aztec quest.
So I give this book 4 dice out of 5, and I look forward to the seeing what the next roll brings.