Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins (Trade Paperback)
Story: Matthew Mercer & Matthew Colville
Script: Matthew Colville
Artist: Olivia Samson
Colors & Lettering: Chris Northrop
Layouts: Chris Kawagiwa
Cover Artist: Stjepan Sejic
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Price: $19.99 (but cheaper on Amazon!)
Out this week (finally) is the long-awaited print version of the Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins prequel story. Available previously only in extremely limited (and incredibly costly, if you can even find them on the secondary market) single-issue print copies or else digitally via Dark Horse or Comixology, this trade presents the story of how the heroes of Tal’Dorei came to meet each other and begin their world-saving quest, in the quaint little cesspool of Stilben.
I’m going to operate under the presumption that, if you are reading this, you are familiar with the Critical Role podcast and the adventures of Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein. If you’re not, then first, I hope you’ve enjoyed the inordinately large rock you’ve been living under these past years, and second—look them up on YouTube, Geek & Sundry or critrole.com. Trust me, if you haven’t, it’s totally worth the time…all thousand or so hours of it (though I’ll admit that my desire to listen/watch has thus far outdistanced my actual time and ability to do so).
If you’re not thusly enlightened, no big deal. Just know that the characters and story of Vox Machina are the brainchildren of Matt Mercer, Laura Bailey, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Liam O’Brien, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel and Travis Willingham (a bunch of incredibly talented voice actors), via their weekly sessions of the Fifth Edition of the World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game. What the comic is, is a graphic representation of the story they’ve been gaming in their podcasts (and, in this instance, a little prior).
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the following fair warning: Vox Machina Origins is not a PG, or even PG-13 book. While there’s no blatant sexuality and the gore is typically cartoonish, the language can get a tad salty (watch for F-bombs landing more often than eldritch blasts), and the subject matter a tad—ok, really, really, really—dark (baby sacrifices, child abuse and even ale spilling). The devil’s-influence-hunting church ladies of my 1980’s youth would’ve had a field day with this one. Keep it out of the hands of the pre-pubescents (and aforementioned church ladies), though, and all will be swell.
The story, as it were, centers around a fiendish plot by an as-yet unknown shadow organization to eliminate the local thieve’s guild, The Clasp, from the cruddy port city of Stilben by eliminating the source of their prostitution and drug trade: the population of poor and homeless residing along the swamp that borders the city. Their methodology? A poison released into the water supply, which preys specifically on the elderly, the very young and the infirm (See? Told ya—DARK!). Enter, in varying fits, bursts and engagements, the cast of oddballs who will one day be Vox Machina, heroes of the realm: Vax’Ildan, half-elven rogue, his twin sister Vex’Ahlia, half-elven ranger, goliath barbarian Grog Strongjaw and his halfling bard companion, Scanlan Shorthalt, Keyleth, a half-elven druid and Tiberius Stormwind, dragonborn sorcerer.
Having listened to a portion of the Critical Role, first campaign podcasts, I was very excited to read this book, both to learn the back story that brought this particular band of misfits together, but also to experience what every RPG’er who has ever lived has dreamed of: our stories and adventures, brought to life. What Mercer and crew have been able to do here (and even more in their recently madly successful Kickstarter campaign for a cartoon on the same group of characters) is a great accomplishment: the characters we’ve come to so enjoy on the podcast translate magnificently in both voice and appearance (and kudos to Colville and Samson for that!) on the page, and the story remains more than compelling (if a little more focused, thanks to Colville’s scripting). The balance of humor to high adventure, combat to conspiracy is excellent, providing plenty to digest for those of any taste.
But don’t let all that D&D inside talk throw you non-gamers out there—Origins is no simple vanity project or money grab. It’s a fully—and beautifully—rendered and engaging story, in a world and vein similar to that of Jim Zub’s Baldur’s Gate and Skullkickers series (and if you haven’t read them, there’s really nothing more I can do for you at this point; please return to your 38th reading of The Great Gatsby and the Rats of NIMH, and be on your merry way). End of the day, what we have in Origins is an excellent fantasy-adventure comic with a deeply-layered story, humorous and interesting characters, and thoroughly enjoyable art.
And did I mention that Stjepan Sejic cover?
The Dark Horse Books trade features a blended matte/gloss-finish cover by Pullbox favorite Stjepan Sejic (which frankly was worth the price of admission alone, by my count), as well as some nice bonus art and studies, a map of Stilben, and character/item D&D stat blocks for a couple of the key bads. The story is structured as a gradual engaging of the disparate backstories of the three pairs of characters, with the occasional kissing of if not breaching of the fourth wall. All in all, a great value to those who enjoy fantasy adventure comics, as well as those who are fascinated by the legend of Vox Machina and collecting any bit of media collectible they can related to the heroes.
Review by Andy Patch, thePullbox.com