Pullbox Review: Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons Waxes Nostalgic on the Early Days of Tabletop Gaming

Written By: Jody Houser & Jim Zub

Line Art By: Diego Galindo

Colors By: Msassyk

Letters By: Nate Piekos

Covers By: E.M. Gist, Anna Dittman, Diego Galindo & David Michael Beck

Published By: Dark Horse Comics & IDW

Available: November 4, with a cover price of $3.99

Friends don’t lie. (Eleven, to Mike)

No, they one-shot future ancient white dragons and never, ever let you forget about it. (Paul, to Andy)

Coming to your local LCS next Wednesday from IDW and Dark Horse is the premier issue of the Jody Houser/Jim Zub-helmed crossover event, Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons—wherein four youths from Hawkins, Indiana will overcome bullies and school lunch and annoying older sisters to discover…Days of Endless Adventure!!!

(Shameless plug of other D&D-themed Jim Zub-helmed project achieved! Woot!)

Ok, so in all seriousness, ST&D&D (wow, there’s just no clever way to shorten this one) explores the friendships among future Stranger Things stalwarts Mike, Lucas, Will and Dustin, pre-Eleven and pre-fighting real-life Demogorgons and plane-shifting through the Upside Down—and more to the point, how Dungeons & Dragons became the unifying experience of these bonds and the boys’ childhoods overall. Through their engagement with the game, the boys develop teamwork, solving problems and finding solutions where there seems to be none. They gain confidence and their sense of selves, the courage to stand up to bullies and big sisters.

Here’s the thing though—you don’t actually have to know squat about Stranger Things to enjoy this book (though I’m fairly concerned for you if you don’t…seriously, quit reading this tripe and plop yourself down in front of your Netflix box for a spell, pilgrim!). The Hawkins boys offer a convenient device for providing familiarity and setting time and place, but in this tale, they are truly everyperson, and Hawkins is truly everywhere. Ok, well, every person whose childhood occurred in early-1980’s North America, and whose life was impacted by the advent of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s little love child.

I’m not positive where the remaining three issues in the series will head, but the reality is that ST&D&D, Issue One is less a comic than it is a nostalgic love letter, a reminiscence from a veteran writer who owes much of what he’s achieved, much of who he’s become (like so many of us do) to this wonderful and endlessly creative game. But more on that later.

None of which is to say Stranger Things isn’t a great setting for a comic on Dungeons & Dragons, the game, or that the comic isn’t a good read on its own. What with ST’s focus on nostalgic traipses through 1980’s mid-America as well as truly creepy monsters and shadow conspiracies and alternate planes of existence, the show is actually more or less a perfect venue. And, for those curious about how the Hawkins boys came together, the bonds that sustained them through the events of the show, the book offers an excellent foundation. The Mike, Lucas, Wil and Dustin of ST&D&D are every bit the Mike, Lucas, Will and Dustin of Stranger Things, in verbiage and appearance.

Jim Zub, if you’re unaware, is an unabashed tabletop (and video) gamer, having encountered Dungeons & Dragons with his older brother and cousins at the ripe old age of eight. He’s written D&D comics for IDW, written scripts for Wizards of the Coast (in development of campaign books for D&D) and is a driving force behind the Young Adventurer’s Guide series from WotC. Oh, and he even recently adapted his own epic comic series, Skullkickers, to a D&D campaign module. He’s gamed with the likes of Matt Mercer. I’m telling you—dude’s got props.

And that Jody Houser lady? She’s not exactly small potatoes, either. An Eisner nominee herself, having written the previous Stranger Things adaptation as well as Orphan Black, Spider-man, Doctor Who and the Critical Role comic, among others. So the two of them together? Well, you know the writing’s going to be top-notch. I’ll warn you, though: there’s a lot of narrative, describing the impact of D&D on the boys and their development within the game, in addition to a fair amount of dialogue…so get your reading glasses on for this one!

And Diego Galindo and Msassyk bring the goods as well. As I’ve previously stated, drawing well-beloved live-action characters into comic form is no easy task: too realistic, and there’s no flair, no originality; but too much stylization, and the art becomes jarring and dissonant. Take a gander at some of the movie adaptations foisted upon us by Marvel in the mid-1980’s, as a particularly distasteful fer instance. No such concerns with Galindo’s work. We see accurate-enough renditions of the Hawkin’s crew, with enough play to keep the art enjoyable and, well, art. The settings are well-rendered and attractive, and there’s a lot of play with panels and collages, maintaining strong eye appeal and interest. And the gaming scenes? You can tell, dude was just having fun.

And Msassyk’s colors, especially in the woods scenes where he gets to play with natural lighting, are at times just stunning. Seriously—as strong a case for the what a talented colorist brings to a book as I’ve seen in a while.

Nate Piekos’s task lettering this book, which is seriously narrative and dialogue-heavy, was a challenging one. Fitting that much verbiage into the book without overwhelming the art and disrupting the visual flow is no enviable task…but it’s one Piekos handled with ease. At no point, despite ALL THE WORDS, did I feel the verbiage overwhelmed the page. And he got to play a bit with some quick sound effects here and there as well. So at least he had a little fun.

Now if you’re looking for hard-hitting action, tense chases and monsters galore, I’m afraid you’re poking the wrong bugbear. But if you’re of the mood for a comfortable stroll down reminiscence avenue, catching a glimpse of the (mostly) better parts of the D&D-infused byways of ‘80’s Americana, well then Houser, Zub, Galindo, Msassyk and Piekos’ little confection might just be the tome you’re looking for.

Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons, Issue One, will be available at LCS’s, Amazon and ComiXology November 4…though you might want to snag this one sooner rather than later: well-founded rumor has it that pre-orders on this one are selling out everywhere. Snooze, you lose, pardner (or, you have to wait for the second printing at any rate).


Review by Andy Patch

Contributing Editor

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