Dark Souls as a series is often known for its intense difficulty. One of the primary reasons for this is because of how spartan the explanations of story and mechanics are. Despite how little is told to the player, those who are familiar with the series know how vast the backstory is. Told through items, extended conversations with characters in the game world, and sometimes the environment itself.
There are frequent references to a golden age in the Dark Souls universe known as the Age of Fire. Now, we are able to see firsthand the events of this time thanks to Dark Souls: The Age of Fire. Published by Titan Comics, written by Ryan Sullivan, with art by Anton Kokarev, and letters by Simon Bowland, this extended look into the lore of the Dark Souls games is a treat that should appeal to all fans of the series, as well as anyone looking for a good grimdark fantasy tale.
The story begins in the heat of battle. The King of the forces of man and giant, Gwyn, leads the charge against the ancient dragons. But we are quickly told that this is not his tale. The perspective shifts and we are shown a knight of Gwyn’s guard, clad in silver armor, named Arkon. As Arkon and his fellow silver knights form ranks they are attacked by a dragon and many are killed. Arkon himself must fall back and when it appears that all is lost a warrior appears and slays the dragon. This warrior is series favorite, the wolf-knight Artorias. The knight spares no words for Arkon and leaves. Soon after Gwyn arrives and seeing the slain dragon, declares Arkon the “Dragonkiller.”
We are then pulled forward in time to Arkon seeking to rescue kidnapped handmaidens. The mission goes south and Arkon is forced to leave emptyhanded. It seems some curse has come to the land of Lordran and these characters have their parts to play. Soon enough the corruption spreads, brutal battles are fought and humanity is lost. Dark Souls is not a story of happy endings and few are found here either.
Writer Ryan Sullivan is impressive in this comic. The feeling of grim determination and almost relentless despair are present throughout. Normally these would be fairly large strikes against, however, the Souls games thrive on these themes and Sullivan nails it. It is evident that great care was taken to make this prequel a worthwhile story and it absolutely succeeds.
But Kokarev’s art is the true star of the show here. Each page feels more like a collection of paintings than a series of comic panels. Characters from the game are rendered beautifully. The action on the page can be a little unclear at times and there were pages that I needed to look at more than once to make sure I understood what was going on. But it’s all so beautiful that it almost makes up for the occasional confusion. Additionally, Bowland’s letters are well used and are never unclear or cluttered.
I’m a big fan of the Dark Souls games. It took me a little while to get on board, especially as a result of the difficulty. But once the game clicked for me I’ve loved them ever since. I can safely say that of the Dark Souls comic adaptations I’ve read, this one is my favorite. While many of them contain references or callbacks to the series, this one uses them to the greatest effect. Paired with phenomenal artwork, this is a trade paperback that should not be missed by fans.
Dark Souls: The Age of Fire Trade Paperback will be available in comic stores everywhere June 11, 2019
Rating: 4/5 Embers, slowly fading away