Comic Book Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Cutter #1

Dungeons & Dragons: Cutter
Publisher: IDW
Page Count: 27 (including covers)
Cost: $3.99
Release Date: 04/17/2013
Get it Here: Your Local Comic Store or Comixology

As a little boy, I loved the Dungeons & Dragons comics put out by DC. I read Forgotten Realms, Dungeons & Dragons, Spelljammer and Dragonlance. Once DC dropped the license, licensed D&D comics seem to take a nose dive until IDW picked it up a few years ago. The Dungeons & Dragons comics by John Rogers and Andrea Di Vito remains my absolute favorite comic since Justice League International and I still don’t understand why IDW cut it short (nor have I forgiven them). I also enjoyed the Dark Sun limited series IDW put. However I didn’t really care for R.A. Salvatore’s The Legend of Drizzt mini-series and like many others I tried Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms ongoing but quickly dropped it. Currently, the best D&D style comic on the market is Dynamite’s Pathfinder series, although all that may change with the release of Cutter, a new five issue limited series scribed by R.A. Salvatore and his son Geno.

Cutter is set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting and the characters in this first issue are are elves. At first I thought the elves were meant to be Moon elves, as they are light grey skinned instead of ebony or purplish-black, and the entire issue takes place above ground instead of deep below the earth in some place like Menzoberranzan. However the first page of narration clearly describes all the characters as drow, so I’m going to chalk this up to artistic license by the colorist David Garcia Cruz.

The two main characters in this first issue are a brother and sister named Doum’Wielle and Teirflin respectively. The story revolves around a sparring contest between the two siblings. Their father, Tos’un Armgo, is old and injured and can no longer lead his drow in battle. However, Tos’un’s intelligent living sword, known as Khazid’hea, or “The Cutter” (which is where we get the name of this mini-series), is not content to sit idly by on his original owner’s hilt. As such the aforementioned sparring content between the siblings is used to determine who shall inherit the sword. It’s important to note that both brother and sister seem to truly love and respect each other, which is an important plot point as the comic continues on.

Unfortunately what was meant to be a friendly sparring contest between family members, because something far more tragic and gruesome, made all the worse by the fact someone (or something?) was pulling the strings of those involved, making sure this contest would end in death. Much of this comic is combat between the two Drow siblings, but don’t think that means you’re getting one of those horribly draw out decompressed comics that are all the rage these days. No, the plot of Cutter in this first uses moves along surprisingly fast, especially for an issue that is primarily hack and slash. You get to know the personalities of the Drow patriarch and his children, along with Cutter itself. It’s hard to think of a comic these days where you really get an in-depth look at the psyche of all the primary character in just the first issue, which is a testament to the writing skills of the Salvatore family. Personally the character I want to learn more about is Cutter itself, but then some of my favorite Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventures have revolved around malevolent living weapons like Ebonbane or Blackrazor.

Cutter #1 ends in an expected but no less dramatic fashion. The last panel of the issue however threw me for a loop as the facial expression on the character in it seems to imply a very different emotion or personality than what we had been show by them throughout the entire issue. Of course, these are Drow we are talking about, so swerves, heel turns and manipulation are neither uncommon nor unexpected, but this one panel alone has me wanting to pick up the next issue (and really, the whole mini-series) just to see where this is going and why. I mean, I’m sure the base plot of the mini-series will revolve around a battle of wills between Cutter and its carrier, but the joy is in the journey, you know? I really like that the Salvatore clan is able to take a pretty familiar Dungeons & Dragons trope and craft it into something that feels fresh and original. I truly don’t know exactly where they are going with this mini, but damned if I don’t want to find out. That’s the mark of a great story.

Cutter is also surprisingly accessible to people who have never played Dungeons & Dragons nor read any previous comics or novels based on the world’s oldest RPG system. At its core Cutter is a tale of a family controlled and torn apart by its most prized possession. These Drow could be humans, dwarves, or Deep Ones and the story would still ring true. Perhaps the only thing that might be a bit confusing to newcomers is the concept of a sentient living magical weapon that views humans the same way we would view a tool or object – as a means to an end. However, most comic book readers are used to concepts such as toxic waste giving one super powers instead of killing you horribly via cancer, so is a living sword really going to require that much more suspension of disbelief. So if the big Dungeons & Dragons branding has you worried that you’re going to have to know the actual rules system for D&D or that the comic will be littered with jargon and license specific terminology you’ll need a Player’s Handbook for, you have nothing to worry about. This is just a ripping good fantasy comic that’s both well-written and fast paced.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on the artwork by David Baldeon in this issue. Baldeon’s characters are a bit more cartoony than what we’ve seen in previous IDW Dungeons & Dragons comics, but it really works for the story being told. His facial expressions are the highlight of the art on Cutter and while not at the same level of say, Kevin Maguire, they’re still top notch. I’m really looking forward to seeing Baldeon’s take on the many fantasy creatures and monsters that populate Toril.

All in all, I would have to say Cutter is off to a fantastic start and if the next four issues are as good as this one, the series should be the second best Dungeons & Dragons offering IDW has put out to date. Sure it’s no “Fell’s Five,” but really what is? All you need to know that Cutter is a highly enjoyable read whether you’re a long time fans of the Forgotten Realms or just a comics dude look for a next series to add to your pull list.

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