Titan’s new trade paperback, Dark Souls: Legends of the Flame, collects issues #1 and #2 of the ‘Legends of the Flame’ miniseries and combines it with the two issues of ‘Tales of Ember.’ Like an anthology, the book is filled with 12 short comics, whose unifying thread is the bleak and atmospheric world of the Dark Souls video game franchise. Each tale has its own unique plots and characters, which offer bit-sized pieces of medieval horror from several different writers and artists. It’s an expansion of the Dark Souls universe that you won’t find in a game.
For those that don’t know, the Dark Souls series of games are set in a dying medieval world full of monsters. Some people are cursed and return as the undead, though not the shuffling zombie type–they are more thinking and acting shells of their former selves. After enough time passes in this state, or after continually dying and reanimating, many of the cursed become full “hollows,” which are mindless monsters much more akin to the popular definition. These games don’t have happy endings, never really even giving you the hope that they could end well, and are set in a world that is desolate, lonely and full of madness.
One other signifying trait is the scarcity of explanations or direct answers, with much of the world and plot left to the player to figure out or uncover from snippets found here and there. This proves to be fertile ground for an expansion of the world and with the ambiguity of the stories, there isn’t too much to worry about when it comes to stepping on canon material. The writers from ‘Legends of the Flame’ make full use of this freedom. The only recurring storyline is in the opening of the book which finds a warrior happening upon an old woman and her cat by a bonfire. She has the visitor look into the fire to see what happened to others like him, setting up the stories that follow. She serves the “Cryptkeeper” role, as this scene is returned to every few stories.
The writing in the various stories can all be complimented for holding the same foreboding tone. Some of the stories are more horrific than others, but more than straight horror, there’s a creepiness to each that lingers longer than a page of gore or a grotesque monster ever could. Many of the writers have more than one story in the collection, so if you come across one you particularly like, there are good odds you’ll see something from the writer again.
Dan Watter’s “The Devoted” made me keep an eye out for his name in future chapters. It played with perspective and used the format well to help tell the story. George Mann’s “Behold, Townsfolk” felt like it was ripped from a Brother’s Grimm book and “Action Replay” was Groundhog’s Day through a black sieve. Unfortunately, Mann also wrote my least favorite entry with “The Infected,” as it was mostly action and failed to make me feel much for the characters.
The art is a real highlight of the entire book. Just as different writers were used throughout, the same held true of the artists. “The Flame’s Return” featured art by Damien Worm had a lot of sharp edges and angles, while only using a few basic colors to give it a vivid and otherworldly look. Nick Percival’s art on “The Labyrinth” and “Action Replay” was painted beautifully and about as unique as anything you could find in a comic. Daniele Serra’s style on “That Which Holds Us Human” made me think of watercolor on parchment. Very cool.
Is It Good?
I’ve read a lot of comic mini-series and short story anthologies that try to use a popular franchise as its jumping off point. What most of them get wrong is that the feeling of the story is off, even with recognizable locations and characters. How deep your knowledge of the original property is also factors into your enjoyment and more often than not, serves as a barrier to entry. Maybe it was the perfect property to use, but ‘Legends of the Flame’ didn’t seem to fall into any of these traps. The Dark Souls games often feel like there is so much unsaid that there was still plenty of room for new stories to fill the empty spaces. It also helps to have such quality writers and artists behind the stories. I would recommend this one if you like sound of the creepy, hostile and bleak world of Dark Souls, and not just for fans of the game.