Dragon Age: Magekiller is the latest spin-off comic from Dark Horse, written by Greg Rucka and focusing on a pair of highly specialised mercenaries who — you guessed it — kill mages for a living. While one of the comic’s greatest strengths is that it expands on regions and characters that are only mentioned in passing in the games, it sometimes fails to draw you into the story of its main characters.
These characters are Tessa and Marius — the former a runaway Nevarran noblewoman, and the latter a freed Tevinter slave. The story runs concurrently with the events of Dragon Age: Inquisition, beginning in Tevinter’s capital of Minrathous. While Tessa is a new character, Marius is technically a pre-existing one, though you have to go deep into the lore to find him. His origins were in a short story called “Paying The Ferryman” that expounded on the backstory of one of Inquisition’s villains, Calpernia — the leader of the Venatori.
In this story, Marius was a slave in the same household as Calpernia, and the two struck up a secret relationship before Marius was taken away to be trained for the fighting pits. While the inclusion of this lore is a sneaky little bonus for those who know it, it feels almost too obscure when this background is raised in the comic — even moreso when you consider that half or less of Inquisition’s players would have even encountered Calpernia in their games at all.
When this previous relationship is referenced in the comic it feels like more of an aside. Where the dynamic between mage and magekiller could have easily been explored in more depth, it is instead an incidental scene that would make little sense to those not in on the background, serving only to speed the characters on to their next destination.
Its obscure origin actually ends up being of Magekiller’s biggest strengths, however. The last run of Dark Horse’s Dragon Age tie-in comics focussed on Alistair, Varric and Isabela, and while the story was interesting, they were all characters who had been quite thoroughly explored in the main games. Magekiller instead takes a tiny character and the tease of a plotline from Inquisition — specifically one that has already sparked peoples’ imaginations — and runs in a different direction, expanding into the previously neglected world of Tevinter.
The second issue is by far the most successful of the three that have been released, and also the one that best fulfils the promise in the name of the comic. Tessa and Marius are tasked with tracking down and killing four influential mages, and in doing so we get an in-depth look at the world of upper-class Tevinter — including meeting the Archon himself — and we are made privy to the techniques that the pair use to dispatch of people with incredible magical power. In a universe that has always been so focused on mages vs templars, it’s refreshing to see a different angle on this dynamic.
The biggest problem with Magekiller is that it never quite manages to immerse you in its main characters’ stories. Each issue reads like a prologue, catching you up on what happened since the last issue with a fairly generic action scene playing in the background. By the time you get to something that appears to be happening in the ‘now’, it’s often the end of the issue. As a miniseries, Magekiller only has five issues to tell its story, and having released three of them it’s questionable whether the comic will have the space to turn around. Thus far it has felt more like an over-long introduction to a real story.
As far as the characters themselves go, Tessa is by far the more interesting of the two, with Marius being played as an almost Drax-like character who is serious often to the point of obliviousness. (“I could not move even if I wished to, Tessa,” he says when Tessa warns him to stay in bed while he recovers from an injury. “I wouldn’t let the village maidens hear that, they might get ideas,” Tessa jokes, to the response: “You think they mean us ill?” Groan.) While this approach can and has been successful with comic book characters in the past, in Marius’s case it only serves to make him feel more generic and less relatable.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems with his characterisation is that this depiction of him is completely at odds with the character in the short story mentioned above. In said story he comes across as quite a flirt, a charming man who is wise in the ways of the world — which seemed to be part of the attraction to the story’s younger version of Calpernia, as a strange, naive slave girl with no real friends.
Tessa, on the other hand, has become more of a compelling character with each passing issue (while the opposite could be said of Marius). Issue three brings her in contact with one of the minor characters from Inquisition — one of Leliana’s spies, Charter — in a refreshingly interesting and genuinely amusing exchange. While having the characters end up with the Inquisition feels a lot like re-treading old ground (after almost 150 hours of fetch quests and demon slaying in the actual game), I was glad to see the comic again expanding on one of the more minor characters of the game.
With two more issues to go, Magekiller still has time to prove its worth within the expanding Dragon Age canon — but only if it uses the rest of its run efficiently. For those interested in the parts of Thedas that we never get to see in the game it’s well worth a read, even though it’s increasingly feeling like the titular magekiller will be a disappointment. While it’s taken a while to get there, I get the impression that Tessa and the cast of side-characters may be the ones to pull this through in the end.