I used to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons quite a bit. With that in mind, back in the late 1980s when I heard DC was doing a comic based on the role playing game, I immediately put it on my pull list. How could I not? How could any player who was also into comics not want to read this title? There was a genuine air of excitement around it, and the wait for the first issue to arrive was a bit maddening. In the days before the Internet made it commonplace to ruin any surprises, the speculation of what the comic would be like was the topic of many conversations. And then it arrived.
The cover of that initial issue looked promising. It was a group shot of the comic’s cast of characters with a hint of the evil they would face, and anyone who played the game and saw it on the rack would be intrigued by it. The story, however, was fairly standard fantasy stuff … which was all it really needed to be. Granted, it was cool to see some of the spells and monsters from the game brought to “life,” but the setting could have been any fantasy realm as most are fairly interchangeable. Fantasy comics at that time were limited, as well, so genre fans grabbed whatever they could get their pale, trembling hands on, and this series was no exception. It had a built-in audience from the start, a fact I’m sure wasn’t lost on DC. It was guaranteed sales (at least for a while) regardless of quality, and the comic franchise did something no other work of entertainment has done since. More on that in a bit.
I bought all the issues in the DC series, and several of the other associated titles, all of which varied in content. (Spelljammer was not a favorite of mine, though I had friends swear by its superiority to any other title on the market at the time.) Once the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons series folded thirtysome issues later, there was a lull before other publishers brought the franchise back to life in the comic world … all with mixed results. Few of the titles managed to spark fan’s excitement like that first DC series, though. Many of those companies should have never tried, either, as that initial series was never really all that special anyway. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember a single character or storyline from it. I actually remember some of the Hardy Boys stories I read as a boy far better than those issues. Memorable? It’s the exact opposite, and nothing since that DC run has really caught fire, either.
I haven’t revisited the title since I read that last issue, but every once in a while I think about breaking it out to see if I could get anything new from it. I fear, however, with tastes that have changed over the years, the flaws I casually overlooked before would become glaring nightmares this time around and ruin even my sparse nostalgic memories of the title. I’ll go back to it eventually, though, if only to satisfy my curiosity. After all, waiting 12 years between thereadings of Origin changed my view ofthat series for the better, though I doubt re-reading this one will give mesimilar results. What that means for the game that inspired it, however, is something totally different.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons really only failed as a comic book series because the game was impossible to live up to. Anyone who has played the game knows that you are only really limited by your imagination. Readers of the comics were limited by the creators’ imagination, and sometimes that imagination wasn’t all that strong. While the concept of a comic based on the game seemed promising at first, it didn’t take long to see that everything which made the game special could in no way be transferred to a static comic book series because it lacked one simple thing: the players.
There is not a single one of those series that could stand as a testament to the game from which they sprang. They do, however, prove that unlike other games, it isn’t the mechanics that makes it stand out, it’s the players. I can’t think of another instance in any crossover media where such a thing has happened. Sure, sometimes a movie adapted from a book makes moviegoers say the book was more in-depth and therefore better, but when else has an audience been credited with making the work special? Never, and that’s what makes these various series such an anomaly in the realm of entertainment. Their mediocrity proves the superiority of its source inspiration, and that is something players should be proud of.