Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Exalted (comic) review

    Exalted is my favorite RPG setting of all time. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it basically is a combination of wuxia and ancient mythology that deconstructs a lot of the assumptions of both genres. In Exalted, you are one of the most powerful beings in the universe but this bestows neither wisdom nor virtue. You're a hero in the Greek sense, someone who does great deeds, but only you can decide if you're going to be one by modern values or local ones (which are decidedly warped).
    When I stumbled on UDON's Exalted graphic novel, I was quite excited as. I adored their Streetfighter comic. Even if the comic only lasted five issues, I was hoping it would properly capture the feel of the world and its myriad issues. Does it? Err, not really.

    Don't get me wrong, it's an absolutely beautiful comic with gorgeous art and characters. The action flows well on the page and the colors are breathtaking. It's worth buying the comic simply for the lovely depiction of the many characters. If you have any fondness for comic book art, this is for you.

    The problem is, as a representation of Exalted, the comic book just isn't all that good. The comic story follows Kidale, an impoverished Southerner who finds himself Exalting to become a member of the Zennith caste. In layman's terms, he develops the superhuman ability to make binding agreements and judgements. This also is accompanied by other amazing skills.

    Skills, Kidale never really gets to demonstrate.

    The Exalted comic dials things down in a setting which is all about dialing things up. Really, the entire thing feels like a semi-standard Sword and Sorcery comic only with the added addition of reincarnation and a mythical Golden Age the heroes hail from. There's even elements of Star Wars with the morally ambiguous Realm playing the role of the Galactic Empire and Kidale serving as our erstwhile Luke Skywalker figure.

    This would be fine but Exalted is so much more than that. It's a setting where very few people are completely good or evil in their actions. I hesitate to use the word gritty in a setting where people can kick someone into the moon but there's a large sense actions have consequences. Aside from a single surprise twist at the end of the TPB, there's not much in the way of weight to our heroes activities.

    Part of this may be due to the exceptionally large cast. There's Five Solar Exalted, three main antagonists, and a supporting antagonist all fighting for screen time. The comic doesn't really have much time to do anything other than introduce the characters and their basic personality traits before the story ends. Of the characters introduced, I think I liked the Dragonblooded most. Which is odd when they're portrayed as the remorseless villains.

     In conclusion, I think this is worth picking up but it's not exactly the best introduction to the Exalted universe.

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