I’ve never played The Witcher video games so I know literally nothing about the character’s lore beyond that there was some sex in one of the games so don’t expect much commentary on continuity or mythology in this particular review. From what I did glean of the character and his world the titular Witcher is that he seems a lot like Conan so this is probably going to end up right in my wheelhouse, though that makes sense as the games are western fantasy RPGs which pretty much all star Conan in one way or another. I will give the Witcher credit that he’s certainly more erudite than Conan and a lot less morose than the Conan I’ve been forced to suffer through in the works of Bryan Wood so already The Witcher #1 has a leg up on most of the wandering hero fantasy stuff I usually read.
Our story finds Geralt The Witcher wandering the wilderness of the black forest (not the real black forest in Germany though.) There along the backs of a river in the surprisingly well lit darkness of the purple night time he comes upon Jakob the hunter who will be our resident side kick for the story. An interesting thing about The Witcher #1 is that it doesn’t really have a coherent story in the standard sense of the word but is more of a loosely connected string of events. Not that that’s a problem mind you, the loose adaptation format flows incredibly well and helps to create a surprisingly immersive and engaging atmosphere for the comic. Most of the issue is actually taken up with the Witcher and Jakob just talking and wandering around the woods and the river but that’s really all it needs to be. That’s not to say there aren’t adventures and cool stuff happening because there very much is, it’s just not structured into a flowing 3-act structure or diagramable narrative, it’s closer to Alice In Wonderland in that it’s a medieval dark fantasy road trip between the two.
That’s something I really liked about the comic was the monster designs, they all share this very creepy and horror infused aesthetic that blends in well with the darker visual palette the artists and colorers have chosen to use for the comic. As I mentioned despite taking place at night most of the book is bathed in deep purples and dark blue with faded soft colors which I would normally harp on but here it really works, the sky is usually portrayed through a dull dimming gradient color that induces a dreamlike otherworldly air to everything. Even the sections of the comic set during daylight are still very creepy looking and moody, we never see the sun full on or directly it’s always filtered light cut by the trees into slits. The forest is another great part of the comic all dead trees and rotting carcasses, hanging bone and twig sculptures, weird random structures, and haunted misshapen creatures that stalk the woods…or possibly just the witch from Left 4 Dead.
The Witcher himself is a bit less of a slam-dunk for the issue. He’s very much a contradictory curiosity of a character, intense and violent one moment then bawdy and jovial the next which works and doesn’t at the same time. You never quite get why it is he takes enough of a liking to Jakob to accept him as his sidekick (though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some deeper motivation we haven’t seen yet on that front) he just sort of shows up and decides to kind of adopt him. At the same time the character is ill defined in this issue, he destroys evil yes but that’s sort of the only real defining trait he has, I’m sure if I played the game I would have some better understanding of his origins and motivations but just playing the comic it left a bit to be desired. He comes off very Gary Stew, an incredible master of monster killing whose had all these past amazing adventures and always knows just what to say for the situation and what everything is but doesn’t have any deeper defining personality other than “random adventure who makes the story go forward.”
Jakob admittedly has more personality to his character but not quite better personality. He definitely comes off like he’s not all there which works with his origins but occasionally you find yourself wishing he wasn’t around. Though his personal tragedy and history are key defining parts of the plot and driving elements of the story his major role in most of the adventures is an audience surrogate for the Witcher to explain each new monster to but this leads to a lot of unnecessary talking that breaks the mood a bit, especially when he tends to slip into cowardly second fiddle territory like he’s Woozy Winks. I’m not sure the comic would’ve been better if it was just the Witcher silent stalking through the wilderness with all of his thoughts and emotions conveyed to us through the visuals of his face (especially as the artist tends to avoid drawing faces in this issue wherever possible) but it would’ve kept a more consistent tone at least.
Overall I thought this was a very, very, very decent issue. Good atmosphere complemented by good art with interesting monsters and enough to the world to help it stand out as wandering adventurer fantasy piece but let down a bit by ironically enough a lot of the same problems that plague other entries in the genre; underdeveloped protagonist and mixed supporting cast. Still if you’re curious, loved the games, or are a big fantasy junkie I’d recommend this issue.