Jim Zub's latest return to the Forgotten Realms is a fun adventure that will appeal to fans of both Dungeons & Dragons or traditional fantasy stories.
Back in 2014, IDW tapped Jim Zub to write a Dungeons & Dragons miniseries starring the popular character Minsc the ranger as part of D&D's 40th anniversary celebration. Minsc first appeared in the Baldur's Gate video games as a comical character -- a brutish ranger with a devotion to his hamster companion Boo, which Minsc refers to as a "miniature giant space hamster." Although most rangers use their animal companions in battle, Boo served as a conscience of sorts for Minsc, although Minsc occasionally did call for Boo to bite at opponent's eyes as a surprise attack of sorts.
To date, Zub has written three Minsc comic miniseries, each of which spun out of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure path. The first comic used the "Tyranny of Dragons" as a backdrop, the second adventure was set in Ravenloft during the "Curse of Strahd" adventure, and the most recent issue paralleled the giants faced in "Storm King's Thunder." However, Evil at Baldur's Gate doesn't appear to spin out of last fall's "Tomb of Annihilation" story, and instead returns Minsc and his companions to their hometown of Baldur's Gate. This adds a level of unpredictability to the comic, as readers don't know who or what the "big bad" of the series will be.
The three most recent Minsc miniseries have all had different artists, with Evil at Baldur's Gate featuring the work of Dean Kotz. Kotz's art style is a happy medium between the styles of Zub's previous artistic partners Max Dunbar and Netho Diaz. Dunbar's art style was clean and stylized, while Diaz depicted Minsc in a more realistic manner. Kotz's art style is a bit nondescript compared to his predecessors, but I feel it does as good a job at capturing Minsc's cartoonish mannerisms as Dunbar's work on Zub's first two miniseries. Diaz's work was very somber and clashed with Minsc's trademark humor, so in that regard I feel Kotz is a big improvement.
Kotz's art is at its strongest when the action is on the streets of Baldur's Gate. He does a great job of capturing the city's narrow, grimy alleys, making the city feel a bit like a maze. There's a fight sequence that quickly spills into a tailor's shop and out the other side that only works because Kotz had captured the claustrophobic way Baldur's Gate was built. Had Kotz not built that subtle detail into the background of his comics, the fight sequence wouldn't have read as smoothly as it did.
The biggest weakness in Kotz's art is the way he draws panels that feature more than one or two characters. It seems that every time the script "zooms out" to feature multiple characters, Kotz puts only minimal work into the faces. It's made more obvious due to Stefani Rennee's coloring, as Rennee passed on coloring in the whites of most of the characters' faces simply due to the fact that there wasn't anything to really color.
The plotline of Evil at Baldur's Gate serves mainly to reintroduce readers to Minsc. It's easy to fall in love with Zub's version of Minsc -- he's a goofy character in some regards, but one that's easy to love. Furthermore, Zub makes it clear that, despite Minsc's silly mannerisms, he's not an idiot. Minsc is a dangerous and competent fighter, even though he's chatting up a hamster while crossing swords with an opponent.
Although Zub has a knack for fantasy stories, I was a bit disappointed with how safe Evil at Baldur's Gate feels. The first issue's plot is exactly what you'd expect from a fantasy comic; there's the standard trip to the tavern, hooded cutthroats, and just enough magic to make it clear that this isn't a historical genre book. If not for the inclusion of Minsc and Boo -- who, to be fair, are the main attraction of the comic -- Evil at Baldur's Gate could probably be mistaken for any other forgettable fantasy comic published in the last 30 years. This isn't a bad thing; I love a safe fantasy story, and sometimes you just want to see some swordplay without any heavy thinking, but don't expect any revolutionary storytelling from this issue.
If you need a comic to scratch your fantasy itch, you'll enjoy Evil at Baldur's Fate. It's a safe and fun comic, a fantasy story created by a Dungeon Master for players just looking for some simple escapism that doesn't really challenge any well-worn tropes.