SUNDAY CLASSICS: Swordquest – “RealWorld”

Thirty years after his youthful obsession with the Swordquest video game began, Peter Case is ready to steal the $50,000 sword offered as grand prize to whomever won the game – even if the theft sparks a crisis on multiple worlds!

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WARNING:  This review contains major spoilers. 

SWORDQUEST TPB – “RealWorld” (Collects Swordquest #0-5)
Story by Chad Bowers & Chris Sims
Art by Ghostwriter X

Cover Art by Goni Montes
Lettering by Josh Krach
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

What You Need to Know:
Peter Case was working hard to finish Atari’s four-part Swordquest video game series in 1984 and wanted to set himself up to win the company’s contest and with it the real $50,000 sword awaiting the contest winner! But when the series was discontinued before the final game could be released, Peter lost hope. Flash forward 33 years, and Peter is ready to embark on a quest to get the sword once and for all – even if it means a heist with inter-dimensional implications!

What You’ll Find Out:

Peter Case is in his mid-40s, down and out, and recently diagnosed with terminal lung disease. After his apartment building burns down, he’s forced to move back home with his mother. As he settles into his old bedroom (now complete with floral print, as mom’s been renting it out), he stumbles across a box in the closet containing his old Atari 2600 and Swordquest video games.

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He’s flooded with memories of childhood and his two best friends, Alvin and Amy Perez. Together, the trio would spend hours playing Swordquest – while Peter played the game, Amy and Alvin helped him solve the clues to move the game along. The trio was inseparable. Peter spends his first night home playing Swordquest – all night long.

His interest in the game rekindled, Peter goes online to find Amy and Alvin. Amy is now an author who writes about vintage video games, and she is doing a local book signing! When he stumbles across Alvin’s online profile, Peter hesitates to reach out. A teenage incident of affection followed by immediate rejection has been bothering Peter for a long time – and it’s an emotional struggle between the characters as the story progresses.

BackOff

Peter goes to the book signing to reacquaint with Amy, and as they are talking, a piece of paper falls out of Peter’s childhood Swordquest notebook – they’re notes he had written on his plans to steal the sword. At this point, Amy’s brother Alvin reappears, and struggling with the awkward feelings he’s been harboring for years, Peter angrily storms off after a coughing fit.

The next time we see the trio together is at Peter’s mother’s house. Apparently, they were worried enough about their friend to follow him home. It’s now that Peter tells them both he’s terminally ill, and that he’s going to steal the Swordquest blade that eluded him throughout childhood.

StealtheSword

The trio talk – and at the end of the conversation, Peter says that Amy and Alvin are right. The plan is crazy, and Peter isn’t even sure that he wants the sword anymore.

A man on a motorcycle pulls up to where the three are talking.

SwordWantsYou

Will Peter be able to enlist the aid of his friends to steal the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery from the Game Expo where it’s being displayed? And who is this strange man who knows Peter Case? High fantasy, distant worlds, and sorcery await! 

What Just Happened:
Wow. That’s really all I can say. As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I could relate to all of the video game references, the angst about a “game unfinished” and Peter’s obsession with the Swordquest series. I actually offered to review this book as sort of a joke – I didn’t think anything serious could come out of a comic based on an old video game, and an Atari 2600 video game at that! That’s a very tough – and tremendously unprofessional – admission for any reviewer to make.

What Chad Bowers and Chris Sims have done here is create a compelling story, using all the elements of modern comic writing while using all the references to and capturing the vibe of the Golden Age of Video Games. The art panels are peppered with video game and Swordquest specific references. For example, at the beginning of the book, when Peter goes into his burning apartment to retrieve the neighbor’s dog Bagel, he emerges coughing and ready to be taken away by ambulance. The panel shows a pixellated life-meter, much like those featured in the old video games, that’s full of life now that the dog’s in the fresh air!

Capture

Other delightfully cheesy references make their way into the book without taking away from the serious aspects of the story. The ruler of the world in which the sword resides? Rulero. The world itself? Atara. The wizard’s name? Konjuro. Vintage video gaming at its best yet most basic, and fun references and occasional humor to jog the memory along the way.

The relationship between Peter and Alvin is an interesting addition to the story. It speaks to anyone who has ever held on to something awkward or incidents of rejection that happened in their childhood, and it shows that situation develop and resolve itself by the end of the storyline. The interpersonal relationships and the way Bowers and Sims weave them together compliment the story and drive you deeper into all of the characters.

Typically, I am not a fan of the type of art Ghostwriter X presents here. It’s not serious enough in my estimation, and in some ways reminiscent of Mike Allred’s work on the Madman comic. But Ghostwriter’s artwork is a perfect match to the storyline. It just feels right, like the art and writing were meant to be combined.

This is a trade paperback that you’ll want to keep on your shelf and re-read many times – especially when you’re longing for the lost days of the early 80s. It stands out as one of the best in a genre filled with mediocre attempts at translating comics to video games and vice versa. Bowers and Sims kicked it out of the park with this book -Swordquest: Realworld is one you don’t want to miss.

Rating: 8.5/10

Final Thoughts:
Swordquest: Realworld is a steal at just $19.99. Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a vintage video game fan, it’s a must-have. If you loved your Atari in the 1970s and 80s, it’s a really fun ride. New readers will enjoy it too – just mentally substitute Swordquest for Final Fantasy VII or some other popular Playstation or X-Box game and you’ll “get it” right away.

If you’re just looking for something different, or a change from superheroes and spandex, Swordquest might be just what you’re looking for. It’s not high literature by any stretch, but it’s a great way to spend an evening. Thank you, Dynamite!

What other video game related comics have you read? Was there a video game that deserved a comic but didn’t get one? Tell us what you think in comments below. 


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