Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax is dead. Like everyone who’s ever run around a fantasy world hitting bears with an ax, or found a fiendish use for Mage Hand, or attacked a gazebo, I owe him a great deal for his impact on my imagination.
I choose to mark this sad occasion, then, by reviewing a comic that lovingly explores and celebrates Gygax’s perhaps most honoured gift to the world of games – the dungeon crawl.
Lower Regions is funny, gruesome, and the hero is a woman with an axe, so you know I’m there already.
The black and white art is great, with exceptional facial expressions and body language carrying the story, and the inventiveness that went into the monster roster is fantastic, but the real appeal of this book to me is its star.
The barbarian protagonist is fantastically good at hacking and slashing her way through the many monsters of this tightly plotted story as she hunts for her stolen boy, and for horrible revenge on his kidnapper. Assisted by her adorable and useless halfling companion, she’s mentally creative when physically outmatched (in the best tradition of rules-lawyering) and gorgeous in her blood-spattered fury and determination.
I think I’m a little in love.
A heroine as competent and intelligent as this puts a lot of credit in the “good depiction of gender” column, but unfortunately, there’s an entry on the other side of the ledger as well. The only other visibly female character (and the monsters are mostly naked, so the sex of the humanoid ones is fairly obvious) is a female bat-demon, and both her attack and her bloody death are extremely sexualised.
As ever, a straight depiction of sexualised violence is almost guaranteed to throw me out of the story where an old-fashioned decapitation or disemboweling is not, and it’s annoying to find a repetition of the good woman versus sexy sexy danger trope in an otherwise thoroughly entertaining comic.
This aside – if you can put it aside – Alex Robinson rolled an 18 on Charisma for Lower Regions. If you’re up for some bloody black and white fun, I can highly recommend it.
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