Joe Books’ RIFTWORLD LEGENDS puts a very unique spin on the trope of a person from Earth falling into a fantasy world. Rather than a modern teen falling into a different world, writer Jonathan Williams poses the question: what if explorers from the late 1400’s on their way towards India landed on mysterious unknown territory? These men are prepared to explore and see the unexpected, but what if they find something they couldn’t have even imagined? Now that’s compelling premise for a fantasy story — especially for a history buff like me.

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The bulk of the story follows Jackie Fortune — a fast-talking rogue with a love of gambling. He travels aboard an English trade ship traveling to India until they land on the mysterious world. However, there’s an interesting twist to the presentation of the story. Jackie’s story is told as a historical account by his daughter to her granddaughter. The cool part is they are denizens of the fantasy world, not Earth. I find it fascinating to see characters from other worlds talk about Earth history and culture. It’s a cool way of examining ourselves through the lens of similar but otherworldly characters. As of the RIFTWORLD LEGENDS #1 there hasn’t been much magic, but the comic did start with a virgin sacrifice to a sea monster, so I’m sure there will be more where that came from.

RIFTWORLD LEGENDS #1
Courtesy of Joe Books LTD

I’ve always been a fan of fantasy stories where someone from Earth somehow lands on a magical new world. Of course, over time it has become a crutch for fantasy writers. It’s a good way to introduce complicated fantasy elements piecemeal. It can be daunting to build a brand new world and introduce all the interesting details without either bogging the reader down with exposition or making it incomprehensible. In order to avoid this challenge altogether, you can just have a relatable protagonist that discovers the new world alongside the reader. It works, but it’s overly common. RIFTWORLD LEGENDS #1 take on this is a breath of fresh air.

A Swashbuckling Family History

The framing device for this story introduces a medieval-esque family on the eve of their eldest daughters confirmation. As of yet, no one has specified what that actually is, but it sounds like your average coming of age ceremony. The girl’s grandmother visits her to tell her the story of Jackie Fortune — which to the girl at first sounded like a parable for staying chaste rather than an account of her great-grandfather.  So far we don’t get to see much personality out of these two, especially compared to Jackie.

As of RIFTWORLD LEGENDS #1, the grandmother, the girl, and her parents are all stock characters with mundane, but believable, personalities. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that since it makes it easier for a new reader to get engaged with the characters, but if that’s all that was in this story I would be disappointed. Thankfully, Jackie and the sailors are lively and entertaining, and I’m confident the other characters will prove to be just as interesting later on.

RIFTWORLD LEGENDS #1
Courtesy of Joe Books LTD

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Impressively Expressive

I gotta say, the art of RIFTWORLD LEGENDS impressed me. The illustrations by Daniel Wong are generally high quality. What’s really special are the facial expressions throughout the comic. So much personality comes through every character’s face; from overwhelming despair to quizzical looks to drunken speeches. Honestly the faces say more about the characters than their dialogue. I think more comics should try to accomplish that — it’s always best when a medium plays to its strengths. As a visual medium, a comic being able to tell a nuanced story with its visuals is laudable.

There weren’t that many magical elements in the RIFTWORLD LEGENDS, #1, but two characters stood out to me: a tattooed mystic and an executioner with an ornate mask. One of the most important things in fantasy, in my opinion, is the aesthetic. So many writers have written fantasy that in order to stand out you have to commit to an otherworldly style. Most of the issue follows either an average peasant family or traditionally dressed European sailors. However, I’m convinced that as the magic comes into focus, we’ll get to see more stylistically cool characters and settings.

Final Thoughts on RIFTWORLD LEGENDS #1

Altogether, RIFTWORLD LEGENDS #1 is a good start to a fantasy series. While not revealing much about the other world as of yet, the lively personalities of Jackie Fortune and his fellow sailors got me hooked. The issue ends with Grandma getting her story cut short, and like the teenage girl, I was equally frustrated. I want to see where it goes! If you like parallel fantasy worlds, the Age of Exploration, and virgin sacrifices, you should check out this comic! You can find the entire series on Comixology, so get exploring!

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RIFTWORLD LEGENDS #1 by Jonathan Williams and Daniel Wong
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
RIFTWORLD LEGENDS #1 puts an interesting spin on the fantasy trope of people from earth accidentally arriving in a magic world. The decision to make 15th century explorers the protagonists works really well.
86 %
A compelling start to a new fantasy adventure.

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