Comic Book Review – Dragons: Riders Of Berk Volume One Dragon Down

Script: Simon Furman
Pencils: Iwan Nazif
Inks: Iwan Nazif (with Bambos Georgiou)
Colours: Nestor Pereyra & Digikore
Letters: David Manley-Leach
Publishers: Titan Comics

[Apologies for the absence in posting: I’ve been moving house, which I think it’s a legitimate excuse. At least it means that this connects this review with the arrival of How To Train Your Dragon 2 in cinemas.]

It is spring in the Viking village of Berk, and our heroes (Hiccup, Astrid, Snotlout, Fishlegs, Tuffnut and Ruffnut) are flying on their dragons, who are feeling full of energy. Some have more energy than others: Snotlout’s Hoofkfang is overheating and shedding scales that are setting the village on fire, so Hookfang has to be isolated from the village and the other dragons. However, he disappears and, after a search party organised by Hiccup goes wrong, Hiccup decides to take Toothless out in the storm to find Hookfang, unaware that Alvin the Treacherous, leader of the Outcast Tribe, is hunting Hiccup in order to acquire his dragon-training skills …

The film, How To Train Your Dragon, is one of the best non-Pixar CGI movies of recent times, and Toothless is one of the great animated animal characters of all time. This book is based on the computer-animated television series, which acts as a bridge between the first film and the sequel. I have never watched the television show, so it was a surprise to learn about Alvin the Treacherous and the Outcast Tribe – apparently, he was the main villain for the first season; it seems a very traditional villainous character to insert conflict into the story when the film was so unconcerned with such obvious concepts. I haven’t seen the sequel yet, but I hope that Alvin isn’t part of the story because I don’t particularly care for the character.

Because my frame of reference is the only the film, I couldn’t quite get into this book – I don’t know if it aligns more with the television series, but the feel of the narrative skews more towards a story that could be completed in 22 minutes of animation, with straightforward A and B plots, and missing the colour and characterisation of the film. Furman captures the voices of the main characters, particularly Hiccup, but the story doesn’t have the same magic as the movie (although that would be an impressive achievement considering the quality of the original film). The art has a cartoony vibe – Nazif is good with the likenesses in this pencil version, although it’s lacking in pizzazz and occasionally displays some confusion in panels, such as switching the orientation of the twins on their dragon from one panel to the next. The art was always going to come off poorly compared with the precision of CGI artwork (as displayed on the cover), so I thought that the artwork would take advantage of its comic-book basis; the first page has Gobber working at the smith across from a woman selling fish while kids run through the path between them, and for a moment it feels like a homage to a certain small Gaulish village holding out against Roman occupation … However, this is the closest it gets to an Asterix style, which is a shame, because it could have provided a nice tone for this book.

This is a slender volume – 48 pages of story – with a tale that aims towards the younger market, particularly the viewers of the television show. It doesn’t have the magic of the film but it does provide a solid dose of Toothless, Hiccup and the village of Berk.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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