Monday, 18 May 2020

Scholastic Reissues: Schedule 2


Reviewed by Mark Lain

Following on directly from my post about significant changes in Batch 1 of Scholastic’s FF reboots, we can only assume the first set of six books (five reprints of genuine classics and one very average completely new title) sold well as Scholastic announced a second set of six that would include yet another brand new offering. Not only this though, the series would get yet another rebrand.

Thus, Books 7 thru 12 (in Scholastic’s numbering) would be #7 Creature Of Havoc, #8 Deathtrap Dungeon, #9 Appointment With FEAR, #10 Island Of The Lizard King, #11 The Shamutanti Hills, and #12 The Gates Of Death. I have discussed #12 elsewhere and the positive here is that it did at least bring new blood to the series (in the form of ‘90s TV has-been Charlie Higson) even though the book itself was puerile lore-ignorant junk which just happened to have a rather good ending for anyone who could stay with it long enough to get there. Obviously, having already used up five genuinely great books for Batch 1 the choices for Batch 2 still fitted into the evident policy of focussing on Jackson/Livingstone books (a contractual and/or rights issue presumably) but with titles that divide opinion rather more, bar Deathtrap Dungeon which I doubt anyone will call anything other than an absolute masterpiece. For me, DD is the series’ top title in terms of an adventure for its own sake in the ne plus ultra of dungeons. However, as a tour de force of gamebook design, structure, and conceptual execution, Creature Of Havoc has to be one of the greatest gamebooks in any series ever. So, two absolute gems as openers then, from thereon though, we hit rather rockier waters. I hate Appointment With FEAR and always have: it’s a silly novelty that is over in about three or four section choices (unless you can unravel it very quickly) and has an irritating system whereby you simply have to guess when to look for hidden sections. OK, design-wise it is very impressive and it does have replay value with the four distinct paths based on your choice of Special Ability, but the mechanics needed to be in a far better book and AwF is, for me, just massively unsatisfying. Island Of The Lizard King is and is not an obvious choice for such early reprinting. Its position as the third in the semi-trilogy of City Of Thieves-Deathtrap Dungeon-IotLK does make its release in Batch 2 a sensible choice, but Scholastic’s messy new continuity (thanks to The Port Of Peril and Assassins Of Allansia) partially trashes this now and its extreme linearity (to the point of just being a straight line) has always marked it out as inferior to its two monumental predecessors. What IotLK always had in its favour for me though was Alan Langford’s perfectly-suited sun-drenched very primeval-looking internal art that suited it perfectly… oh dear, so we’ll come to this anon then… The Shamutanti Hills was inevitable sooner or later as Sorcery! was certain to get another reprint and putting it this early in the release schedule does have the advantage of giving some focus (and predictability) to imminent Scholastic batches, even if it is possibly too complex as a series overall for Scholastic’s pre-teen audience as Sorcery! remember was always aimed at adult players. But Sorcery! as a whole is FF’s crowning achievement so getting it out there to a new generation is welcome for sure.

I am pleased to see that Scholastic has listened to customer feedback with Batch 2 and that the rub-off gold spines are now much more resilient to handling and no longer disintegrate. The eagle-eyed will also note that Salamonis is now spelled correctly on the map of Allansia, but only in Books 7 onwards as the new printings from Batch 1 (see below) STILL have the typo present. Unfortunately, their responsiveness to audience reaction begins and ends here though as the funny-smelling cheap paper stock, the ugly black splodges on the pages, and the abomination that is Vlado Krizan’s internal art are all still present and (in)correct. Most striking is the decision to completely rebrand again which seems an odd move as it immediately removes any visual continuity on the shelf between Batches 1 and 2. This is a cynical move by Scholastic as the new “porthole” cover layouts which are reminiscent of Wizard’s Series 2 shields but more colourful and individually unique (as each is a different colour on the cover) inevitably led to Books 1 thru 6 getting reprinted (again) in the new porthole format so hardcore collectors (or anyone who wants all their Scholastic titles to match) would have to go out and buy the first six yet again. It must be said though that I actually really like the porthole covers and they have a more “serious” look than the rather cartoonish and garish Batch 1 covers with full page art. The small cropped images within the portholes are more striking for their sneak-peak nature and focus much more on each book’s cover baddie in isolation, although the Batch 2 cover images are generally an improvement on the Batch 1s so they are underplayed a bit in this presentation (you can see the full size versions of the Batch 2 cover pictures on cover artist Robert Ball’s website incidentally). Another more pleasing on the eye aspect of the new layouts is the spines which have a less austere title font than the Batch 1s and the title/author’s name are divided by a thumbnail of the cover porthole which is actually rather effective. A final more subtle feature of the portholes (which continues in Batch 3 incidentally) is that the totally new titles are foiled rather than matt on the covers (Gates Of Death is silver, The Port Of Peril and Assassins Of Allansia are gold) and the author credit on the spine is blue rather than black for GoD and AoA, but red on PoP so they can’t even get these to match – either have them all in blue text or make each one different, just choose one please Scholastic rather than doing half of one thing and half of another. This of course causes no end of visual issues on the shelf with its mix of blue, red, and black spine lettering, not to mention one random silver spine at position twelve (possibly to help you to not accidentally select it when choosing what to read next), and it also of course means that you have occasional foiled covers in amongst the matt ones if you look at the books together from the front. Scholastic has just replaced one load of problems with some others it would seem.

So then, onto the artistic changes to the first book, the colossus that is Creature Of Havoc. Ball’s version of Zharradan Marr on the cover is actually pretty good and he certainly looks evil rather than childish like Ball’s attempt at Zanbar Bone does, but Ian Miller’s unique eye is hard to compete with and Ball was never going to better Miller’s original cover. Likewise, I am a big fan of Alan Langford’s art so it is unlikely that the eminently talentless Vlado Krizan was really going to cut it with the new internals for this book either. Thankfully, as is standard for Scholastic’s FFs, there is rather less of VK’s work on show here as the illustrations are reduced in number.

Present in the Puffin and Scholastic editions are these images:

1 scared man. 12 woodcutter, 40 study with skeletons, 63 dark elf bowman, 88 devourer, 123 Women of Dree, 134 Dree, 170 clawbeast, 182 guards and slaves, 194 zombie, 217 thing in a coffin, 229 Eleven et al, 263 manic beast, 287 toadmen, 323 cowled person, 334 shadow stalker, 377 rhinomen, 400 hand and bottle, 411 more zombies, 447 flesh eaters

…leaving the following illustrations missing from this version:

24 giant hornet, 100 rock demon, 111 lab, 147 bottle man, 241 blood orcs, 274 half-orc humiliation, 299 jabberwing, 312 doors, 356 carrion bugs, 366 brigands, 390 hobbits, 423 ophidiotaur, 435 another rhinoman

Unlike FoD and CoT this book has not had any new sections illustrated and a few observations on what we do still have are: 88, 170 and 194 are all quite effective but have nowhere near the amount of horror in it as Langford’s versions do, the figures in Dree in section 134 are more undead-looking than disease-ridden which is at odds with what they should look like, 217 is actually quite disturbing and less manic than the original, 123’s Women of Dree are just awful now and have pointed ears and expressions that make them look like friendly elves rather than evil witches that we were warned about in the opening spiel, 263 is sorely lacking the primeval quality of Langford’s version, 323 is literally now just a grey page with a small bit of inconsequential white in the bottom right hand corner, 411 is now a picture of skeletons not zombies (as I observed in my post on Batch 1 for some reason Krizan cannot draw skeletons and these always come out too angular and digital… oh, and he does not seem to have any idea what a zombie is as a zombie is definitely not a skeleton!) So, there is some half-decent stuff dotted about in here but VK simply cannot compete with AL and is reduced to inferior carbon copies yet again in an attempt to ape the originals. As for what has been excised, I am just about happy that most of the missing images are expendable although I am disappointed at the removal of the ophidiotaur as, let’s face it, who doesn’t like pictures of dinosaurs? And, Langford is the best FF illustrator bar none when it comes to lizardine/dinosaur forms (which is already worrying me about what might have happened inside IotLK) so this was a great image in the original. Perhaps it could be a positive that it is gone as we do not have to suffer the indignity of VK ruining its memory for us, but his added image of a pterosaur in FoD wasn’t too bad so the comparison might have been worthwhile (benefit of the doubt and all that).

A point to note with CoH is that the text prompt in section 213 that allows you to escape the opening Act in the caves is once again missing from this edition. It was missing from the Puffin version, restored for the Wizard Series 1 edition, then removed again for Wizard Series 2. Whether this is genuinely missing and therefore an error is an oft-debated subject, but I still maintain that it is intended to not be there and is Steve Jackson being tricksy to force the player to pay close attention to the text and to act on prompts that should by this stage be familiar. Add to this the fact that it is missing in three of the four published versions and I think my point is proved.

So, the Krizan-ised version of CoH is certainly not his worst set of reworked illustrations that we have discussed so far (I nominate probably CoT for that dubious honour), but it is a little worrying that Deathtrap Dungeon is next in line and we have already seen VK totally bomb in CoT when rebooting Iain McCaig art.

Firstly. let us consider Robert Ball’s bloodbeast cover reinterpretation. In the porthole format this is basically just its multi-eyed head without the context of the McCaig version’s surroundings. And it is actually not too bad and is definitely quite scary. Let me contextualise this view though as I, unlike most people, do not especially like McCaig’s original bloodbeast cover and it is definitely nowhere near as good as his truly phenomenal covers for both FoD and CoT in my opinion. There is something a bit Emperor’s New Clothes-y about IM’s bloodbeast cover and people seem afraid to criticise it as if it is somehow heresy to do so, but in my view he has done better work for FF which is probably why RB’s version offends me less than it might do other people. Conversely though, IM’s internal art for DD was genuinely brilliant and bettered his efforts for CoT quite noticeably, which of course means that Vlado Krizan was probably starting on the back-foot in terms of trying to win people over with his new versions, which we see in these sections that appear in the Puffin and Scholastic editions:

Intro gathering at the entrance, 12 trick bloke, 37 idol, 60 Trialmaster, 74 mirror demon, 93 chest, 134 manticore, 143 giant scorpion, 153 jewel-eyed skull room, 168 knife in worms, 187 basket man, 210 Ian Livingstone minus hand, 230 troglodytes, 245 pit fiend, 282 Throm, 312 ninja, 326 orcs, 344 faces in light beam, 364 Igbut the gnome, 381 skeleton in chair

And missing now are:

24 demonbird seat, 49 leprechauns, 108 giant insects, 122 skull stairs, 169 elf vs snake, 200 draped cage, 218 dead warrior, 264 homo-erotic Graeco-Roman hobgoblin wrestling, 299 dead barbarian, 339 fist, 352 rock grubs, 393 chasm

I have forgiven every previous Scholastic title (for the most part) for the images they have removed as they generally preserved the key material that is essential to the plot or the flow. However, the nature of the concept of this book being a designer dungeon with traps at every turn means that nothing is incidental so there are no secondary moments to remove. In other words, Scholastic has made a mess of the intended visual presentation of Baron Sukumvit (read Ian Livingstone)’s greatest creation. Indeed, they have even removed a couple of images that show vital plot points (169 and 299) as it is useful to literally see how the other five contestants fair and witness the moments when you relocate them after the gathering in the Intro image. Further to this, the removal of section 169’s image has solved a niggling problem with the original which was that two back-to-back sections (168 and 169) were illustrated which created a distinct imbalance in the distribution of illustrations but, Scholastic being its oblivious self, removed the wrong image as 168 is a trap whereas 169 is vital to the plot. Oh dear.

As for what has made the cut, my main observations are: in 12 the dead knight is very understated and almost miss-able which causes a problem as this is another picture with plot importance, the mirror demon in section 74 was in the McCaig version probably one of the single best images in any FF ever but it is now reduced to having jazz hands and zero horror in it at all, the manticore in 134 (another IM masterpiece) now has the head of a golden lion tamarind and its colouration is literally very black and white reducing the impact hugely in what is meant to be a seriously lethal opponent to be feared rather than a cute tamarind-headed thingy, the giant scorpion in 143 is now a crayfish, all the worms in 168 now have eyes (or possibly bell-ends), IL’s cameo in section 210 no longer looks like him (is this intentional though?) and what is VK’s growing obsession with everyone having pointed ears in Batch 2 as the (no longer) IL figure here now does, Throm has lost his bizarre “sunglasses” look in 282 (possibly a good thing as this part of him never looked right), the orcs in 326 are simply comical now, the new version of 344’s faces in light are actually much more scary and effective now (so that’s one point to VK), and the skeleton in 381 is so oddly drawn that VK does not seem to be even trying to show the skeleton anymore. Overall, this is a pretty depressing indictment of the situation and I have only highlighted the really obvious trainwrecks in what is a fairly awful set of images from VK. There was no way that VK (or probably anyone else for that matter) was going to compete with the set of illustrations that IM produced for this book but Krizan’s mixture of semi-reworking and simply tracing with far too much greyscale dumped on it and zero detail again does nothing to visualise the ultimate fantasy dungeon. The images here should be surprising and inspire awe and trepidation in equal measure. Sadly they just inspire me to not want to play the greatest FF in terms of dungeon adventuring in its purest sense and this is a travesty against the material in the book. There is an argument to say that all the best SJ/IL FFs must be reissued by Scholastic otherwise the series is not being properly represented, but there is also an argument that says if Scholastic are going to ruin the impact this much then perhaps they are better off leaving titles like DD well alone as this version is just an insult to the author, the original illustrator, and to the audience. Horrible. Oh yes, and there are no new sections illustrated in this version (Thank God).

So, as I recover from my incandescent rage at what I have seen in Scholastic’s version of Deathtrap Dungeon, I find myself forced to revisit Appointment With FEAR, but at least only to look at the art meaning I do not have to read it (ever) again. The porthole cover gives us the inevitable image of the Titanium Cyborg which, as the subject of this book is comic book superheroes, is finally wholly suited to Robert Ball’s cartoonish interpretations of the covers and is genuinely well done, notwithstanding the problem that Brian Bolland’s name carries so much gravitas in comic books and his work is pretty much the pinnacle in the genre. But Ball makes a decent fist of it.

Declan Considine’s interior art in the original version was workable and his style captured the comic book visual nicely (especially the multi-framed comic book approach in most of the images) but never rose above simply being acceptable in context. So, could Vlado Krizan finally get his chance to better the original art given that he is, for once, not having to compete with a master of the form as he was with the likes of Iain McCaig, Russ Nicholson, Malcolm Barter, and Alan Langford?

Appearing in both the original and Scholastic printings are the images for these sections:

1 street scene, 43 kidnap, 58 Macro Brain, 85 The Reincarnation, 114 Creature of Carnage, 129 Ice Queen, 157 assassination, 185 subway train, 215 Sidney Knox, 242 The Devastator, 256 store hold-up, 184 alsatians, 298 Titanium Cyborg, 313 Dr Macabre, 341 car crash, 355 fire warriors, 369 Chainsaw Bronski, 382 The Poisoner, 425 Cocktail Composer Droid, 440 Arrest

Giving us these as the now missing images:

15 amusement park, 29 small brown cloud, 72 sharks, 144 Professor Murdock, 171 Daddy Rich, 201 fountain creature, 228 bank job, 270 mummy, 327 Audobon Park, 396 Mantrapper, 410 airport nutter

Let’s consider what is missing in this book first this time as, given that the majority of the images that made the cut are key moments (standard for the Scholastic issues) it does create the problem that much of the surviving art is of super villains which makes it rather unbalanced and appear to be a catalogue of nothing but super villains (which it is not as lots of everyday moments happen in this book too). The exclusion of some images of crimes (228 and 410) is arguably a bad move as you are after all on the hunt for crimes to solve, although section 29 and 327’s images were always pretty incomprehensible to me so I’m glad to see these ones gone. Scholastic has removed a couple of super villain images too though which does keep the book from seeming to portray almost nothing but these characters now.

As for what art remains, there is finally a real positive in Krizan’s version which is that in this book there is none of his trademark awful greyscaling. Could we be seeing a breakthrough at last? Naturally, no greyscale is also a great opportunity to give us some immersive detail, something sorely absent from VK’s art up until now and something that is essential to making the player feel part of the image, as it were. Disappointingly, this opportunity is not taken and instead we are left with loads of empty white voids in his art here, but it is at least much less murky than his work usually is in FFs and this is probably his best work for FF so far, not that that is really saying much as this art is still very sub-par overall! To pick out just a few examples to highlight: 114 is just a man now and not likely to generate much carnage, 129 has had botox or lip filler (well at least it’s contemporary), 215 would be better being renamed Cauliflower Head, the alsatians in 294 are drawn by someone who has presumably never seen an alsatian, but a plus is that the VK version of 298 has been restructured so the Titanium Cyborg is now very much front and centre (not a bad thing as he is the main baddie of the piece). One thing that strikes the viewer again though is that the all-important panelled comic book style has been maintained which adds a lot to the whole concept of this book, but does of course draw us to once again see Krizan’s versions as, in most cases, little more than just copies of the Considine originals.

It is good to see the greyscaling gone for once, but the failure to take the chance this afforded to get some detail into the art finally is a huge failing. The fact that I never liked this book though does mean that VK could have pretty much done whatever he wanted with the internal art and I would not be hugely bothered as I still would not be especially interested in this pointless entry into the series.

As I said above, I approach this version of Island Of The Lizard King with some trepidation as the original edition had the perfect match of setting to artist. Langford’s excellence at portraying the primitive and/or lizardine mixed with Fire Island’s sun-scorched “lost world” feel really brought this title to life for me and I definitely prefer AL’s work here to that in Creature Of Havoc. Russ Nicholson got Vlado’d twice in Scholastic’s first batch, Iain McCaig felt the greyscaling sting in both batches, and Langford gets the dubious honour of having two of his sets of art reworked by Krizan in Batch 2. But first there is the cover which is the fourth and final McCaig cover to get the Ball treatment.

Of the four McCaig covers IotLK has always been the weakest by far for me so this was another that had potential for improvement. Indeed, the Martin McKenna update for Wizard Series 1 was more impacting and the Lizard King on his version had more threat in its expression and pose. Fast forward to the Ball version and I’m pleasantly surprised at how threatening his porthole headshot really is. The all-important gonchong is there too and for some reason the emphasis on him being blue is oddly effective, so this one is a winner for me and certainly complements the previous two versions as none of them is perfect and this is an unusual case where there is no definitive go-to version, so the cover comes off well in the Scholastic edition. I fear the same cannot be said for the interiors however, and present in both the Puffin and Scholastic printings are:

1 Mungo, 14 lizard man, 30 hill troll, 48 razorjaw, 82 Lizard King and black lion, 101 skeleton in mine, 116 bear, 139 lizard man riding styracosaurus, 149 map, 168 hobgoblin, 195 goblin, 211 Harryhausen crab eats Mungo, 223 lizard man in mine, 235 hydra, 254 cyclops, 279 battle, 305 ogre, 325 giant lizard, 350 Raquel Welch and sabre-toothed tiger, 360 two-headed lizard man

One thing that is obvious with how Scholastic has approached what images to remove here is that all of the lizard man-centric material is still here, which is a logical move. What makes less sense though is that some of the important images that drilled the primitive nature of Fire Island home are missing. The full list of removed images being:

39 grannits, 59 cavewoman, 71 pygmies, 126 spit toad, 158 slime sucker, 249 shaman, 268 prisoner, 291 pirate and monkey, 317 marsh hopper, 337 head hunters, 379 water elemental, 390 raft lunatic

This excision list is a problem as all of 59, 71, 249 and 337 are important if we are to see the visualisation of a primitive environment. Talking about them in the text is one thing, but seeing them drawn is much more impacting and removing these images seems frankly illogical. I have a suspicion that the PC Brigade might have got at this decision-making process as several of the removed images could be construed as stereotyping or whatever, but that is no excuse and these are vital to the whole concept. I am pleased at the removal of 379 though as this was the weakest image and the least relevant concept. Removing 291 is a plot issue, but only if you took the pirate beech route right at the start, so the jury is out on this one. At least they kept the crab eating Mungo in for section 211 as this is important too.

The inclusion list mostly makes sense but including the useless map in 149 is an odd choice. The majority of the featured images though are on subject and the weighting towards lizard men, slaves, and primitive species suits the material very well and focuses us on the lizard-centric concept.

Krizan’s versions of Langford’s generally brilliant art in this book are very problematic: Mungo in 1 has got sharp teeth for some reason and he almost seems to be threatening us, no-one can draw lizard men quite like AL so 14, 82, 139 (which also features a dinosaur again), 223, and 360 were always going to be poor in my yes, the razorjaw in 48 is lacking the primeval quality of Langford’s version as is 235’s hydra, the bear in 116 is actually very threatening so this is a plus for Krizan, the goblin in 195 never really looked like a goblin to me in AL’s interpretation but Krizan’s isn’t great either and this image should have been removed as it is pretty incidental and replaced with the cavewoman or the shaman (which is essential to the plot) – this would also have got rid of the map in 149, there are now way too few characters in the battle image for 279 to suggest it is meant to be a battle, and the Cyclops in 254 has an afro and is easily the worst of the Vlado bunch in this book. That said, there is also the problem of the iconic Raquel Welch image on section 350 and if you were to pick one image that encapsulates Langford’s work on IotLK it would be this picture for me – so why then has VK turned her into an emo? Dire.

Annoyingly, after the whitening up of the art in VK’s take on AwF we are back to carbon copies of the originals but made way too dark by the clumsy greyscale. Fire Island (to me anyway, and evidently to Alan Langford) should have a sun-drenched primitive look, not Krizan’s gloomy detail-free night-time rubbish.

IotLK was a good but not great gamebook that was greatly lifted by its fabulous internal art. Now, sadly, unless your imagination can work the text up into how Fire Island should look and fill in the important visual gaps that Scholastic have left, this makes for a fairly lacklustre affair in this form and I’m not sure it has much to offer anymore, bar the brain-melting experience of trying to work out where this now fits in the continuity given that Mungo dies at the start of this one, but Mungo is very much alive and unhappy about the whole Oyster Bay situation late on in The Port Of Peril which, mixed with the now clear-as-mud story arc with that book, City Of Thieves, Deathtrap Dungeon and the all-new Assassins Of Allansia, just confuses you to the point of not trying to identify a timeline anymore.
And so we come to the last reissue in Batch 2, and one that pretty much everyone would welcome: The Shamutanti Hills. I do not need to explain that this is the first part of Steve Jackson’s four book epic collectively known as Sorcery! and Scholastic have acknowledged this by adding the Sorcery leader to the title. This could slightly confuse anyone unfamiliar with what this might mean but it does alert newbies to the fact that this is part of something bigger (or rather it would be when more Sorcery appear).

A big part of Sorcery’s coherence was the art which was by John Blanche across all four parts and he produced the covers and the internals. Wizard’s decision to change the covers to (former Iron Maiden LP cover artist) Melvyn Grant’s updated versions detracted from this somewhat, but at least JB’s very unique vision was intact within each of the four books. Blanche’s style is not for everyone (me included) but his appreciators rate him hugely and his work on Sorcery certainly gave it a distinctive look. So, what would the Ball-Krizan version look like?

Ball’s cover has the manticore peering through the porthole, is nicely threatening, and the added touch of the disproportionately-large tail stinger is a nice lurid touch. It’s not a patch on Blanche’s fantastic Puffin cover, but it works well enough, as do quite a few of Ball’s covers, so this is an acceptable cover for me. As for Krizan’s internals, Blanche’s black and white style is so off-the-wall and his perspectives are so odd that trying to duplicate these would have been very hard, so many of the VK versions are adjusted and rethought in places. This selection is what we find still in place from the original list of images:

1 Sightmaster Servant, 27 riddling hunchback, 39 ogre, 51 assassin, 63 snakepit, 87 wood golem, 123 encounter montage, 147 plague village, 159 pilfered portrait, 183 old man in tree, 195 manticore, 207 hill giant, 243 woman, 255 goblin, 266 ale house, 355 serpent, 407 goblins, 425 wolfhound, 456 Torrepani welcome committee

So the following are missing:
Map of Kakhabad, 13 skunkbear, 73 back lotus, 76 elvins, 99 troll, 112 head hunters, 172 hut interior, 220 Jann the minimite, 232 svinns, 279 more elvins, 308 bandits dancing

As with IotLK I feel that Scholastic have dropped the ball with the excisions again here. Jann is iconic, 308 is hilarious, 112 wreaks of the same pc rubbish decision-making as we had in IotLK, and what have we now got against elvins to lose two images of them? And surely the map of Kakhabad is necessary to contextualise the campaign as a whole and establish a geographical sense of place as we are not in Allansia anymore? Whoever is making the decisions at Scholastic clearly has, rather like Charlie Higson showed with The Gates Of Death, zero concept of FF lore and this seems to be little more than a cashcow to them.

I always felt that Blanche’s wood golem in section 87 was the single most bonkers image ever to appear in any FF but the Krizan version is flat and uninteresting. I would rather have lunacy that makes you think and really study an image than something totally conventional like the VK attempt. I do not understand why the Sightmaster Servant in the VK image is so small (or is it a test of our eyesight to see the Sightmaster?) and the all-important manticore in 195 is not as botched as the DD version (thankfully) but is still not great or in any way threatening (at odds with Ball’s cover then). I am confused by Krizan’s version of the goblin in 255 as, whilst actually good, I think it is probably a troll.

For the third time in the Scholastic reissues we have an all-new section illustrated in this book: number 95 bandits. As before, with no barometer of comparison this is an opportunity for Krizan to do his own thing and this is a reasonable image but bandits are hard to get wrong as they are not fantasy art per se, and VK does indeed do his own thing by giving us a gloomy greyscale picture with no detail or depth to keep us interested.

In fact, this is what he has done with all his illustrations in this book and his angle on the Blanche originals is to mostly make the perspectives more conventional, remove the “excesses” of JB’s artistic weirdness, and have greyscale abound yet again. As with the usual Krizan technique, everything is too dark and devoid of any detail, the exact opposite in fact of JB’s very fussy, manic style. This is however the only title in Batch 2 that offered us the imaginative angle of a whole new section being illustrated (a positive move), as mundane as it is (a missed opportunity).

Batch 2 of Scholastic’s reboots is a much more inconsistent selection in terms of fan opinion and quality. There are three true masterpieces here, an okay effort, and a terrible gimmick book (that is not without its fans itself though). The new book (The Gates Of Death) has gone down in history as one of FF’s most derided books ever, and not without good reason (but I cover this fully elsewhere on this Blog). The new porthole covers are classy-looking even if the move to rebrand after six books is annoying to anyone who likes external visual consistency, but the decision to ignore fan reaction and plough on ahead with Vlado Krizan producing the internal art, along with all the crappy physical quality issues, does the series (and Scholastic’s credibility) no favours. If Scholastic’s vision for FF is to continue they need to address the internal art debacle and replace Krizan (yes I know it removes the visual coherence, but enough is enough with this greyscale crap), ensure the titles they release are those that have the best reputations, and finish what they have started as regards the Sorcery! cycle, as an incomplete epic will just be frustrating.


  1. I must say Malthus, you are being very productive on this blog of late.

    I only finished part 1 of this last night and now here is part 2 already !

    1. The whole lockdown mess meant that I got the manuscript for VENOM OF VORTAN finished far faster than anticipated, meaning I could give the Blog some decent attention for the first time in nearly a year

  2. Well that's one positive effect of the lockdown at least !

    That being said, I would much prefer to read your actual review of the SORCERY epic instead of comparisons with the pointless reworked art.

    1. It's coming at some point, but all 4 will be a long job, especially #4

    2. yes you said before that you would write up each one separately as you went along and then post all 4 reviews at the same time - is that correct ?

    3. I'll probably do one a week for 4 weeks. Crown of Kings might take a bit longer though because it's so huge

    4. In your hands, it should be the definitive last word on the subject.

      Looking forward to reading those reviews !

  3. Is it possible to identify Legionnaire twenty-nine in the new version of the illustration of section 377 of Creature of Havoc?

    1. It's very hard to see anything at all in VK's muddy greyscaling

  4. Most likely not since it was hard enough to spot even in the original version.