Welcome to The Third Panel! Every other week, Alex dispels the myth that comics are only about superheroes by sharing comics books, graphic novels, and webcomics that are off the beaten path.
Writer’s Note: The Clandestinauts contains both nudity and violence! And while you’d be hard-pressed to say it’s titillating (in the case of the former) or upsetting (in the case of the latter), I probably wouldn’t read this at work.
Now gang, I know I must come across in this column as a cool buff dude who’s smooched hundreds, if not thousands of ladies. But I have a terrible secret: when I was in high school, I was a big nerd, and there are few memories more dear to me from those dark times than when I’d get together with my friends in one of our basements and play Dungeons and Dragons.
Now, for those of you “not in the know” about D&D, it’s a game where you pretend to be a wizard or a knight or a thief and then roll a bunch of dice to see how well you can kill a bunch of goblins or find a golden chalice. And then sometimes you get turned into a cannibal by accidentally eating human meat that’s been prepared by a magic meat cleaver (a thing that happened to one of my characters), or get eaten by an invisible giant chameleon with maximized hit dice because you failed a spot check (a thing that happened to one of my friend’s characters). Basically, it’s like a medieval version of living fast and dying young, but instead of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” it’s more like…”fireballs, +2 swords of life-leeching, and adventuring.”
I only go into that so as to explain that there are a lot of comics inspired by D&D, but few of them that I’ve read (save Image Comics’ Rat Queens, which you should also read) have ever come close to Tim Sievert’s The Clandestinauts in terms of aping the sheer insanity and eccentricity that goes into playing D&D.
The Clandestinauts are as follows:
- Chuck Ronan: master wizard, necromancy enthusiast
- Rogon: token fighter and also slug-man
- Gravel: world’s most realistic automated man
- Wilhelm: holy warrior and old guy
- Rutger: group warlock and pretty boy
- Ganglion the Grim: other group warlock, summons monsters and then eats them
They’re on a quest to steal a goblet from the underground castle of the Crimson Wizard in order to lift a curse placed on the Brothers of Blood. Naturally, none of this ever really comes up in the story, and that’s all part of the charm of it! It doesn’t matter why they’re there—it’s a contrivance to raise Cain and get loot, which is what most good D&D adventurers are about.
Now unfortunately the Clandestinauts’ plan hits a snag when Rutger gets eaten by the extra-dimensional being Ganglion summons to “help” his compatriots fight a pack of orcs, leaving the party without one of their members and also bereft of equipment with which to combat the Crimson Wizard.
Here’s where it gets interesting: the Clandestinauts make the ultimate tactical blunder of D&D—they split their party. But what’s bad for them is great for Sievert’s story, in that it allows him to showcase the various politics at work within the group. Rogon and Wilhelm find themselves fighting for their lives against a pair of mad wizards with the help of a company of mercenaries; Chuck Ronan, stricken with grief, makes a deal with a hag and her mother to go to Hell in order to help his friend Rutger, and Ganglion shows what a greedy, selfish bastard he really is by selling out Gravel to the Crimson Wizard. It’s a great show of how a group of people brought together by greed and shaky alliances would probably fall apart, and it’s only the altruism of a few that saves the whole endeavor.
Although by “saves the whole endeavor,” I mostly mean that the Clandestinauts screw things up so badly that only they get off with their hides intact, and it’s basically just Ganglion keeping his rotting head on a swivel that they even get the goblet they came for.
The Clandestinauts certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you like your adventure stories with slightly lower stakes and weirder locales, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more bang for your buck (in that it’s totally free) than Sievert’s twisted tale of backstabbing and demon eating. For the more tabletop gaming-oriented of you, I’m sure there’s a few great plot hooks you could swipe from it. And by that, I’m basically saying that if you read this comic and your next D&D session doesn’t end with two of your characters staring daggers at each other because they’re now fated by the stars above to eat each other or die trying, you’ve done something wrong. Because that’s what D&D is all about—getting loot with a bunch of guys you vaguely distrust for various reasons and trying not to spend eternity being slowly digested in “the Phlegm Pits of Chogan-Ktull” or whatever.