What if Dungeons and Dragons was real and being hidden from the world? That is the idea of the comic book Archon by John J. Perez and Marco Maccagni which takes place in a world where dragons, nymphs, and other fantasy creatures live but are hiding it from the world at large since they do not want humans to know about their existence.
The year is 1981: Ronald Regan is being sworn in as President and Las Vegas is being changed into a family friendly tourist destination, distancing itself from the gang run city it has been. Enter Gareth Thompson a down on his luck single dad and Vietnam vet who has been given a chance to work as head of security at a new casino opening in Vegas named Archon. There he realizes that his new boss and coworkers are not just wearing costumes, but they are the fairy tale creatures they appear to be. Meanwhile a secret police organization is investigating a possible “bad aether” ring set up at the casino.
If you are a fan of the fantasy genre or role-playing games you will find a lot to love in this comic. The world is well thought out and cleverly uses the real history of 1981 as a back drop of what is going on in the book. The prologue that opens the story is revealed to be a role-playing game in the world and each of the first four issues ends with an excerpt from the rule book to this fictional game that expands on the back story of the different races in the world which is a fun way to reveal exposition and world building while not taking away from the main plot.
There are also numerous subplots and probably too many for its own good. The most interesting one involves a gangster Mr. Rosenthal who tries to strong-arm the owner of the casino into leaving town or joining their group. It is a great way to make use of the history of Las Vegas and how the city has changed over the decades. There is also a subplot involving the boss of the casino, his wife, and a nymph who is running the aether ring and having an affair with him. There are also other subplots involving Gareth’s daughter, the boss’s son, the government maybe shutting down the police organization among others which can make it feel as soon as you got your handle on one thing there is something else that pops up you need to keep track of.
Of the two main plots the one with Gareth is the more relatable and easier to get into. We can relate to a family man doing what he needs to do to support his daughter and give her a good life. He is also the character who works as our eyes and takes us into the story and we learn the world as he does. That being said it does seem to take a while for him to realize the situation he’s in to the point it makes him look like an idiot. The creators seem to be going for lovable klutz but it gets to a point were it seems he would realize what is going on and you keep waiting for him to wake up and see the truth.
The investigation story is the weaker of the two main plots and can come off as cliché cop drama with just bad magic replacing drugs at times. You have the cops who go off the rails a little bit to try to force a confession while one cop explains how destructive the bad aether is by revealing it ravaged his home. There is also a government agent introduced who threatens to shut the division down and doesn’t believe that there is any big threat going on and comes off a uncaring and having no personality besides being someone in a suit. Of course we know the truth, that the cops are right and there is a new aether ring in town, and you want him to get out-of-the-way or realize the truth. The main character of this plot line is a wizard who is Rasta which the comic reminds you of by having him say “Mon” every other line. I understand that this is part of the Rasta dialect but it comes off as annoying and is used way more than it should have been.
The artwork by Maccagni is satisfying with the backgrounds and depictions of magic superb. Sometimes it could get a little too cartoony considering the stakes involved and would clash with the rest of the artwork but it is nothing detrimental to the story. I did have some issues with placements of word bubbles leading me to be confused on where I was supposed to be reading next.
Finally there is a plot twist at the end of this graphic novel that I will not reveal here, but I will say it comes out of left field and does not make a ton of sense regarding what has happened. I went back and reread the comic again now knowing the twist and found myself thinking that certain scenes now made no sense in retrospect knowing what I knew now.
Still, the world created by Perez and Maccagni is intriguing and if you love fantasy or historical fiction you will find a lot to love in this book. The characters and plot can come off as cliché but anyone who loves mystery and crime drama will find themselves wanting to know what is really going on in this casino. Also while the twist does not make complete sense in the context of the complete story it is an interesting development and will leave you guessing as to what will come next.