Start of Darkness
by Rich Burlew
Giant in the Playground, 2007. 116 pages. Fantasy, Graphic Novel
How do villains become monsters? Are they born evil, or are they shaped by their experiences? In this prequel to the Internet sensation Order of the Stick, Burlew explores the origins of the lich Xykon and Redcloak, high priest of the god of goblins. From a boy crying about his dead dog and a young man defending his village, Darkness chronicles their descent into two of the most ruthless characters in comics.
Start of Darkness is bleak. As a prequel, the end fate of the (an)tagonists is a known factor; as Burlew mentions in his introduction, the villainy demonstrated by Redcloak and Xykon go largely unpunished. Though the story switches around the perspectives, the primary focus is Redcloak. Despite cataloguing in exquisite detail the depths to which he sinks to achieve his goals, Darkness's largest emotional appeal is the humanization (a term he would find terribly specist) of Redcloak and the goblins. The themes of desperate action and sacrifice for the greater good clash with the reckless evil of Xykon.
Having said all that, Start of Darkness is hilarious. Burlew's simplistic drawing style (including a colorful section of crayon art detailing the creation of the world) downplays much of the darker plot points, while his playful pop culture references and 4th wall breaking make even the transformation of Xkyon from sorcerer to lich funny. Burlew's great strength lies in his ability to seamlessly flit between the humourous and the dramatic. Darkness will be tremendously enjoyable to both fans of the web comic and to new readers.