Alice: Madness Returns is the much anticipated follow up (by me, anyway) to 2000’s PC/Mac game American McGee’s Alice – the dark and gritty telling of Alice’s post-Looking Glassadventures in what has now become a twisted version of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The original game had Alice following an anorexic, pierced Cheshire Cat around a grotesque Wonderland, presumably due to Alice’s inclement insanity, slashing her way through the Red Queen’s guards amongst other familiar faces from Carroll’s universe with a bloody knife, and the sequel delivers more of the same.
This series of comics continues the story started in “The Silent Grove,” focusing on Isabela’s point of view, as she, Varric, and Alistair as they search for a powerful magister, Aurelian Titus. Titus is believed to have played a role in the disappearance of King Maric, Alistair’s father. Some spoilers ahead, though I’ll attempt minimize them where possible.
While you were out… (minimal spoilers)
The reader gets a glimpse of life in the Tevinter Imperium as the trio, in disguise, goes to a rather lavish party that Titus is slated to attend. Alistair confronts the magister upon his arrival and, following a fight, Titus escapes. After interrogating one of the henchmen, the trio sails towards Seheron to continue the chase, but they are captured by the Qunari. Alistair and Varric are provided reasonable accommodations and meet the new Arishok, Sten, last seen in Dragon Age: Origins. Sten reveals some of what he knows of Titus and the magister’s interest in Alistair’s heritage.
Meanwhile, Isabela has been hauled off to the dungeons. There she is questioned on her past, her family ties to the Qun, and deeds she’s done by a Qunari named Rasaan. After refusing to give into Rasaan’s demands, Isabela fights back, escaping the dungeon and tracking down Varric and Alistair. After arming her friends with some recently liberated weapons, Isabela goes back to free her captured crew and finds herself in another confrontation with Rasaan, whom she defeats. The escape of Alistair and Varric is cut short by the arrival of the Arishok. Alistair beats his former companion in a fight and proposes an alliance between them against Titus, setting the stage for the next series of comics as they continue their quest.
I thought this installment was much better than the Silent Grove in terms of the pacing. Other than a bit of an info dump in the second issue, it was easier to immerse myself compared to the abrupt starts and stops in the other series. I was also happy to see the continued balance of exposition with action, something I also liked about the Silent Grove. One of my favorite parts of the comics has been the art, not that I know a damn thing about critiquing it. So, we’ll just sum it up like this: I think the art is pretty and liked getting to see more fight scenes as I think the artist handles them well.
There were a couple questions I had on some of Isabela’s actions as they seemed inconsistent with her presentation in game, though I’ll leave that to the reader to decide for themselves since I want to avoid major spoilers. I did find the change of narrator, from Alistair to Isabela, to be a nice touch, giving an alternate viewpoint on the events unfolding. As such, I am looking forward to seeing what happens with Varric in the next series given the character’s tendency to weave a good tale and his past. One of my favorite parts about the comics has been getting to see places me mentioned in game. I rather enjoyed our glimpse into the life of Tevinter magisters and I hope that’s something we’ll get more of in the next series. (Maybe even the next game? Please?)
I was surprised to see the Qunari featured so heavily again as they were the focus of quite a bit of the Dragon Age II content. Obviously, this leads me to wonder on the role, if any, we’ll see in Inquisition from the followers of the Qun. I’ll also be interested to see if the comics don’t tie up some loose ends like Asunder did. Certain characters from Origins had their fates determined outside the realm of video games in that novel, I’m curious to see if something similar will play out here.
My recommendation? If you’re a Dragon Age fan looking to get a bit of Thedas while we wait for more news on the upcoming game? “Those Who Speak” is worth looking into.
Natalie currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where she tries to balance full-time work and various nerdy hobbies. While being a huge Bioware fangirl, she also enjoys other video games (i.e. Arkam City, the Fable series) as well as comic books set in the DC universe