King of RPGs vol. 1
Written by Jason Thompson
Illustrated by Victor Hao
Published by Del Rey
There’s something very surreal about reading escapist fiction about characters obsessed with escapist fictions.
Admittedly, I’m probably not the ideal audience for such a series. My old roommate gave me his old PlayStation 2 two years ago, and it’s never come out of the box since. My Dungeons & Dragons experience amounts to three or four sessions in college, until the next bauble caught the attention of my group of friends. I think it was called booze. So if you’re into the scene and get the references, King of RPGs has what appears to be dozens of gags and inside references just for you. Just not for me. Just keep that in mind.
That said, despite my lack of interest in the surface material, King of RPGs still had something working for it. The characters aren’t anything to write home about, but writer Jason Thompson does an effective job building tension and placing the series’ titular king, Shesh, in scenarios that seem unbeatable. Or as unbeatable and theoretical combat comes, anyway.
Shesh, you see, has an addiction, and it gets him into some trouble, but always against guys who think they’re bigger and badder gamesters than he is. Thus, Shesh falls back on his game play talents, and his overzealous alternate personality, to win out in the end. It’s comically over the top, with escalating conflicts that are absurd, but entertaining nonetheless. It does occasionally suffer from jumping unclearly between “real” and “fantasy” worlds, particularly in the D&D sequence where some of the guys play women and vice versa.
Victor Hao’s art doesn’t fully support Thompson’s writing, however. The character designs are solid, though overly reliant on hats to differentiate Shesh and Theo. Exaggerated reactions by characters only cause the character designs to break down, leading to some confusion as to just who is reacting to the game play. (Admittedly, perhaps some familiarity with how game play occurs on my part may have helped.) The jumping between reality and fantasy, as well as the extreme angles and speed lines, created scenarios that were nearly impossible to read with any clarity.
For a non-gamer, King of RPGs is a fairly entertaining one-off idea. It’s not the type of thing I’d go out of my way to read, but I have to admit being pleasantly surprised by its enthusiasm and vigor. I’m slightly curiuos if Thompson could keep this formula working for me for two books in a row. For readers who understand the language, I suspect it’s a little more insightful and a lot more fun-packed, and it may even be a title worth seeking out.