WARNING. THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD.
There actually isn’t that much to spoil in Dark Fortress, issue number 1. This is part 1 of 3 comics in this series and it feels like a part 1. There isn’t much plot that happens and there’s very little in the way of new lore.
But there are warnings I would give a prospective reader first. This story takes place immediately after Blue Wraith. It also features every protagonist from this line of stories: Knight-Errant, Magekiller, Deception, and now Blue Wraith. All these characters from these comics have joined up, protagonists and antagonists alike. I have not read these books for a few months before I picked up Dark Fortress. And let me tell you, I was a bit lost. There was a lot of “Wait who are they? What’s her relation to him?” Optimally these comics should be read together which is why I’ve already bought the trade edition coming out in September.
Let’s get into what actually happens in this first issue. The book starts with Ser Aaron flashing back to Ostagar. Sometimes I wonder if Bioware could do-over Dragon Age Origins, would Loghain get his darkest deeds (Abandoning Cailan and Cooperating With Tevinter Slavers) sanded off? Our protagonists make their way into a Tevinter City which I don’t have the patience to spell. It’s not Minrathous, it’s not Ventus. Apparently the Antaam are continuing their invasion of the Imperium. I’m wondering if the Qunari will be the “nameless enemies you kill in droves” in Dragon Age 4. This doesn’t land that well because we saw the Qunari invasion of Ventus in Dragon Age: Deception. And that comic did a good job of portraying this city on the edge that knows any day now the hammer’s going to fall. Dark Fortress doesn’t do that. In fact, it’s hinted that the only reason this city’s here is because of the patronage of House Danarius.
Speaking of House Danarius, the primary lore we get in this book is that that family has fallen on some hard fucking times. Briefly, recall that “Danarius” was a Tevinter Magister we met in Dragon Age 2. Danarius is a family name, not a given name but we’re never given the DA2 character’s first name. Like Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter, Danarius isn’t the big bad of Dragon Age but he is the one that people hate the most. Danarius is killed in Dragon Age 2 unless you’re a fucking asshole and your Hawke sold Fenris back to him. Regardless of your choice, in this comic, Fenris has killed Danarius at some point previously. More than that, between DA2 and this Comic, Fenris killed all of Danarius’s family. Not gonna lie, I think the “Fenris Unchained” DLC would’ve sold like hotcakes.
We are told that there is one member of the Danarius family left. Tractus Danarius. I read this comic twice and each time within 15 minutes of reading I could not remember this character’s name. Tractus we are told is an elf-blooded bastard son. Dragon Age doesn’t have half-elves like Dungeons and Dragons. The children of elves and humans are indistinguishable from humans, at least so far. Presumably Tractus is the product of Danarius raping his slaves which would be on brand for him. Tractus is also a mage. Tractus is also pathetic. None of the other bad guys respect him. Despite ostensibly being the owner of the titular “Dark Fortress” he’s treated like a joke. He’s treated like, well, like you might imagine a Tevinter Altus (Other than Dorian or Maevaris) would treat the half-elf child of a slave. So the bad guys show up at the Dark Fortress and say, “thanks for keeping the place clean now get the fuck out.”
Tractus leaves the rural evil castle to get drunk in the city. The Good Guys find him. We are told that getting into the Dark Fortress is a suicide mission. The place is built like Helm’s Deep with one very well defended way in. The Good Guys decide to capture Tractus and beat a way into the Fortress out of him. Fenris knows there is at least one secret way into the Fortress that Danarius closed after Fenris’s escape. This implies that Fenris has tried to get in that way before during his genocide of the Danarius family.
Probably the best panel in this comic is when one character says they’ve found Danarius and the artist has Fenris with this look of panic and rage and disbelief.
So they capture Tractus and Fenris intimidates him into giving up the goods. But at this exact moment, the Qunari start attacking the city. This is kind of an interesting moment of choice. Fenris could easily kill Tractus in seconds. Vaea, the Elf who squires for Ser Aaron and very specifically never kills anyone, tells Fenris to show mercy. She points out that Tractus would’ve been a child during Fenris’s enslavement and that Danarius’s crimes are not Tractus’s crimes. Fenris kind of splits the baby and just leaves, knowing that leaving a Tevinter Mage for the Qunari to find is no mercy at all.
And so the Qunari find Tractus. He snitches immediately and says that there’s some crazy red lyrium ritual going on at the Dark Fortress. The Qunari resolve to go there and kill everyone. The Qunari are like, “ugh, there’s always a forbidden ritual with the Tevinter.”
And that’s the book. To repeat myself, this is a part 1 that feels very part 1. It’s setting up what’s going to happen as these three forces of Venatori, Good Guys, and Qunari all clash at the Castellum Tenebris instead of things actually happening. But it also is a bad part 1 in that you really need to have read and remembered what came before to know what’s going on here. And knowing about Fenris, his backstory, and the potential events of Dragon Age 2 is another thing you need to know. Factoring in these things makes this issue, as a self-contained work in The Dragon Age Universe, a C+ or B- in the scheme of things. It suffers by not being able to stand on its own but it wasn’t meant to. I don’t doubt that these three issues as a whole will be better than the individual parts.
One miscellaneous item, this shows the Qunari taking children off the streets of the city presumably as their parents are killed. The Qunari invasion of the Tevinter mainland is this huge offscreen plot being seeded for DA4 with frustratingly few specifics. Why is it happening, what does the Ariqun think, will Sten be involved? I’m torn between wondering if there will be a Watsonian in-universe reason for this seeming split in the Qunari Triumvir or if we’ll get a more Doylist, “we needed someone to be around in hordes to kill in DA4.”
The last item of consideration is our cover character, Tractus Danarius. While it would be out of character for the Qunari find him and leave him 1) alive and 2) with a tongue obviously this character is coming back in future. He’s on the cover for the Maker’s sake. I’m not sure what to make of him. Tractus does not look like a healthy young man with the artist giving him a grey pallor, skinny, and a kind of mad unkempt hair. He’s despised by the Venatori and the Good Guys for the circumstances of his birth. Not that he seems to be a very pleasant person regardless. I think we’re supposed to pity this person and while I can see the why I’m not quite there yet. He brings to mind Loki or Viserys Targaryen. He’s the child of a monster and plays at being one, unsuccessfully. I’m wondering if he’s going to join the Qunari seeing as how he’s in their hands already. I also wonder if, because he has control of the magic in the Dark Fortress, he blows the place up and himself with it. Either way, I think we’re going to see more of this character suffering. The cover art really brings to mind ‘The Wound Man’ illustration that shows the different injuries someone might receive. I might not pity him now but I have a feeling we will by the end of this.