In one of the collections of Witcher comics there’s an interview with Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz, a lead writer at CD Projekt Red, where he talks about writing a story bible for the first Witcher game. When they were setting down the basics of tone and so on they decided to give Geralt the abrupt speech patterns of a comic book character (something the Netflix series would adopt as well). Borys doesn’t name names, but videogame Geralt has always made me think of Wolverine. If you’ve read the books you’ll know in those pages Geralt can be quite garrulous, while in the games he’s allergic to prepositions. In the comics based on The Witcher, he speaks with the same terse style as the games, and it feels like a homecoming.
The stories in videogame comics are usually irrelevant filler—with exceptions like Team Fortress 2, of course. But because the Witcher games embrace sidequests, imbuing the workaday monster-hunting Geralt does with as much significance as the main plot, the better spin-offs don’t feel trivial. Think of these as sidequests no less fun or worthwhile than that one with the talking pigs or the one where Geralt gets drunk and wakes up with a tattoo, and you’ll be coming at them from the right direction.
Andrzej Sapkowski’s books survived being adapted for games and for TV and they make for pretty decent comic books as well. Here they are, ranked from worst to best.
Finding that monsters are growing rarer and witchers less called-for these days, Geralt briefly tries his hand at a real job. Like every other videogame character, he goes fishing. Of course, he can’t stay away from witchering for long, taking on a contract that’s morally complicated and thankless and the real monsters are, sigh, probably going to be people, aren’t they?
Fading Memories rehashes themes the books and games have already dealt with, which would be OK if it rehashed them with a little more flair. Instead it’s plain, though the occasional panel is composed well enough to stand out.
After capturing a witch who is then burned to death, Geralt feels guilty and soon ends up in a weird kind of psychological healing circle run by more witches. It’s a witch-heavy story this, one that explores Geralt’s relationship with women but in the end doesn’t have much to say about it. Instead, Witch’s Lament falls back on ambiguity and wilful vagueness.
The scenes where the therapy witches talk in a mix of esoterica and psychology jargon about ‘breakthroughs’ and ‘process’, applauding as their patients ‘open up, emotionally’, are kind of amusing, though the knotty, sketchy art feels like a mismatch.
Reasons of State
With a story of cursed nobles, secret love, and revenge played out over multiple generations, Reasons of State feels a lot like one of the early Witcher short stories. In those stories the explanations of the local nobles’ history could sometimes drag on and that’s exacerbated here by pages filled with word balloons overstuffed with exposition in an ugly font that bumps up against their edges. The action-packed conclusion is a satisfying finish, but you might wish you had a family tree to keep it all straight.
(If you own The Witcher 2 on GOG you’ll already have a pdf copy of this in your downloads and extras. If you own The Witcher 3 there you’ll have an interactive version.)
Matters of Conscience
Set after The Witcher 2, Matters of Conscience is a short tale that picks at some of the second game’s loose ends. It’s mainly about what happens to the settlement of Vergen if you’ve left it to be ruled by the shapeshifting dragon Saskia. (If you murdered her that’s not treated as canon, sorry.)
And while Matters of Conscience does tie up loose ends, and features some entertaining swearing from a cast of dwarves including our old mate Yarpen Zigrin, it’s really just another monster hunt. The art’s competent, though focused more on making sure you can see Saskia’s chest as often as possible than what’s going on around her. Admittedly Sapkowski rarely wrote a woman whose “assets” he didn’t describe in detail so I suppose that’s apt.
House of Glass
Mike Mignola’s art graces the covers of a few of the Witcher comics, though sadly not the interiors. His style, as seen in Hellboy, would be a perfect fit, and sometimes the artists of Witcher comics sneak in a few of his mannerisms. That’s especially true of House of Glass, which employs frequent silent panels and close-ups of dead faces as pacing. Though it doesn’t feature quite as many random statues or Geralt falling through any floors, it’s got a bit of that Hellboy vibe.
The House of Glass is a cursed place, all stained glass and decay, which Geralt and a haunted hunter find themselves trapped in. It’s a twisty story which throws in four different monsters and then does the very Witcher thing of asking who the real monsters are.
Of Flesh and Flame
Dandelion and Geralt go on a wild adventure to Ofier, the Middle Eastern part of the Witcher world. Fittingly for a story that features the whimsical peacocking bard, Of Flesh and Flame has an arch tone, more likely to feature a close-up panel of a raised eyebrow than a dead body’s staring eye socket. It uses the pseudo-Arabic setting to tell a rollicking story of courtesans, djinni, and a magical flying trunk.
While other artists tend to reinterpret the characters in their own style, here they look like they stepped right out of the games, which this story dovetails into. There’s even a reference to a specific quest involving the Ofieri from the Hearts of Stone expansion.
Though they’ve never been translated into English and so won’t be included here (nor will the Facebook strips), there was a series of Polish Witcher comics published in the 1990s, most of which were adapted directly from the books. While the English-language comics have been based on the games, Fox Children breaks that trend to adapt a section of the novel Season of Storms. Even so, it feels a lot like the kind of quest videogame Geralt picks up. You can practically see the moral pivot points where he has to make a big decision.
Geralt joins a riverboat journey with a group who say they’re out to rescue a girl who has been kidnapped by a vulpess or aguara—a kind of fox creature—but of course nothing is as it seems. The journey down a river beset by illusions is rendered ominously, but at the same time there’s also a comedy bit with a troll that’s a riot. It makes some changes from Sapkowski’s original, but just between us I think they’re improvements.
Killing Monsters is a short comic that takes place between the second and third game—in fact it ends right where a particularly memorable trailer for The Witcher 3 begins. Geralt and Vesemir are searching for Yennefer, Nilfgaardian troops are occupying the towns, and there are still monsters out there in need of a good killing.
It opens with a scene where Geralt dodge-rolls beneath a griffin attack in a cute nod to how the games actually play.
Curse of Crows
Curse of Crows sets out to reconcile the Geralt of the books and the games. It takes place after The Witcher 3 and establishes a canon in which Yennefer’s his chosen romance and Ciri becomes a witcher—the montages of the two witchers working as they travel are particularly spot-on. But at the same time it’s about a hunt for a striga that leads Geralt to retell the story of the time he sought to undo one’s curse at the behest of King Foltest of Vizima in the very first Witcher story Sapkowski wrote.
It’s gratifying to see flashbacks to young, clean-shaven Geralt followed by scenes of older, bearded Geralt at his most fatherly, proudly watching Ciri beat up some thugs in the street—or the two of them killing a werewolf then immediately looting it of potion ingredients. It’s a real “how far they’ve come” kind of story, and the only thing to dislike about it is that it has to end. I’d happily read another five books of Dad Geralt adventures.