By Patrick Larose
“A disgraced group of four knights, once close friends, are given one last shot at redemption: kill a wizard, and slay his dragons. But there’s no such thing as wizards, dragons don’t exist, and nothing is as it seems in the town of Green Valley.”
This little press release paragraph is how I was first introduced to the premise of Green Valley.
There’s no such thing as wizards, dragons don’t exist.
There was a twist reveal set-up before a comic ever hit the shelf and one that forced us to question the fantasy elements within a fantasy story. Imagine being told that the Lord of the Rings was a story about a group of people who had to go destroy an evil magic ring but then told that the ring was actually neither evil nor magical.
I think that when we engage with genre fiction, there are fantastical aspects our brains just automatically accept with the territory. By challenging the validity of those accepted aspects, Green Valley’s advertising changed the tone of the story was capable of telling as well as making us ask, “Okay, so, what are they then?”
My mindset going into the first issue was to treat it like mystery box fiction. I was looking clues, hunting for the edges of frayed threads that could be prodded away to reveal the real mystery in the background. If you read my review of the first issue, you’d know this didn’t go well for me.
There’s no mystery to unravel in Green Valley—at least no mystery to unravel for the reader. Instead there’s just a story about a group of knights who are good at their job, their relationship to each other and how they lost everything. The story was straightforward, clear and concise and when the mystery finally was introduced in the second issue, it wasn’t for us the audience but for the actual characters in the story.
That’s the central difference between a mystery in a story and a mystery box. TV shows like Fringe or Lost hide little clues in the background or exchanges only observed by the viewer. They’re filled with these moments that might feed into a greater underlying conspiracy but they’re always drama not relevant to the characters but laid out solely for the audience.
Mystery boxes seem so attractive I think because swatches of the population have become anesthetized to formula and tropes—there’s a craving for something different but rather than creating compelling characters that explore previously ignored types of narratives they go for the bizarre. Fringe is just the X-files but, hey, look at all these bald men in the background, what’s up with that?
The forward momentum of audience engagement is then not based primarily on the twists and rises in conflict for the characters but instead play on the information provided only completely to us. That’s the difference between the Village and the Sixth Sense, when the blind woman almost gets hit by the car and this period piece is revealed to take place in the now, the twist is for the audience. The revelation doesn’t mean anything to the main character or her internal conflicts but instead on a watcher’s perceived expectations of what a period piece looks and sounds like.
When the former Knights of Kelodia, soaking in their angst, get hired by a young boy to kill a wizard and slay a dragon—that isn’t a cue just for us. We see the knights react in confusion—magic isn’t real to them and neither are dragons. Yet the improbability scenario and visceral fear in the boy’s face is enough to shake them out of retirement and try to be the people they were meant to be. They were heroes once and now they have to act like it.
I’m about to talk about some heavy spoilers so if you’re interested in this comic and don’t want that then leave now. If you’re like me and sometimes spoilers make you want to pick up comics in the first place, let’s get into it.
When the knights go into town to face down with the so-called wizard of Green Valley, they enter it with the same feeling we do—skepticism. While our textual understandings of the situation are different with us expecting a genre reveal and them a reality-based con, we’re still on the same page narratively.
So when the reveal finally happens it means something to both the reader and to the characters—and what becomes especially astounding is how different that meaning is between the two groups.
Because, well, when we finally meet the wizard terrorizing Green Valley, he looks like this:
The wizard is a goddamn time traveler.
For the audience, we understand the implications immediately. The dude’s wielding a tablet that shoots lightning; he’s threatening the villages with temporally-displaced dinosaurs. As a reader, we pick up the visual signifiers and understand the meta-shift in genre that’s taking place but to the characters it’s something else entirely—see, to them magic’s finally real. The wizard’s reveal was always going to be a twist on conventions but what’s really shocking is what his existence means for the characters and the narrative potential it unpacks for them.
Arthur C. Clarke wrote the famous adage that when technology is suitably advanced enough it becomes indistinguishable from magic. The typical takeaway of this statement tends to be about the inherent limitations of mankind’s understanding at any place within a linear progress but I think what’s equally applicable is that this technology might as well be magic.
When Indrid, the youngest and most reckless of the knights, gets run through with a bolt of lightning, he’s overjoyed. He’s dying, sure, but magic’s real. Magic’s real and that means reality isn’t as simple or as limited as they previously believed.
“Show me,” Bertwald, the knight’s leader demands as he throws away his sword and charges the wizard head on. The guy just watched his friend get killed, his teammates flung aside and he rushes forward demanding a better understanding. What goes through him isn’t a bolt of lightning but a vision of his loved one burning all over again.
This is such a good reveal because not only is there a surprise genre anachronism but because it fits with a thematic relevance while providing a new but logical momentum to the characters.
The Knights of Kelodia are people who had it all: renown, loved ones, a home, and then they lost it and got stuck there. They were meant to be doomed to both death and obscurity but what better means to break out from fate than the absolute freedom of time travel.
In the wake of Westworld’s explosive popularity, I spent some time thinking about how the narrative would stand if the reveal was that Green Valley was all an elaborate VR video game as a different but potential science fiction twist in a fantasy world. This was my own guess when I heard that initial premise and the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be a bad reveal. Not only would making everything we’ve experienced an illusion devalue the loss these characters have experienced but more importantly it would divert the already presented themes in the story.
A really good reveal seems to need both a shock in the stakes of the story but a shock that adds value to the conflict already present in the story. Bruce Willis as a ghost makes perfect sense in the Sixth Sense because while he is dealing with a kid who sees ghost, he’s also experiencing a loss of agency with the relationships in his life.
Green Valley is a story about what happens when smart and talented people end up stuck in a bad place. It’s about reaching certain highs of success then tumbling downward and thus raising the question of if it is possible to ever emotionally get back up.
This asshole time traveler makes for such a good reveal because it provides the characters with a method of challenging that narrative question rather than taking us somewhere else. It opens up story possibilities without taking swerves like a plot point out of Axe Cop. This technological power could mean give them a chance to change their own reality or maybe it can show them a different type of existence that needs people like them in it. I’m excited just thinking about the narrative potential the twist here reveals.
Green Valley intends to run as a nine issue mini-series and by issue three we’ve already had that initial premise’s promised reveal. With so much ground left to charter I think it’s safe to say the bigger secrets and twists of Green Valley are still hiding in ways we least expect them.