ElfQuest is comic series that has been being published since 1978. It is considered a landmark in independent comic publishing, and has had a dedicated fan base for 40 years. ElfQuest has also had a deep influence on me, in many channels. I'm not going to try to explain to you here all the reasons why you should read it.—You should read it—What I'm going to do instead is make suggestions about in what order you should read it, and which parts you can skip.
I originally stopped reading in the early 90s, in what I call the "New Blood Era" below. But when I discovered the ElfQuest.com Comic Viewer that is freely available online, I took the opportunity to catch up on the stories that were published after I stopped reading, and to introduce new people to the series.
However, it's complicated. There are many story arcs and issues published under many different series over the a span of 40 years. At times, the quality has varied widely.
So, I present my guide to reading ElfQuest, organized in a series of publication "eras", each of which are my judgments of periods of time in which there was a unique, unified approach to publishing ElfQuest.
For convenience, I give links directly to each issue on ElfQuest.com.
(I'm still working on copying everything over from a previous website, and updating)
Table of Contents
Starting is easy. Go to ElfQuest.com's Comic Viewer and read Original Quest, Siege at Blue Mountain, and Kings of the Broken Wheel, then come back. Or if you'd like more detailed commentary, stick around.
Original Quest Era: 1978-1984
This is ElfQuest, original flavor. Original Quest is a 21 issue series: 20 of story, plus one issue of bonus material. This era includes only the single series, plus a short that was published in Epic Illustrated #1 in 1980: "Homespun".
This era is high-quality, Wendy Pini work with no exceptions, and is the central canon of the universe.
Original Quest has been published in many editions. The online edition, near as I can tell, is a re-print of the original colorization from the Starblaze edition graphic novels, which I consider to be the best colorization. There is substantial added content, I assume in order to make it a new edition so that it can be reproduced separate from the Starblaze contract (but all legal stuff is pure speculation on my part). I may add a guide at some point as to which content in this edition differs from the original.
I have organized the issues of Original Quest into four volumes which are the standard subdivisions of this series. Each is a 5 part unified story arc within the main story, and when Original Quest is published in graphic novel form, they are published as these four volumes.
- "Homespun" is a short story which hooks into Original Quest #10, but was published before any of its characters showed up in the main series.
Read it all. The bonus material in OQ #21 and "Homespun" are skippable. Skip OQ #21 if you have no interest in "behind the scenes" content. I can't think of any reason not to read "Homespun". You could read Homespun before its characters become relevant to the main plotline (in OQ #10) as its first readers would have done, or after.
Sequels Era: 1986 - 1990
Two years after the end of Original Quest, two sequel series were published, back-to-back: Siege at Blue Mountain and Kings of the Broken Wheel. Also published in this era is a short called "By Any Other Name" which deals with events before the beginning of Original Quest (but with some very minor spoilers).
This is era is entirely canonical, with overall high quality art and writing, though with a little more downward variation than in Original Era.
Siege at Blue Mountain
The art in Siege at Blue Mountain is done by Wendy Pini (and, therefore, awesome), but the inking and lettering are done by other artists (Joe Staton and Janice Chiang, respectively). Some fans have opined that this has caused the characters to look stiffer, and the art to suffer a decline. I think any truth to that complaint is so subtle that it doesn't bother even a highly-opionated connoisseur such as myself. The coloring is not as good as the best coloring of Original Quest, but it is still far from bad.
Trivia Note: this series stands out as one of the few places original style sending bubbles (jagged boxes) are used, since the online edition of Original Quest was updated to the new style sending bubbles (double circles) which were introduced in Kings of the Broken Wheel.
Kings of the Broken Wheel
Kings of the Broken Wheel is very high quality work; the story is at the very heart of ElfQuest. Kings #7 is possibly my favorite comic issue of all time.
- "Courage, By Any Other Name", also sometimes called "By Any Other Name". This is a short published in the single issue publication of Warp Graphics Annual (along with shorts from the other, non-ElfQuest Warp Graphics titles of the time, which can be seen on the cover), around the time of the beginning of Siege. It tells a story of the Wolfriders set about 10 years before the beginning of Original Quest. The art is by a four person team (not including Wendy Pini), and is not-fantastic, but not terrible. The script is by the Pinis, but seems a little rushed.
"Courage" is optional. I have no strong recommendation regarding it one way or the other. Read it if you want to know more about Redlance, or want to be complete, or want something more to read. If you choose to read it, I'd probably start with it for this era, but it doesn't make much difference.
Read Siege. Then read Kings.
A little sub-era. In terms of the publication timeline, it really belongs in the next era, the New Blood Era. But in production style, it more or less belongs in the Sequels Era.
These are fantastic pieces by Wendy Pini original published in gorgeous full color. In theory, Hidden Years was supposed to contain stories set in the time period that was quickly skimmed over in Kings, thus the name. In reality, only the first 3 issues do that. Hidden Years #4 happens after Kings, and Hidden Years #5 happens before Original Quest.
All of these five issues are fantastic, and include some much loved favorites. Read them. Stop after #5, and come back and read about the next era, this is where things get complicated.
- Note: Dreamtime. Dreamtime, published much later in the EQ2 era, is very much connected with the Hidden Years concept (a concept mostly played out here in HY #1&3). It also is about dreams of the future, and contains portents of things to come in later stories. If you want to play the interpretation game with the characters and try to figure out what the dreams are about before they happen, there's some definite arguments in favor of reading Dreamtime at this point. (see also EQ2 Era: Dreamtime later in this guide.)
My recommendation, if you missed it above: Read all 5 of these at this time. You could read Dreamtime at this point, if that sounds interesting.
New Blood Era: 1992 - 1996
Okay. Now things get complicated. Also, very erratic in quality. This is the era in which Wendy Pini stops being the primary writer and artist, and the Pinis instead start overseeing a number of different teams producing different ElfQuest titles simultaneously.
I would support as valid a decision to stop here and avoid dealing with the complication and erratic quality of this era. That was my decision in 1993. But now, I've come back, I've read a lot of this material, and there's definitely value to be gained here. Also, if you stopped here, you'd never get to the great pieces in the Full Circle and Future Quest eras, and that would be a shame.
Still here? Okay, great. Bear with me.
"The Enemy's Face"
At the time, these felt scattered and non-canonical. From the vantage point of Future Quest (20 years later), they don't feel as scattered or non-canonical. I'd still say they are a little rocky and still occasionally contradict story shown in other places.
The final issue here, HY #9.5: "Rogue's Challenge" is a must-read. It's fun, well-written, and is the bridge from Kings of the Broken Wheel into "Shards" (i.e. from the end of the main story of Sequels Era to the beginning of the main story of New Blood Era). The rest are optional.
Here we start a new, major story arc in Hidden Years #10-15, or "Shards, Part 1" through "Shards, Part 6". This is distinct from the title Shards and its issues #1-17, below (I told you it was going to be confusing in this era!).
The story here is written by the Pinis, with art by first Abrams and Barnett, who did the art for Hidden Years #6-8, and then by McKinney and Barnett. The art here is definitely becoming more deft in its execution as they practice. Read "Shards".
After Hidden Years #15, the "Shards" story arc spins off into its own title, Shards, while Hidden Years #16-29 splits off to follow a set of characters who leave that arc. These two story arcs should be read together, but there are two different approaches to doing that:
You could read first one, then the other. In this case, I would recommend reading Shards first, then Hidden Years because Hidden Years has more spoilers for Shards than vice versa, I think. This is what I did the first time though, and I think it turned out well. Shards #16 ties the story lines back together, along with some other story lines that were being published concurrently with these. I'd recommend reading Shards #16 when you get to the end of Shards, then again when you get to the end of Hidden Years.
Or you could read the two lines interwoven in publication order. The publication rates are a little erratic, so that's not quite as simple as just alternating issues. I tried this a little, but I preferred to read each straight through. Shards is a little better artwork than Hidden Years, which makes it harder to enjoy the Hidden Years artwork when I'm simultaneously reading the other series.
I'll present 2 tables, one for organized for each option. In either case, you should read both of these (assuming you've made it this far). They are the core canon for this time period in the story, and they're pretty good.
New Blood #1-10
New Blood #1-10 and the '93 Summer Special are collections of non-canonical shorts (sometimes, highly non-canonical). I haven't read most of them. There are some interesting stories mixed in with the rest, and at some point, I'll probably pick some of them out and add that information to this guide. For now, skip them, they're not part of canon.
New Blood #11-35
From #11 onward, New Blood becomes a consistent, canonical storyline by a consistent team, rather than the random collection of shorts of the previous issues. It is a third concurrent story going on at more or less the same time as Hidden Years and Shards. It is also horrible. The art is mediocre, the writing is mediocre, the plotting is bad, the characterization is just terrible.
I plowed though it for completeness, and for researching for this guide. It was painful, and it failed to even deliver a satisfactory hooking up with the "Resurrection" epilogue, leaving a number of loose ends not just loose, but apparently forgotten. I recommend skipping this.
Other New Blood Era Titles
Jink and Rebels
Set 900 years in the future from the Shards time period are the two series Jink and Rebels (concurrent with each other). I read them alternating issues: Jink #1, Rebels #1, Jink #2, Rebels #2, etc., and that worked well.
They play with and develop some very interesting ideas, though the stories are ultimately a little disappointing in not resolving the central mystery the stories are built around. They're probably worth reading, though. There is also some indication that it is not truly the job of these titles, or their sequel FutureQuest to resolve that mystery, but merely to foreshadow its resolution in the predicted Final Quest storyline.
Kahvi and Two-Spear
A pair of short 6 issues arcs, related to each other. The central retcon doesn't quite work for me, but there are some interesting things in these publications. There is also a small tie-in with Rebels/Jink/FutureQuest.
Blood of Ten Chiefs
A set of short stories of the history of the Wolfriders. Varies from issue to issue.
I read some of these when they first came out, but for legal reasons they cannot be reprinted, so they are not available on the website, and they are not considered canonical. The WaveDancers concept was relaunced in the ElfQuest 2 Era.
The simplest set of recommendation is this:
- Skip HY #6&7
- Read HY #8-15
- Read Shards #1-16
- Read HY #16-29
- Possibly re-read Shards #16
- Don't read New Blood anything
- Read Jink #1-12 and Rebels #1-12 if they sound interesting
ElfQuest 2 Era: 1996 - 1999
In this era, the many separate publications were discontinued, and were replaced by a single monthly anthology ElfQuest 2. Each issue of ElfQuest 2 contained some subset of the ongoing plotlines, plus occasional shorts.
Note: The storylines of this era are for the most part not necessary background for the stories of the Full Circle Era. I ended up skipping most of this Era to read the next era, then coming back, and if you want to stick to main storyline, top quality stories, that's probably what I'd recommend.
Each major storyline was later collected into its own volume, and both formats are available on the website. So far, I've been reading them in continuous storylines, rather than in the anthology format to see how confused I would get if I didn't read them in publication order. Then answer seems to be: not much at all; the storylines don't seem to interact to speak of. You don't need to know what happened in last months "Rogue's Curse" to figure out what's going on in this month's "WaveDancers". So I'm provisionally recommending this approach.
Like in the New Blood Era, each storyline has a separate production team, and quality varies from story to story.
A number of the storylines were left incomplete when the EQ2 anthology was discontinued.
Metamorphosis was a one time publication introducing some of the major EQ2 storylines. If you're reading EQ2 in anthology format, start with Metamorphosis. If you're reading them in collection format, the titles that have stories in Metamorphosis have those reprinted at the very beginning of the collection.
This is the Wendy Pini storyline for the era, and unsurprisingly, it ends up being the best quality, and the best fit with what comes before and after. This story line fits most with Hidden Years #1&3, being a retrospective on the time glossed over in Kings. It has occasional references to the Kahvi /Two-Spear storyline, but no other story lines from the New Blood Era, you could read it without reading anything from the preceding era.
- Status: Completed
- Length: 158 pages
- Recommended: Yes
- Wild Hunt
- Status: More or less completed
- Length: 415 pages + continuations
- Recommended: Sure
Wild Hunt: "Mender's Tale"
Direct sequel to the rest of Wild Hunt, a storyline planned for 5 parts. The first two parts were originally published under the Wild Hunt title in the last two EQ2 anthologies. The third and fourth parts were produced but never published before being made available on the website, and the fifth and concluding issue was never produced, but can be read "in rough script form only".
On the whole, I would recommend skipping this. The art is on the weak side, the story is somewhat distasteful, and the end was never completed. The story leads into "Recognition", but "Recognition" is getting re-told in Final Quest, in a form that uses less context from "Mender's Tale". The primary value in "Mender's Tale" is in seeing Yun meet what is presumably the young Khorbasi.
- "Mender's Tale"
- Status: Complete only in rough form
- Length: 96 pages
- Recommended: Not bad, but not worth the trouble
Picks up some threads from the "Evergreen"/New Blood storyline. If you recall, I could barely stand the prequel, so I didn't work too hard to get into this title. It failed to capture my attention in the first issue.
- Fire Eye
- Status: Incomplete (I think)
- Length: 268 pages
- Recommended: No
This is a re-launch of the WaveDancers/Sea Elves concept originally started in the New Blood Era. The Original WaveDancers cannot be re-printed for legal reasons, and this title starts over with the idea from scratch with no shared characters or plot. It's decent quality. It introduces characters that appear later in the Full Circle Era title The Discovery, but doesn't especially lead into that story in anyway. EQ2 was discontinued before this storyline got anywhere near conclusion.
There are some "lost chapters" that were written but never published when the EQ2 era ended, are not canonical, and—I understand—conflict with the story as it is picked up in The Discovery.
There also seems to be a timeline conflict between WaveDancers and The Discovery. WaveDancers happens a couple hundred years after Shards, and The Discovery must happen after WaveDancers, but The Discovery seems to be less than a decade after Shards. The official ElfQuest timeline was created before the publication of The Discovery, so does not offer any insight into this problem. (It's also possible I'm missing something.)
- Status: very incomplete
- Length: about 190 pages
- Recommended: Not bad
Follows Rayek and Winnowill (and Ekuar) between Shards and Future Quest. Worth reading at least a little of to get context for Future Quest, the stories aren't so much relevant as the character interactions.
- Rogue's Curse
- Status: Wrapped Up (not sure "complete" is relevant to this storyline)
- Length: 269 pages
- Recommended: Sure
Direct continuation of the story from Jink and Rebels. I didn't write down my thoughts while reading it, I'll have to go back over it. What I remember is the line quality was good, but I missed the color from the previous series. The story doesn't get very far before being discontinued.
- Status: Incomplete
- Length: 132 pages
- Recommended: Either way.
This is Pini's second story in the Era, and contains the seeds of the Full Circle Era to follow. The story covers the time leading up to Original Quest (the closing scene of Wolfrider! is the opening scene of Original Quest), focusing on Bearclaw and his feud with the humans.
It's a pretty good story, and it's nice to see the older generation some more. It suffers a tiny bit from having a strong moralistic theme, and a tiny bit from a slightly forced retcon of Madcoil's origin to fit the theme; but not as much from either as I was worried it might. I originally skipped this storyline on my way to the Full Circle Era, but would now somewhat recommend reading it just before moving on to that era. The first story of the Full Circle Era, "Troll Games and Soul Names" is written very much in the context of Wolfrider!, though that context is not strictly necessary.
The art starts out by Wendy Pini, then someone else takes over around halfway through and there is a sudden, large drop in art quality. The art then gets gradually better for a while until it is reasonably good, and then it looks like Wendy Pini takes back over for the final 20-30 pages.
- Status: Completed
- Length: 168 pages
- Recommended: Sure
There are shorts mixed into the EQ2 anthologies not part of these collections. I haven't dug them out yet.
- You can skip directly to the next era without major loss.
- Dreamtime is recommended, and can be read anytime after Kings.
- Wild Hunt, WaveDancers, if they sound interesting.
- Future Quest if you want more of the Jink and Rebels characters and don't mind the plot, and central mysteries, being unresolved.
- Wolfrider! is somewhat recommended, and ties into the first stories of the next era.
Full Circle Era: 2001 - 2006
I named this era for one of the stories in In All But Blood: "Full Circle". The theme of this era—particularly in what I'm terming the "Main Cycle" of the era—is a return to roots, both in the story and in the production style. It contains some fantastic work.
This is really, really nice work by Pini, Pini, & Sonny Strait. The earlier stories are a little rocky, but later settle into truly top-notch work that picks up the story of the main Wolfrider tribe after Shards.
I was feeling a little dispirited with this project, working through the New Blood Era, but I read these and became excited again. From the conclusion of Shards onward, this guide is as much to help people find their way here to these stories as anything else.
- In All But Blood
- A cycle of stories about Cutter and Skywise's relationship, picking up some unresolved threads that have been present since Original Quest. It starts a little rocky, and I'm not totally convinced to treat some of it as canon, but is pretty good quality. The final story, "Full Circle" of this volume belongs more with the following volumes than with this one, and is very good.
- The Searcher & the Sword
- Picking up after "Full Circle", this is another fantastic piece of work about the core Wolfriders.
- The Discovery
- Direct sequel to The Searcher & the Sword, plus connecting up with the characters introduced in EQ2 era WaveDancer. It's not necessary to read WaveDancers before reading this, but if you've read at least a little of WaveDancers, you won't have to learn as many new faces for this story.
A two-part, and very incomplete, sequel to Wild Hunt and "Mender's Tale". It's high quality, though not as much so as the "main cycle" stories of this era. The story in "Recognition" has now been re-told in Final Quest #1 in slightly condensed form, with some slight retconning. "Recognition" has some good moments that are dropped from Final Quest, but on the whole should probably be considered to have been superseded by Final Quest.
- Read the "Main Cycle" stories. If you must, you can skip the early stories in In All But Blood, but don't miss anything from "Full Circle" onward! If you finished Shards, you can read this at anytime from then on. If you didn't, you should still read this, but you might want to go back and try to finish Shards in order to get to these.
- No strong recommendation for "Recognition". If pressed, I'd say skip it; and possibly come back sometime after reading Final Quest #1 for an alternate version of those events.
Final Quest Era 2012 - ?
Starting in September 2012, "Final Quest: Prologue" was serialized on Boing Boing, one page a week. Twenty-six pages went up until, in March 2013, Final Quest was picked up for publication by Dark Horse comics. The complete "Final Quest: Prologue" was published by Dark Horse in October 2013 and regular issues began in January 2014.
"Final Quest: Prologue"
The first half of "Final Quest: Prologue" is available on the ElfQuest site (the pages that were serialized free on BoingBoing)
Note: "Final Quest #1" includes a shortened retelling of the events from the incomplete "Recognition" story from 2001.
Stories from this era can be bought at your local comics store with luck, or from Dark Horse comics: Print/Digital
Original Conclusion (2010)
And that's up to the current day, if with gaps for me to go back and fill! Though there are rocky times in the middle, ElfQuest remains a fantastic series, and the most recent stories live up to that promise, offering great hope (though no guarantees) for the future of the series.
I think Warp's main occupation for the last year has been getting all these comics online (and what an endeavor!), but as far as I can tell, that's now complete. Who knows what will be next, or when.