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.
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.
New Blood #1-10
New Blood #11-35
Other New Blood Era Titles
Jink and Rebels
Kahvi and Two-Spear
Blood of Ten Chiefs
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
Wild Hunt: "Mender's Tale"
- 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.
- 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 - ?
"Final Quest: Prologue"