Until I can kiss Karlach in Baldur’s Gate 3, I have Coda to warm my monster girlfriend heart

It’s been a good few years for gonzo high fantasy, hasn’t it? The rise of Critical Role and actual-play fantasy TTRPGS generally, a Dungeons & Dragons movie that was actually good, and now the explosive success of Baldur’s Gate 3.

In Baldur’s Gate 3, I find myself patiently wandering around the Underdark, trying to do enough cool heroic stuff to impress Karlach, the tall, buff berserker who used to work for an evil army but just wants to do good deeds now, and hoping that she’ll find room in her heart — whenever she gets a new one — for me, a humble bard. And since Baldur’s Gate 3 characters aren’t as horny as they used to be, it’s taking a while.

Fortunately, in the meantime, I’ve got my other favorite piece of media about a useless bard and their tall, buff berserker wife who used to work for an evil army but just wants to do good deeds now: the Day-Glo, anti-doomer epic fantasy explosion that is Coda. And double fortunately, Coda has a sequel that starts this week.

“You seem rather more attuned to the chivalric values we cherish than your, ah — squire?” asks a character in Coda. “Husband,” Serka corrects them, as her husband Hum whispers behind her in small text: “They’re fantasists! They’re living in the past! They say ‘quest’ without irony! we should get out of here right now!”

Coda has everything: A shitty little bard grown tired of heroic tales after magic destroyed the world instead of saving it; a setting with the weird factions of Mad Max and the even weirder bestiary of high fantasy; and a hero slamming syringes full of concentrated magic into the veins of his beloved, monstrous unicorn like so much nitrous.

Hum rides his pentacorn across a pink sand desert, slamming green syringes of akker into its shoulder, as it leaves a trail of angry green fire. Arrows swarm in from behind them, piercing the ugly beast’s rear, and it accelerates like a goddamn race car in Coda (2018).

A motley crew of bizarre beasts and riders armed with arrows and harpoons pursue Hum and his pentacorn across a rocky desert. An arrow whizzes past his face very closely, and he looks at the glowing gem on his ring in Coda (2018).

Where D&D is a series of beautifully illustrated books all about my favorite goobers (whether in my own campaign, Honor Among Thieves, or Baldur’s Gate 3), Coda is airbrushed on the side of an extremely cool van. Both are great, but lots of people read the books, where I’m out here on the street going, “Holy shit, who owns this thing?!”

Writer Simon Spurrier is driving that van, while Matías Bergara furiously paints it. Their book, first published in 2018, served up a macro story about how we can save the world slowly by believing in people, or doom the world quickly by believing in heroes and magic. That was wrapped around a micro story about a man realizing he loves an idea of his wife, not the reality, and deciding what to do about it.

And all that was wrapped in Bargara’s frequently indescribable art.

Hum’s pentacorn, so mutated with magic that it now sports five horns and a massive, glowing set of moose-like antlers, leaps through the air, swearing aloud in Coda (2018).

An explosion so big there’s barely anything else to see but bright colors and the huge sound effect PWOOOOOOO which is drawn as if it is the force of the explosion impacting the environment in Coda (2018).

We are living in a self-aware fantasy renaissance where we don’t have to settle for just one story about a monstrous lady berserker in love; we can romance Karlach in Baldur’s Gate 3 and read or reread Hum and Serka’s story in Coda. We don’t even have to settle for two stories: Serka and Hum return this week in Spurrier and Bergara’s sequel to Coda (also, and perhaps even more appropriately, called Coda) from Boom Studios.

So while I wait for Karlach to notice me, at least I’ll have something to read.

You can pick up Coda Vol. 1 on digital comics outlets and as a deluxe hardcover. Coda #1 (2023) hits shelves this Wednesday.

Hum rides his pentacorn across a stark dark background on the cover of Coda’s deluxe hardcover.
| Image: Matías Bergara/Boom Studios

Coda Deluxe Edition

  • $46
  • $50
  • 8% off

Prices taken at time of publishing.

After an apocalypse which wiped out nearly all magic from a once-wondrous fantasy world, an antisocial former bard named Hum seeks a way to save the soul of his wife with nothing but a foul-tempered mutant unicorn and his wits to protect him. But in the process, he is unwillingly drawn into a brutal power struggle which will decide forever who rules the weird wasteland…