Fantasy comics to whet your Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones appetite

Rick Olivares (The Philippine Star) - December 2, 2014 - 4:11pm

With the film and television adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and A Game of Thrones, the sword and sorcery fantasy genre is alive and well.

Making a comeback for modern readers are the re-prints of some beloved comic book stories from the mid-1980s – The Black Dragon and Marada, The She-Wolf. Both are from the team of writer Chris Claremont and artist John Bolton thanks to Texas-based Titan Comics.

Marada first came out in Marvel Comics’ fantasy magazine (their answer to Heavy Metal the magazine), Epic Illustrated in February of 1985 while The Black Dragon was a limited series for Epic Comics. Marada was later collected in graphic novel format.

Around the time of the two titles’ release, fandom had a healthy dose of sword and sorcery and fantasy films from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan the Barbarian films to Brigitte Nielsen’s Red Sonja; Ralph Bakshi’s animated Fire and Ice, Dragonslayer, Beastmaster, Willow and Highlander to name a few. Music-wise, this was also an era when progressive rock made use of a fantastical landscapes for album covers courtesy of Roger Dean, William Neal, Paul Whitehead and H.R. Giger to name a few. Bands like Yes, Asia, Pink Floyd and Rainbow, once more to name a select few, also took us to distant lands through their epic fantasy-inspired soundscapes.

Comics-wise, fantasy artists who made names for themselves drawing comics books during this era count P. Craig Russell, Charles Vess and Bolton among its stalwarts.

Now if Alex Ross is to painted superheroes in the 1990s, Bolton was the painter for the 1980s! As a young kid who looked forward to the Sunday comics to read Prince Valiant, Bolton was for me, the heir to Hal Foster. His art was evocative of the great Foster, and provided new stories as the great comic strip wound down in the late 1970s.

Its successor, The Black Dragon touches on English myth and history where James Dunrieth, an exiled knight who returns to England uncovers a plot to overthrow the crown (while Richard the Lionheart is away) with the aid of dark magic. Along the way, Dunrieth acquires the help of historical figures Eleanor of Aquitaine and Robin Hood as they do battle with forces of darkness.

As much as I like the story, at times, it gets winded, typical of Claremont who weaves too many things that they bog down. And I’m not overly a fan of the mystical stuff that suspends your belief. Nevertheless, it isn’t that bad.

In Titan’s reprint, I was surprised that The Black Dragon was rendered in black and white instead of the full color when it first appeared.

I’d still venture to say that Bolton’s art in black and white is something to savor and enjoy. You know you have a masterpiece in your hands.

The “remastered” Marada, on the other hand, is recolored and is a stark contrast from the original monochrome wash during its initial release and breathes new life to the original three stories penned and painted by Claremont and Bolton, respectively. And the result is as lovely as the character of Marada herself.

The story was originally meant to be a Red Sonja story except when the film version that featured Nielsen was released, Claremont and Bolton felt it was more prudent to tweak the story to fit an original character and re-set it from the Hyborian Age to the world lived under Pax Romana. Or so it seems as the star-haired Marada battles evil wizards, mercenaries, demons, and other denizens of the dark.

While Marada has got to be one of the best stories ever penned by Claremont, who is more known as the writer of the Uncanny X-Men for an amazing 17-years, I still chafe at his inability to change voices or speech patterns for his characters. If you read him for his 17 years at the helm of Uncanny X-Men, you will know what I mean. I have always found it poor that at times when reading Marada, I wondered if it was the warrior woman who was speaking or the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde or Storm. And for a medieval story, the word “scrap” definitely doesn’t fit.

As critical as I am of Claremont’s writing, I have always thought that he was and will always be on of the – let me borrow the name of the publishing company for this – a titan of the comics industry. And the remastered and reprinted versions of The Black Dragon and Marada the She-Wolf are true treasures that have been unearthed for a modern audience.

Now do you think they’ll be adapted for film? Now that would be something.

The Black Dragon and Marada The She-Wolf are priced at $19.99 and $24.99, respectively. You may order them through your favorite comic book specialty shop.

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