Sunday, January 22, 2012

Swords Against Sorcery!

Fritz Leiber was a writer of great style and accomplishment, but I'd have to say his most memorable contribution to fantasy was his creation of the dynamic duo of Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser. I looked at some of their paperback appearances here with a focus on artist Jeff Jones.


Here I'd like to look at their rather meager comic book appearances, first at DC, then Marvel and finally at Dark Horse.


The duo were broken out and polished up when Marvel scored a hit with Robert E. Howard's Conan. I'm sure there was much casting about for more heroes in the same mold which could be used to monopolize on what was almost certainly considered a fad at the time and not the lasting trend it became.


DC found the best likely candidates in Fritz Leiber's dual heroes. But there are problems. Like Marvel, DC put the new characters in the hands of relative newcomer talents to comics. But where Marvel was willing (thanks to Roy's influence) to wait for the work to develop and catch on, DC was less forgiving.


After only five issues the book was cancelled. It sadly was not given time to find its audience the way Conan was eventually able to do, or DC's history might well have been quite different.


The title didn't just launch out of the blue though. Where Marvel played around with the concept of Conan in tryouts such as Starr the Slayer and Arkon the Magnificent, DC decided to try out the heroes right from the start in the one of the most offbeat places -- their longtime superhero comic Wonder Woman.

Dick Giordano

It was a strange move, and doubtless had as much to do with the fact that the editor of the WW book Denny O'Neil (Samuel Delaney wrote the script) was also the writer of the proposed Fafhrd and Gray Mouser title. And it's not exactly like Wonder Woman was DC's best selling book to begin with.

Nonetheless after that strange beginning the title was launched to mostly snores. By the time I found it with issue five (featuring a wonderful Walt Simonson drawn story and another by Jim Starlin) the title was already cancelled.

Howard Chaykin was the artist selected to helm the new heroes in the first four issues, and he was a good choice, but Chaykin was a young artist. Very much like Barry Smith, you could see Chaykin improve with each job he did, and as the title unfolded he improved mightily. But it was too little it seems and too late.

So the comic, sensibly named Sword of Sorcery (though the working title was apparently "Swords Against Sorcery") was regrettably cancelled.

Years later Marvel took the characters and put them back into the hands of Chaykin, this time as writer. Alongside a much more polished artist Mike Mignola, the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser are again brought to the racks, this time under the Epic label.

It's a good comic and I believe intended from the get-go to be a limited. This work was allowed to lapse from print and years later yet again Dark Horse got hold of it and on the strength of Mignola's new fame as the creator of Hellboy, put the material out again in a handsome trade.

To my knowledge though the material produced for DC has not been reprinted aside from the Wonder Woman story which introduced the duo. It's a shame; it deserves the audience it was never able to find before.

Barry "Not-Yet-Windsor" Smith

On a side note, it should be mentioned that Roy Thomas also adapted the two heroes from Nehwon in the sixth issue of Conan, but they were disguised as two characters dubbed "Blackrat" and "Fafnir". They were intended as one-off homages to the great Leiber heroes, but despite his apparent demise (just a flesh wound I guess) Fafnir returned several issues later. Ironically in September of 1972, two versions of Fahrd were on the stands at the same time.

Barry Windsor-Smith

Thomas had cause to kill him off again, but despite that second death he returned yet again and became somewhat of a staple in the Conan book from time to time, and was called "Fafnir Hellhand/Demonhand".

John Buscema

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