Saturday, July 16, 2016

Weirdworld - Warriors Of The Shadow Realm!

This is the blockbuster! These three very "super special" magazines collectively titled Warriors of the Shadow Realm  but part of the longer series Marvel Super Special are among the most beautiful comics ever produced in the genre. That the covers of all three are so riddled with copy and hype that they almost hide the beauty is regrettable, but back in the day a fan took what a fan could get. In this case what a fan got was a potent new way to publish beautiful artwork, giving it a painterly feel for Doug Moench's writing, but still maintaining the verve and energy of a classic comics page. The artists involved were Rudy Nebres (inks), Peter Ledger and Steve Oliff (paint and colors) and most importantly "Big" John Buscema (pencils).

If it were possible to worship an artist, my god would be John Buscema, He was simply the finest comic book artist of his generation and is in a league with Hal Foster and Alex Raymond. Famously disdainful of the superheroes he drew so many of, he took the Conan franchise made popular by the exquisite and increasingly baroque artwork of Barry Windsor-Smith and toughened it for the long haul. I consider Buscema's Conan the definitive version, even surpassing the transformative version by Frank Frazetta. Only Buscema was able to consistently present a Cimmerian who had all the characteristics described so vibrantly by Robert E. Howard, the charisma, the raw power, the nimble agility, and the raw drama. I'd imagine John Buscema was excited to have a chance to do more fantasy when he came to draw Weirdworld.

The story of Warriors of the Shadow Realm goes roughly as follows. Be careful there are spoilers. Tyndall, Velanna, and Mud-Butt come across a Savage Elf who is running from some mysterious flying Nightfangers. Later they encounter him again and come into possession of mysterious gems which have the power to evoke monsters in the Moon's light. The Savage Elf dies when the Riders of the five Shadow Riders enter the City of Seven Delights. The trio take the gems to a wizard who tells them of the origin of Weirdworld and the near-godly figure of Darklens who created the place as a by-product of his war with other gods. The gems contain the essence of the evil Darklens and the Riders are desperate to gain possession so that he might right again. The trio take the gems and later meet a tribe of Savage Elves who have taken the mission long ago to protect the crypt of Darklens so that he might never rise. The wizard betrays them all and takes possession of the gems giving Darklens access to his body but the intervention of a White Wolf, which also seems to be a wizard or more, helps to forestall the threat. In the end Weirdworld is safe once again, for the time being.

That's the story, at once classic and evocative of many other stories told over the ages. It feels very familiar indeed that small seemingly weak characters prove pivotal in stopping the resurrection of a dangerous sorcerer who threatens the whole world and beyond. It's as advertised, "in the fantasy tradition of Tolkien".

I'm exceedingly glad that I have this story in its original format as the reprint, as grand as it is, falls short of presenting this artwork in its proper from. The story has a number of triptych fold-outs and the standard comic book page is simply not capable of properly presenting that grand artwork. There is lushness to the work here which at the time was unlike anything else available on the stands. There was Heavy Metal, and soon there would be Epic Illustrated, but when this saga hit the stands it was unique. The depth and quality of the artwork is simply beyond words.

Weirdworld was not done yet. There was one more story to tell but that's for next time.

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  1. Once John Buscema adopted Jack Kirby's storytelling technique, he became Marvel's top artist. JB's first Hulk story upon returning to Marvel in the '60s had a Curt Swan-ish feel about it, but he really took off once he started drawing The Avengers. He was the perfect artist for the 'How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way' book.

    1. Totally agree that Buscema without the infusion of Kirby's blocking was a great illustrator. With that injection he became a much more muscular storyteller, really opening up the door Kirby had already passed through.

      His style defined 70's Marvel as Garcia-Lopez's did DC in the later years of that decade.

      Rip Off

  2. Nice flashback - I really enjoyed this beautiful series back in the day.


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