Sunday, October 30, 2016
Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser!
Despite the sales domination of Conan the Barbarian for many years from Marvel, other sword and sorcery properties discovered limited or little success in the market. They tried Thongor of Lemuria, Gullivar of Mars, and Elric of Melnibone. But never had they attempted Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, a series which had been adapted to comics once before by DC in the early 70's. Then in their Epic Comics brand they tried it out and brought back a much more experience and seasoned comic talent Howard Chaykin to do the writing. He'd been the artist on the early DC effort with uneven success and this time he was joined by the up and coming artist Mike Mignola and the respected veteran Al Williamson. And finally we see these two heroes as they should be in the four issue limited run titled Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser.
The first issue adapts "Ill Met in Lankmar" and we see the duo pair up for the first time to carry out raids on the Thieves Guild of Lankhmar. Spurred on by their loves Vlana and Ivrian and no small amount of drink they invade the thieves sanctuary and confront the leader and his resident sorcerer. But they fail to realize that for an earlier attack they were already being targeted for sorcerous destruction, a destruction which tragically claimed the lives of their lady loves. Filled with vengeful rage they attack the Guild again and blood is shed in abundance. Overcome by grief and regret the freshly minted team vow to leave Lankhmar never to return.
The next issue gives us "The Circle Curse" in which we meet Sheelba of the Eyeless Face and Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and we find that despite their best efforts our heroes eventually return to Lankhmar after a long time wandering across the varied and dangerous landscapes of Newhon looking for some measure of solace.
"The Howling Tower" is a properly scary tale which starts with the duo led by native guide encountering ghosts on the plains of Newhon. A mysterious disappearance leads the two of them and later just the Mouser (when Fafhrd too disappears) to an ancient tower in which a weird menace presents itself. Mouser must become a wraith himself to help Fahrd put down the threat but they escape just barely and justice served to some extent.
"The Price of Pain Ease" is adapted for a second time by Chaykin and this time with the proper back story of loss which gives it the emotional depth to the tale that it requires. The duo are in a contest to claim the mask of Death itself for their magical mentors and must compete with the depraved Duke Danius for the prize.
"Bazarr of the Bizarre" has the Mouser fall victim to an other-dimensional marketing scheme which sells garbage but makes the customer convinced it is of great value. Not only is he being swindled but he is about to die when thanks to Fafhrd and the intervention of their mentors he is saved barely.
"Lean Times in Lankhmar" is a classic tale, perhaps the single finest in the canon and is adapted here with skill. Fafhrd and Mouser have fallen out (over how to spell Fafhrd's name it is suggested) and since have followed separate paths. Fafhrd has become a zealous acolyte of the god Issek of the Jug and Mouser has become the top enforcer for the gangster Pulg. The two come into some conflict when Pulg for his own reasons wants to put the pinch on the priest of the cult of Issek and a bizarre and peculiar set of circumstances lead to one of the better finales in all pulp literature. This adaptation is not as deft as the original Leiber text (a masterpiece) but it does a good job nonetheless.
"When the Sea King's Away" closes out the four-issue run with Fafhrd and Mouser seeking treasure and a bit of romance at the bottom of the sea. They snake their way down through a weird tunnel of air and find strangely attractive women but have to make a dash for their lives when the sea closes in.
We leave our heroes adrift in a small bark seeking as always new adventures.
And that's a wrap for the team. Dark Horse reprinted these stories in 2007 and that's the collection I read this time out. It's surprising that in all the time that has passed there have been no other attempts to adapt these tales. Over forty years since the first try and twenty-five since the second. Whole generations have come since anyone's tried. But maybe they don't think they can do better. It would be hard.