The hiatus is over....
Title: Arak, Son of Thunder #1
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: Ernie Colon (pencils) & Tony DeZuniga (inks)
Cover by: Ernie Colon & Dick Giordano
Letters: Ben Oda; Colors: Carl Gafford
Edited by: Dick Giordano
Publication date: September 1981
Publisher: DC Comics
The Sword and the Serpent
23 story pages, color
Overall Impression: 8/10
Synopsis: On an earth in the Dark Ages where magic and monsters are real, a Viking ship is lost in a storm and arrives in the waters near Greenland and North America where they rescue a Native American boy from a ruined canoe. A Frank raiding with the Vikings saves the boy and claims his as slave to protect him form the other Vikings, and gives him the name Arak after his dead companion Eric. Eight years pass and the Vikings, with Arak among the crew Given his freedom by the Frank when he achieved manhood) raid a monastery in Northumbria, where Arak further earns the enmity of the band's leader and they recover a jeweled cross. After a long winter, they go raiding to Northumbria again, and encounter a monastery held by a mysterious brother and sister from White Cathay. The sister is a sorceress and summons a dragon from the sea, destroying the raiders boat and leading to their capture. Arak pledges not to raise arms against the sister, but is the last survivor and fights and slays the dragon using the jeweled cross as the sorceress' party disappears. Arak pledges to seek out the court of Charlemagne to learn more.
Commentary: Roy Thomas covers a lot of ground in 23 pages, covering an almost 10 year span of Arak's life, from his rescue as a boy to his emerging as his own man after the Viking crew is slain. There are hints of a mysterious past to tantalize-Arak's true name is not given but is spoken of, his possible divine ancestry as the scion of a Native America thunder spirit/deity is bandied about as well. We know not how he came to be on the ruined boat where he was found, or what happened to his tribe, only that he is the last of them. Mysteries of the present abound as well, the ring the sorceress sought and recovered, why she was seeking to deliver a call to arms to Charlemagne, where and what is White Cathay and what magic powers a boat that propels itself and was sound to travel around the tip of Africa from Asia to Europe. All in a mere 23 pages, so it is jam packed with set up, but he still leaves room for action in the raid and the fight with dragon. Arak's nature is still being explored, we still don't have a full sense of what kind of man he is, but we get glimpses. All in all it is an effective debut issue as it sets into motion a lot of stuff and pulls the reader in.
As for the art, I like the work of both Ernie Colon and Tony DeZuniga separately. Colon's stuff can vary wildly in quality based on the inker, and while Colon and DeZuniga may not be the best mesh, it is not bad. Colon's panels and layouts display his strong storytelling skills, but with one major exception-he does revert to using arrows in a couple of places to show the eye where to go, in both cases it is when he decides to have a large final panel in the bottom right corner of the page, but several smaller vertical panels on the left hand side, a layout choice I dislike overall when used because it it confuses the eye. I don't mind pages that read vertically moving down form panel to panel (essentially the wide screen style innovated in the 90's with Warren Ellis and others), or pages the read from left to right, and then down to the next row, but when you try to do both on the same page it becomes a confusing mass of panels without a sense of purpose for the eye.
Other than that, the art gets a little murky in places, mostly I think because of production values at the time and not the efforts of Colon or DeZuniga, but Gafford's coloring doesn't help as he often chooses background colors that blend with the figures in the foreground making it appear murkier and less distinct than need be. The action scenes are well choreographed and as always, Colon has a lot going on in each panel and a lot of interesting (in a good way) design work.