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  1. #151
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    The hiatus is over....

    Review #35



    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

    Story: 8/10
    Art: 7/10
    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.

    -M
    A lunatic is easily recognized...You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense...and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.
    -Umberto Eco

  2. #152
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    I followed the Arak series for a few issues early on in the series. I like the basic idea of a native guy going over to Medieval Europe - a bit of a switch from the usual story of the European going to North America. I forget a lot of the details - how old was Arak when he was taken by the Vikings? I think it might have been more interesting to see him leave his own cummunity as a fully formed adult - like Conan when he left Cimmeria.

    But IIRC, the thing that eventually led me to drop the series was Ernie Colon's artwork. Not that it was bad - I like a lot of the work he's done elsewhere - but it didn't fit the genre, to my eys. Too clear and bright - all sword and no sorcery, you might say. I like my sword & sorcery art to be drenched in texture and ambiance - in colour the BWS Conan and the Severins' Kull, in black & white the Buscema/Alcala team, the BWS/Conrad Bran Mak Morn, Vicente Alcazar's one Kull story - those are my personal touchstones for the genre.

  3. #153
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    Quote Originally Posted by berk View Post
    I followed the Arak series for a few issues early on in the series. I like the basic idea of a native guy going over to Medieval Europe - a bit of a switch from the usual story of the European going to North America. I forget a lot of the details - how old was Arak when he was taken by the Vikings? I think it might have been more interesting to see him leave his own cummunity as a fully formed adult - like Conan when he left Cimmeria.

    But IIRC, the thing that eventually led me to drop the series was Ernie Colon's artwork. Not that it was bad - I like a lot of the work he's done elsewhere - but it didn't fit the genre, to my eys. Too clear and bright - all sword and no sorcery, you might say. I like my sword & sorcery art to be drenched in texture and ambiance - in colour the BWS Conan and the Severins' Kull, in black & white the Buscema/Alcala team, the BWS/Conrad Bran Mak Morn, Vicente Alcazar's one Kull story - those are my personal touchstones for the genre.
    I liked Colon's work on Amethyst, but as I have said, I find the quality of his work varies greatly depending on who is inking. Tony DeZuniga is a great artist in his own right, but I was not overly fond of his inks on Colon in #1. I will have to see how the art goes moving forward. I love the concept of this series, and the prospect of a Roy Thomas sword and sorcery mag is an exciting one, but I've never read any of this series before, so it will be all new to me. I was familiar with the concept, but when I was younger I wrote it off a a Conan knock-off and never tried it, but that was in my mostly Marvel zombieish days before the DC '86 Renaissance and the discovery of indy books at the comic shop broke me of those habits.

    -M
    A lunatic is easily recognized...You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense...and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.
    -Umberto Eco

  4. #154
    Idaho Spuds Slam_Bradley's Avatar
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    I followed Arak from snap to whistle and loved all but the last half-dozen or so issues. My intention (and we know about them and the road to Hell) is to pull my back issues our and follow along. I'm a huge fan of Ernie Colon. And that doesn't seem to matter who is inking him. Personally I like pure Ernie with him doing the entire artwork, but I think the gritty inks of DeZuniga were just the right feel for Arak.

  5. #155
    Modus omnibus in rebus Roquefort Raider's Avatar
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    A brilliant premise for a series, and the time period was just perfect: Charlemagne, Harun Al Rashid, the first viking raids... There was massive potential in Arak.

    Ernie Colon was, I believe, a surprising but fine choice. Sure, his style was closer to fantasy than to history, but that made Arak a little more distinct from, say, Buscema's Conan. The match with DeZuniga was however a bit odd; that being said, I did enjoy it despite the difficulty of making the inker's rather realistic approach work with the penciller's more cartoony one. (My own personal team on the book was Rodriguez & Alcala).

    The fish out of water theme found in the Conan stories is also present here, although with Arak it is found on two levels: raised by Vikings, Arak is still viewed as a foreigner; traveling to medieval France, he is both a "red skinned savage" and a "northern barbarian". And a heathen to all, of course.

    One of my favorite aspects of the series was how it hearkened back to the early days of Thomas' Conan, in which magic was rare and something to be feared. (As Arak was starting, Marvel's CtB had flying horses in it). I always found fantasy more interesting when it was grounded in the real world. Arak was apparently a historical series first, with some supernatural or mythical elements thrown in to spice things up, and not an "anything goes" fantasy.

    I wish the original premise had been adhered to all along. it is my own personal opinion that the book lost its way when Arak became a shaman.
    Last edited by Roquefort Raider; 12-27-2013 at 04:17 PM.
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  6. #156
    Say WHAT?!?!?!? FanboyStranger's Avatar
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    Arak sounds right up my alley. I hope for a reprint some day, but maybe I'll track down some back issues.

  7. #157
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    Review #36



    Title: Arak, Son of Thunder #2
    Written by: Roy Thomas
    Art by: Ernie Colon (pencils) & Tony DeZuniga (inks)
    Cover by: Ernie Colon & Dick Giordano
    Letters: John Costanza; Colors: Adrienne Roy
    Edited by: Dick Giordano
    Publication date: October 1981 (cover date)
    Publisher: DC Comics

    The Devil Takes a Bride
    25 story pages, color

    Story: 8/10
    Art: 8/10
    Overall Impression: 8/10

    Synopsis: Arak is storm-tossed while trying to reach Charlemagne's court, and washes ashore near a remote castle and is discovered by a maiden and her mute armored guards. He is imprisoned by the maiden's father, who he discovers has a demonic hand, and in the dungeon meets a fellow prisoner, Mailagigi, the wizard he heard tell of that resided at Charlemagne's court. The maiden tries to free him and he learns of how her grandmother consorted with a demon to produce an offspring, her father. The demonspawn tries to prevent their escape, and Malagigi assists Arak' struggle against him and his demonic sire. When its over, Malagigi offers to take Arak to meet Charlemagne.

    Commentary: The addition of John Costanza and Adrienne Roy help the overall look of the book immensely. The coloring is less muddy and the figure art does not blend into the background as much. Colon and DeZuniga seem to mesh better here than in the first issue as well. A big step forward for the look of the book. The story is solid, if a bit predictable. Roy is drawing on some standard fantasy/word and sorcery tropes here (especially Corinna's motivation and fate), but Arak's inexperience and in a sense his naivete give a fresh feel to it as he interacts with those tropes. We gain a little more insight into his background with the wampum belt, and his character is starting to be fleshed out, but still has a way to go. The backmatter included a map of Arak's world, just as Roy talks in the essay about how he hated seeing those kinds of maps filled with made up names he could not pronounce. The names of Arak's map are historical, but for someone not previously exposed to that historical matter, could be just as unpronounceable.

    The demon sire of Lord Hessa is named as Belial, and said to be a minor demon, but does not seem to be the same Belial introduced as a major player in Hell, one of the ruling triumvirate and the father of Etrigan in other DC books. Roy Thomas has mentioned this being an alternate earth where magic and monsters were real, so I am not sure he had any sense this was taking place in the main DCU, or if other writers took into account the naming of Belial here when introducing the character later. For me, it's not a major issue as long as the internal mythology of Arak's world is consistent with itself, I won't really stress over how it fits with the greater DC Continuity, but it is a curiosity of sorts.

    The backmatter includes some sketches/pin ups and an essay that illuminate how the character was developed, and are an interesting read in their own right.

    -M
    A lunatic is easily recognized...You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense...and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.
    -Umberto Eco

  8. #158
    Senior Member Wildfire2099's Avatar
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    I had no idea Arak had a historical basis... I always assumed he was just a Conan rip off... very interesting.
    Like Kyle Rayner? Check out my classic review thread:

    http://forums.comicbookresources.com...s-by-Wildfire)

  9. #159
    world of yesterday benday-dot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slam_Bradley View Post
    I followed Arak from snap to whistle and loved all but the last half-dozen or so issues. My intention (and we know about them and the road to Hell) is to pull my back issues our and follow along. I'm a huge fan of Ernie Colon. And that doesn't seem to matter who is inking him. Personally I like pure Ernie with him doing the entire artwork, but I think the gritty inks of DeZuniga were just the right feel for Arak.
    I agree Colon is very effective inking his own work, and he is a bit of a chameleon, a very talented one at that. No sign of the Richie Rich penciler (the least cartoony one on that character btw) on this Tiger-Man page from that rather lamentable brief series, but it looks good and appears to be something de Zuniga woould be a fine match with.

    I have a full run of Arak somewhere that I have never read. They were my brothers, who long ago abandoned comics and just left his funny books in my care. The thing is I kind of abandoned them not long after him as well, though obviously rediscovering them in the past decade. Still haven't dipped into Arak yet. I'd love to follow along, but time is tight with me for these committed projects. Glad we have MRP around.


  10. #160
    world of yesterday benday-dot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roquefort Raider View Post


    One of my favorite aspects of the series was how it hearkened back to the early days of Thomas' Conan, in which magic was rare and something to be feared. (As Arak was starting, Marvel's CtB had flying horses in it). I always found fantasy more interesting when it was grounded in the real world. Arak was apparently a historical series first, with some supernatural or mythical elements thrown in to spice things up, and not an "anything goes" fantasy.
    I completely agree on this score. This has made me a fan of Game of Thrones. It is a series grounded in "realpolitik", of a quasi-medieval sort, in which fantasy certainly plays a considerable role, but it is never allowed to take over the premise of reality based world building that George R. R. Martin has fastidiously constructed.

  11. #161
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    Review #37



    Title: Arak, Son of Thunder #3
    Written by: Roy Thomas
    Art by: Ernie Colon (pencils) & Tony DeZuniga (inks)
    Cover by: Ernie Colon
    Letters: John Costanza; Colors: Adrienne Roy
    Edited by: Dick Giordano
    Publication date: November 1981 (cover date)
    Publisher: DC Comics

    The Sword of the Iron Maiden
    27 story pages, color

    Story: 9/10
    Art: 8/10
    Overall Impression: 9/10

    Synopsis: Arak and Malagigi are waylaid by brigands on their way to the capital of Carolus Magnus. They prevail but one surrenders and asks a boon, to be returned to his village where he can die in his own bed. They agree since the village is under the rule of Baledor, the mage that ambushed Malagigi and the wizard seeks to pay him back. In the village some are leery of the savage, but wait for Baledor's champion to arrive to deal with them. Arak overcomes the champion, who is revealed to be Valda, the Iron Maiden Paladin of Carolus Magnus under the spell of Baledor. The malcontent villagers howerver ambus all of them and bring them to Baledor, but Arak manages to overcome the mage and Malagigi finishes off the mage. Malagigi's vengeance achieved, they once again set out for the capital of Carolus Magnus.

    Commentary: At 27 pages, this issue is just jam packed with goodness. It feels like Roy Thomas finally hits his stride with this issue and the full artistic team of Colon/DeZuniga/Roy/Costanza are meshing well. If Arak is seen as a Conan knock-off, Valda could be seen as a Sonja imitator, but she follows a different archetype. She is the female knight, the one struggling to fill a man's role, the honorable warrior. A very different fantasy trope/archetype than Sonja, different, but no less interesting. With the tension between her and Arak, things could get interesting.

    One of the more interesting aspects of the issue for me, was Thomas laying the groundwork for how magic works in his world. The Four Pillars of Power as Malagigi explains it to Arak. Some use powders and herbs to achieve affects that emulate magic, and Malagigi doe shave a store of those, but these are not true magic. True magic is unreliable and draining as Malagigi explains so the powders and herbs are a safety net of sorts for true practitioners. The Four Pillars though are how those true practitioners can work magic. The first pillar is words (and gestures of power)-incantations, spells etc.-what those reading Doc Strange or playing a wizard in D&D would recognize and be used to as magic. The Second Pillar is persons of Power-people with innate talent for magic. Malagigi is one such, as is Angelica from the first issue. Beings whose nature and birth grant them access to certain powers-these would be your Merlins form literature, your Homo Magi form the DCU or for the D&Ders out there, your sorcerers. The Third Pillar is places of Power-the imagery shows Stonehenge when this is revealed, but other places are hinted at. This reminds me of legends concerning ley lines and other aspects of sacred sites. Aix-la-Chapelle, the site of the capital of Carolus Magnus is mentioned as such a place of power as well by Malagigi. The Fourth and final Pillar is Things of Power- talismans, scrolls, weapons and even magical beasts-your Spear of Destiny, Excalibur, and the ring Angelica recovered in the first issue.

    I really like this system. It is grounded yet flexible, full of story potential. It's better thna 90% of the magical systems I have seen in rpg's over the years. Magic has a cost-we see this when Malagigi works powerful spells against Balador without the benefit of his talismans, and circumvents some of the deus ex machina complaints I see by posters regarding magical heroes all the time. Yet it is flexible enough to let you tell any type of story and vague enough that the mystique of magic is not lost because it became too codified and mundane. We will see how it works out as the series progresses, but as a foundation, it impressed me, but the issue as a whole did too. The first two issues were solid, but I wasn't sure I was feeling the series, but with this issue I am fully on board.

    -M
    Last edited by MRP; 12-28-2013 at 10:53 PM.
    A lunatic is easily recognized...You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense...and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.
    -Umberto Eco

  12. #162
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    Review #38



    Title: Arak, Son of Thunder #4
    Written by: Roy Thomas
    Art by: Ernie Colon (pencils) & Tony DeZuniga (inks)
    Cover by: Ernie Colon & Dick Giordano
    Letters: John Costanza; Colors: Adrienne Roy
    Edited by: Dick Giordano
    Publication date: December1981 (cover date)
    Publisher: DC Comics

    A Tree From Some Dark Hell
    27 story pages, color

    Story: 8/10
    Art: 8/10
    Overall Impression: 8/10

    Synopsis: Arak, Valda, and Malagigi arrive at Aix-La-Chapelle, and Arak is introduced to Carolus Magnus and his Peers. The Peers do not take well to the savage, and he is challenged to trial by combat to prove his worth. He prevails and spares his opponent, earning an ally. Arak gives his warning of Angelica, and Carolus Magnus relates the tale of the Peers wars against the Saxons, including the felling of a god tree which his the Saxons treasures. Malagigi fears the remnants of the tree are cursed, and he proves prescient as a sprig of the tree grows into a tree demon. Arak saves Carolus Magnus' life in the initial attack but is trapped by the flames Malagigi summons to destroy the tree. Carolus Magnus throws Arak an asbestos cloth to wrap around himself allowing him to survive the blaze, and evening the life debt between them.

    Commentary: There is a fan letter form one Todd McFarlane on the letters page, plus the obligatory TM Maple letter form the early 80's.

    The godtree of the Saxons reminds me very much of the godwood of the Starks from Game of Thrones, and I suspect Martin and Thomas were drawing on similar folklore for their inspiration here.

    The asbestos tablecloth threw me for a loop when I read it. Thinking it must be an obvious anachronism, but a quick google search reveals asbestos was known as far back as the Roman Empire and there are legends of Charlemagne having such a tablecloth and amazing guests by throwing it in the fire to see it not burn. So I we'll chalk it up to stellar research by Roy. If I had heard that particular legend of Charlemagne (and I have read all of Einhard and Notker's bios plus the Song of Roland and other secondary texts ad nauseum in my years of medieval studies) I had long forgotten it, and the sequence surprised the hell out of me.

    The story here was not quite as compelling as last issue-a lot of people taking and squabbling, but still a solid issue and I do love me some monstrous trees. Lots of set up as well establishing Malagigi's possible ties to Merlin and Camelot, setting up the Saxons and their warlord as a recurring menace, and introducing some court intrigue among the Peers. So still a strong issue, just felt like pieces thrown together rather than a seamless whole, almost two smaller plots mashed together to make an issue than a whole issue in and of itself.

    -M
    A lunatic is easily recognized...You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense...and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.
    -Umberto Eco

  13. #163
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    Anyone in this thread familiar with Karl Edward Wagner?? He wrote/created this character called Kane who's immortal & immoral as well. Kane was basically like a combination of Conan & Elric except he's really evil & is always seeking power in some manner, be it sorcery or superscience (he's not weak or emo like Elric is though).

    I recently became a big fantasy/sword & sorcery fan since early last year or so & I discovered the Kane character earlier this year (thanks to the official REH forums). Unfortunately the books are out of print & are extremely expensive but I managed to get 2 of the novels for like $20 each & both were used too.

    Anyway I just really believe Wagner's Kane character is extremely compelling. Those books need reprinting. They're just as good as Martin's ASOIAF (probably even better) & they predate that saga too.

  14. #164
    Say WHAT?!?!?!? FanboyStranger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Savage Savant View Post
    Anyone in this thread familiar with Karl Edward Wagner?? He wrote/created this character called Kane who's immortal & immoral as well. Kane was basically like a combination of Conan & Elric except he's really evil & is always seeking power in some manner, be it sorcery or superscience (he's not weak or emo like Elric is though).

    I recently became a big fantasy/sword & sorcery fan since early last year or so & I discovered the Kane character earlier this year (thanks to the official REH forums). Unfortunately the books are out of print & are extremely expensive but I managed to get 2 of the novels for like $20 each & both were used too.

    Anyway I just really believe Wagner's Kane character is extremely compelling. Those books need reprinting. They're just as good as Martin's ASOIAF (probably even better) & they predate that saga too.
    I know Karl Wagner did a prestige format book at Vertigo with Kent Williams art. Can't remember the name, though, or if it was sword and sorcery. It was in early days of Vertigo, so maybe '94-'95?

  15. #165
    Modus omnibus in rebus Roquefort Raider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MRP View Post
    Review #38

    Commentary: There is a fan letter form one Todd McFarlane on the letters page, plus the obligatory TM Maple letter form the early 80's.
    A few years later, McFarlane was slated to be the artist on a Valda limited series; he even had a Valda pin-up printed in Arak.
    I didn't know he had been an early fan!

    The story here was not quite as compelling as last issue-a lot of people taking and squabbling, but still a solid issue and I do love me some monstrous trees. Lots of set up as well establishing Malagigi's possible ties to Merlin and Camelot, setting up the Saxons and their warlord as a recurring menace, and introducing some court intrigue among the Peers. So still a strong issue, just felt like pieces thrown together rather than a seamless whole, almost two smaller plots mashed together to make an issue than a whole issue in and of itself.
    Excellent write-up, MRP. There was still a lot of setting up in those days, and roy treated us to an overabundance of riches, if anything. The plot would soon take our characters away from Charlemagne's court, and all the preparatory work would finally be used (even if sparsely) only in the back up features.

    Valda was a good foil for Arak; sort of a Red Sonja done right. We naturally expected her to become his love interest, but the early, tempestuous days of their relationship were a lot of fun. Malagigi was a bit more of a problem, as he suffered from the fate any sorcerer faces in a S&S series: if he's a bad guy, he's darn near invulnerable: if he's an ally, he's always too tired or old to do much good.

    Both the Saxons and, later, the Huns were treated as credible threats by Roy, but never as one-dimensional villains. In fact, even if Charlemagne is technically the "good" king, it's clear from this story that he's another imperialistic autocrat, and a religious fanatic to boot!
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