Warlock 5  by Christopher Helton

Warlock 5 by Christopher Helton

Warlock 5 is an interesting comic, with an apparently interesting story behind it.

Originally published by Aircel, written by Gordon Derry and drawn by Denis Beuavais, Warlock 5 is one of those comics that could probably only have been created in the 1980s. The opening scene of the first issue features a fight between knights and a sorcerer on one side, and robots that could charitably be said to be influenced by The Terminator movie on the side…taking place in a parking garage. Add into this mix a punk rock vixen leading a group of the undead, and a seeming sorceress along with a man who shape changes into a dragon and a barbarian carrying an assault rifles as other groups.

What is this wonderful thing?

There is a lot of violence in this first issue, which wasn’t unusual for indie comics of the time. One character is killed by having a broken spear handle shoved into their head. This obviously isn’t for everyone, but what makes Warlock 5 interesting is the fearlessness with which it mixes and bends genre conceptions.

Warlock 5 01-07                                      Warlock 5 01-11

I love a good interdimensional comic story, it is a favorite thing of mine probably since I first saw Steve Ditko’s art create surreal magical realms in early issues of Marvel’s Doctor Strange comics. On a level, this reminds me of that same sort of energy and excitement. The creators of Warlock 5 weren’t trying to duplicate those Doctor Strange stories, but I think that is why they succeeded…they weren’t trying to be derivative of other comics. Too often we see comic creators try to recapture lightning in a bottle and either copy themselves, or the works of others, in order to do that. However, one of the reasons why Aircel still lingers in the minds of so many comic fans is because of the fact that they did do their own thing and made their own, original, books and stories.

Part of why this comic appeals to me, I think, is because I play tabletop RPGs, and in a lot of ways the story comes across to me as someone’s RPG game. The ultraviolence. The bizarre mix of characters just thrown into a blender together. The disregard for genre purity. The story in Warlock 5 could have just as easily been someone telling about the game that they are playing in. I mean this in a good way.

I can easily see Warlock 5 brought to life as the setting of an RPG. It easily lends itself to that sort of thinking. Next time, I will talk a bit more about the world and the characters of the comic and draw some parallels to why I think that it might be a good game world to play in.

 

Christopher Helton writes about pop culture, comics and gaming at his long-running Dorkland! blog, and as a writer for the Bleeding Cool website.

Check out last weeks’ posts: Barry Blair 101 by Christopher HeltonBarry Blair: What to read first? by Christopher Helton,Barry Blair’s Samurai by Christopher Helton, Elflord: Past & Future by Christopher Helton!

 

Elflord: Past & Future  by Christopher Helton

Elflord: Past & Future by Christopher Helton

Let’s talk today about Elflord a little bit, since a relaunch of it is currently being Kickstarted by the people here at Outland Entertainment. This was probably Barry Blair’s most popular project, I think because of the popularity of the fantasy genre.

Tonally, this comic had a lot in common with the old Rankin-Bass adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There is a general feeling of lightheartedness to the story, but there is a great deal of darkness that lurks just beneath the surface. Like Tolkien’s hobbits, the elves of Blair’s stories reflect a childlike innocence that becomes corrupted by the world around them. It is almost as if this is a metaphor for adulthood or something   Elflordoriginal_3.2Elflor_original5

I will freely admit that there are some uncharitable reads of the Elflord stories, due to the youthful and androgynous manner in which Blair drew his elves…and the situations that he sometimes put the characters into, but I think that is being uncharitable to Blair.

Fantasy was in the air for comic creators at this point in time, probably due to the rising popularity of the Conan and Red Sonja books and magazines put out by Marvel, in addition to the above mentioned Rankin-Bass cartoons. DC Comics was also doing new fantasy titles like Arak or Amethyst over on their side of things. Not only was Blair doing Elflord, but there was the humorous Trolllords comic from Apple Comics (also one-time publisher of Elf Quest) and The Realm from Arrow / Caliber Comics. Not to mention the granddaddy of elf comics: Elf Quest. Much like in fantasy literature, each of these comics had their own approach to fantasy. Elflord blurred a lot of the genre lines by taking parts from more Tolkien-esque high fantasy and the more swords & sorcery approach of writers like Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan).

A lot of the visceralness of the Elflord comics are taken from the swords & sorcery tradition. Characters get drunk in taverns and find themselves in brawls, taking a page directly from the works of Howard. While at the same time, there are immensely huge events happening with kings and nations and powerful magics that provides the backdrop for the stories of the individual characters. Yes, Elflord did draw heavily upon the inspirations of Elf Quest for this, but at the same time Blair filtered all of these concepts through his own imagination to create something unique from its inspirations.

Whether in the classic Elflord stories, or the upcoming Elflord Reborn comics, fans of comic fantasy will find something of interest in the worlds of these comics. There are well-developed characters, with unique personalities, and a rich world with a deep history. There is action. There are intrigues. There are stories that draw in the reader and suck them along through the adventures of the characters. If you are a fan of fantasy literature in comics and you haven’t yet read Elflord, you are certainly missing out on a great adventure.

 

Christopher Helton writes about pop culture, comics and gaming at his long-running Dorkland! blog, and as a writer for the Bleeding Cool website.

 

Check out last weeks’ posts: Barry Blair 101 by Christopher HeltonBarry Blair: What to read first? by Christopher Helton, Barry Blair’s Samurai by Christopher Helton!

 

Barry Blair’s Samurai  by Christopher Helton

Barry Blair’s Samurai by Christopher Helton

In this week’s discussion of the library of Barry Blair, I continue talking about his Samurai comic. As I mentioned last week, this comic combines the cyberpunk sensibilities of the time with influences of anime series like Robotech. The 80s gave us the (second) rise of an Eastern martial arts influence on Western comics. In the mainstream you saw comic characters like Daredevil going against ninja warriors, and Wolverine becoming a ronin samurai.

Keep in mind that in 1986 all of this was still fairly exotic stuff. Manga and anime weren’t as prevalent in America as they are today, what stuff made it to American audiences were fan-made translations of anime series and small press publishers who were doing some of the early manga translations. And people like Barry Blair were taking these fringe items and building something new out of them.

Cover

The first character that we meet in Samurai is interestingly the clone of the protagonist of the series. Hotachi is a giant robot pilot, something fairly common in manga and anime, but where Blair makes this unique is the fact that in this world they make clones because regular people are too big to pilot one of the robots. I’m still reading the series, so I don’t know yet if there is a reason for this (besides Blair’s preferences as an artist). I just find the “no, don’t make larger robots, make smaller people” concept to be interesting because it isn’t something that you typically see. Even in anime and manga the preference would be to use teens or younger people as the pilots. Sometimes, the imagination of an artist takes you places that you wouldn’t normally think to go.

The actual samurai of the title of the comic is Toshiro. Toshiro was the head of Intelligence for the spacecraft Naganata, but after an assassination attempt on him lead to the deaths of children instead, he left to pursuit his own life. At some point before then, genetic material was taken from him and the clone Hotachi was made. Now, Shiro (as he is nicknamed) spends his time with Homer, a family friend who had served with Toshiro’s father in the military, and his twin sister Gennin. When the actions of the story draw Toshiro back into the world of danger and intrigue, it is his sister who is against all of it.

Toshiro’s character is something standard in this genre. He is aloof and emotionally detached, trying not to get drawn back into his feelings for Velvet Black, his former lover and the woman who took his place as the head of Intelligence for the Naganata. He is practically a super-soldier, easily dispatching hordes of faceless mooks (unless the story requires otherwise, of course).

Despite these stereotypes, which honestly weren’t quite as stereotypical at the time that Blair made comics, he managed to create a complex story that draws in the reader. While some things will come across as dated to the contemporary reader, overall the quality of the writing and art hold up well for people who have not already read these comics. Anyone who is a fan of vintage cyberpunk stories, or who likes a good action story with an Eastern influence, will find things to enjoy in Barry Blair’s Samurai comics.

 

Christopher Helton writes about pop culture, comics and gaming at his long-running Dorkland! blog, and as a writer for the Bleeding Cool website.

 

Check out last weeks’ posts: Barry Blair 101 by Christopher Helton & Barry Blair: What to read first? by Christopher Helton!

Barry Blair: What to read first?   by Christopher Helton

Barry Blair: What to read first? by Christopher Helton

One of the fun bits of writing these pieces about Barry Blair and his comic work is getting to re-read the old stories, in some cases getting to read them for the first time. A lot of people who are comic fans today may not realize that it wasn’t always as easy to track down works of small press books as it is today. When I was a kid, one of the first places that I bought comics from regularly (that wasn’t a drug or grocery store) was actually a used bookstore that sold maybe 10-20 comics regularly each month. I think that it wasn’t until 1985 that I was able to start going to a comic store on a regular basis, and find books that were beyond what was sold at newsstands.

In the case of Blair’s Samurai comic, I am getting to read these stories for the first time. This is why I decided to start my discussion of his titles with that comic, rather than the probably more popular Elflord book.

Blair is probably one of the earliest published Western comic creators to start using an artistic style that was inspired by Japanese manga and anime. Those inspirations really show in Samurai. When I started reading this comic for this series, I was transported back to when I first saw Battle of The Planets and Speed Racer as a kid, and later in high school when I first saw pirated tapes of Robotech. All of these series seeped into the issues of Samurai as I was reading them. More “cartoony” styles weren’t unusual in small press comics in the 80s. Matt Wagner’s style on the early Grendel comics, while probably not directly influenced by manga art, did have a much more stylized approach to the art than Wagner has nowadays.

What is Samurai? It is about a samurai (big shock considering the title), giant robots and their cloned pilots, espionage and intrigue, and big space ships. The story covers pretty much everything that would have been new and exciting to a comic reader at this point in time. Combine this with a vaguely cyberpunk setting, and the comic makes its own gravy.

Now, I am going to go into the characters of Samurai in a bit more detail next time, there just isn’t enough space to introduce the series and go into it in any detail. Luckily we’ve got plenty of weeks to talk about things.

Why should you read Samurai? Well, if any of the above bullet listed items sounds appealing you should check it out. Yes, there are some clichés in the plot and in the story, but I think that comes with the luxury of hindsight and more familiarity with the genre today than we would have had back then. One thing that I really enjoyed was the idea that the reason for cloned giant robot pilots was because they would have to scale down the size of the pilots so that they could fit into the cockpits of the giant robots. The idea that it was easier to create clones of people to pilot these robots than it was to make the robots larger so that an actual person could fit into them just sounds so bizarre that it could almost be real.

Next time we will look at the main characters of Samurai and try to explore the world a bit. Until then.

 

Christopher Helton writes about pop culture, comics and gaming at his long-running Dorkland! blog, and as a writer for the Bleeding Cool website.

 

Check out last week’s post: Barry Blair 101 by Christopher Helton!

Barry Blair 101 by Christopher Helton

Barry Blair 101 by Christopher Helton

Compared to some, Barry Blair had a relatively short career in comics, but it would be an important one. As a writer and artist, Blair was known for producing manga-styled comics through Aircel Comics such as Elflord, Samurai, Dragonring, Warlock 5 and Blood ‘N’ Guts. He passed away in 2010, leaving behind a legacy of comics that we are going to discuss over the new couple of months. In this first column, we are going to introduce Blair’s background and introduce some of the comics that he produced, and that Outland Entertainment is going to be reintroducing to comics fans.

The history of comics is filled with interesting stories of how people became comic publishers. The birth of Aircel Comics is one of those interesting stories. Initially the Canadian company was known as Aircel Insulation, and when the loss of a governmentcontract threatened to dissolve the company Blair convinced the owner to shift the company’s emphasis from producing insulation to producing comics. In 1985 Aircel began publishing, jumping in just as the black and white comics boom ushered in by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was starting.

As Aircel would produce some quality books like Blair’s Elflord and Warlock 5 that would garner attention and an audience. Unfortunately this boom almost as quickly went bust and by 1988 Aircel Comics was having financial troubles. In order to alleviate these financial troubles, Blair would enter into a partnership with Malibu Comics that saw Aircel merge with Malibu imprint Eternity Comics, even though both would still exist as imprints. Malibu is probably best known as the publisher of the initial wave of Image Comics in 1992.

Elflord_original_cover

It was under the ownership of Malibu that Aircel would produce its biggest and lasting hit: Lowell Cunningham’s Men In Black. That Men In Black. Although the comic did not strongly resemble its media offspring, it did spawn the movie and Saturday morning cartoon franchise. The comic was much darker in tone than the movies, and also featured paranormal elements like werewolves and vampire in addition to the aliens that would take center stage in the movies. Blair would edit the comics.

Talking a little about Blair’s comics that we will be discussing in the coming columns. Elflord was a fantasy series strong influences and inspired by Elfquest by Richard and Wendy Pini. In fact, eventually Blair would work for Warp Graphics on various Elfquest titles. This series was high fantasy with a light touch, even though darkness lurked beneath the surface of the stories. Dragonring was a high octane pulp adventure strip, with elements of horror and science fiction. Warlock 5 was a blend of fantasy and science fiction and multi-world travel. All of these comics filtered through Blair’s unique perspectives, as we will see through this column as we explore them and other of his works.

DragonringAndWarlock5

 

In January of 2010, Barry Blair died of an undiagnosed brain aneurysm. His creations live beyond him, an ongoing testament to his creativity, join us as we explore the worlds of his creation.

 

This is the 1st of our brand new series of guest posts. These columns will focus on Barry Blair‘s legacy and are brought to you by Christopher Helton.

Christopher Helton writes about pop culture, comics and gaming at his long-running Dorkland! blog, and as a writer for the Bleeding Cool website.