Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Epic Thursday!

Epic December 1981, cover by Tim Conrad
This issue is a bittersweet one, in some ways, as it brings the final chapter of Jim Starlin's long running series Metamorphosis Odyssey, which has been a  mainstay for the magazine since its first issue.  While it is sad to see a beloved story draw to a close, it is simultaneously exciting to see how it wraps up.

At the end of last issue we left Aknaton and Vanth holding off the Zygotean horde to buy time for Juliet, Whis'par, and Za to blow the Infinity Horn and destroy the galaxy.

They are unyielding in their defence, but can't hold out much longer, especially when Aknaton gets his arm blown off and can no longer defend himself.  Then, just when it seems that the Zygoteans will push through... the horn sounds!

In the last instant, Aknaton encapsulates himself and Vanth in a mystical bubble in which they hurtle through the cosmos in suspended animation for a million years before reaching the planet Chalfalon, 500,000 light years from the edge of the Dark Sector, formerly known as the Milky Way.

Aknaton tells Vanth that Juliet, Whis'par, and Za were transformed into a new species of pure thought and energy, and are now gods.  Vanth is still reeling, trying to assimilate all that has happened, when Aknaton tells him that his work is not yet finished and that he, Aknaton, has more need of Vanth's unique talent for killing.  Vanth snaps, disgusted by Aknaton's blood lust, and denies him forcibly.

Dying, Aknaton reveals that he goaded Vanth into killing him because he could not live with the burden of being the architect of the destruction of a galaxy.  But before he dies he lays the responsibility for this galaxy on Vanth's shoulders, along with the duty to employ the Infinity Horn once again should it stray down the wrong path.

And thus, Vanth is left to live with the sins of his past, damned to always walk alone.

Vanth's tale is not done, however, and his further exploits were chronicled in the comic series, Dreadstar, published first by Epic Comics, then by First Comics with a combined run of 64 issues.

In a post story interview with Epic, Jim Starlin revealed an interesting experimental technique he employed in Metamorphosis Odyssey's art.  Back in the early chapters, while the story was rendered in black and white, Starlin started drawing on dark grey matt boards used for picture framing, using black ink for the darkest tones and white ink for the highlights.  He carried on with this technique even after the series went to colour, switching to coloured matt boards to provide the mid-tone.  If you embiggen the last panel and enlarge it you should be able to make out the coarse texture of the matt board.

Starlin also revealed that Metamorphosis Odyssey was his attempt to work through his Vietnam experience and that the characters in the story are composites of personalities that he encountered in the war; Za, who blindly follows Aknaton without question; cynical Whis'par, who questions everything; Juliet, who is swept along by events out of her control; Vanth, the ultimate warrior, who doesn't stop to think about what is going on until it's too late to stop; and, finally, Aknaton, the planner and mad architect of destruction.  Starlin, himself, was court-martialed for producing an anti-war comic, but was acquitted and honourably discharged.

As one series ends, another begins.  This issue sees the start of a fantasy series, Weirdworld - Dragonmaster of Klarn, written by Doug Moench and illustrated by one of my favourites, John Buscema of Savage Sword fame.  You just know that any series that has a map is going to be cool, especially when it has a skull-shaped island called Land of the Dead!

This is actually Doug Moench's fourth Weirdworld story, the first, An Ugly Mirror on Weirdworld, was published back in 1976.  It introduced our protagonist, Tyndall, an elf amnesiac trying to make a home for himself.  In the course of saving a village that offered him grudging sanctuary, Tyndall met a woman of his species, Velanna with whom he goes on to share his life and further adventures.

As Dragonmaster of Klarn opens, an evil sorcerer, Dark Majister plots to obtain The Shield of Klarn, a sleep crystal that keeps a dragon safely in slumber.

To ensure that Tyndall and Velanna do not thwart his plans and to avenge the destruction of the sorcerer Darklens, at their hands, he plans to corrupt Velanna and use her to kill Tyndall.  He produces a hollow crystal statuette of Velanna which slowly begins to fill with blackness.

Meanwhile, in the dwarven village where Tyndall and Velanna live as unwelcome guests, Velanna begins to undergo some personality changes as the taint begins to infect her.

In Klarn, Black Majister's henchman, Murkandor, uses power given him by his master to shatter the Shield of Klarn, and collects the shards for Majister; immediately the dragon begins to stir and the Elves of Klarn, the guardians of the dragon, are powerless to stop it because there are no more dragonmasters left alive.

Tyndall and Velanna's dwarf friend, Mud-butt, returns with news of dire happenings around the world, and the wizard of Skyhook Mountain is the only one that can stop them, so he proposes that the three of them travel to Skyhook to obtain his aid.  Tyndall does not wish to leave the community where he is trying to gain acceptance, but Velanna, consumed with growing anger and bitterness insists on leaving with Mud-butt and, reluctantly, Tyndall agrees.

As this issue ends, we see the statuette of Velanna half-filled with darkness.
To be continued...

And, finally, in the third of a series of Dungeons & Dragons Adventure advertisements we see the intrepid heroes have finally reached the Treasure Vaults of Roakire and each has gotten a share of magical booty, when they are set upon, suddenly, by a Purple Worm!


Trey said...

Another good issue of Epic-y goodness. Interesting to hear about Starlin's military experiences. I did know he had served.

Oc said...

I think you meant 'Metamorphosis Odyssey' instead of 'Metamorphosis Alpha' up there.

My personal favorite from Epic was Thomas & Conrad's Almuric. And Robert E. Howard's, too, of course.

Sean Robson said...

I think you meant 'Metamorphosis Odyssey' instead of 'Metamorphosis Alpha' up there.

Oops. I always catch myself thinking 'Metamorphosis Alpha', even though I've never played the game. Nice catch. Thanks.