The Moorcock Library: Elric: Bane Of The Black Sword by Roy Thomas, Mark Pacella and Mary Mitchell (graphic novel review).

‘Elric: Bane Of The Black Sword’ is a graphic novel adaptation of an original book by Michael Moorcock. Like many of Moorcock’s ‘novels’, its actually some novellas collected into book form but these tales are in chronological order, tell an important part of the Melnibonéan’s story and introduce Zarozinia, who becomes Elric’s wife. These comicbook versions were originally published by First Comics in 1988 and Titan have produced this lush hardback collection for your enjoyment. The scripts are by Roy Thomas, a skilled adaptor of sword and sorcery with a long list of credits.

The first story is a two-parter. Part one: ‘Old Wounds’ (pp3-29) and part two: ‘New Scars’ (pp30-54) tell of an adventure in the rich city of Bakshaan. Melniboné has fallen and Elric roams the Young Kingdoms with his companion, Moonglum, as a sword for hire. Stormbringer, of course, is no ordinary sword as it drinks souls and feeds power to Elric. It’s his blessing and curse. The merchants of Bakshaan hire him to kill one of their number, Nikorn. A mediaeval Jeff Bezos, he imports vast quantities of goods and sells them cheap, ruining the other merchants. He’s also very rich. Elric has no interest in Nikorn but the target is protected by Theleb K’aarna, an old enemy, so he takes the job.

However, Nikorn’s fortress is nearly impenetrable and he needs the aid of a band of wandering Melnibonéans who happen to be in the area. Moonglum doubts they will help since Elric destroyed their and his homeland but the albino assures him that they are an ancient, sophisticated race and ‘rarely allow emotions to interfere with our general well-being.’ How refreshing! Theleb K’aarna is keeping company with Queen Yishana of Jharkor as he’s crazy about her. She’s mad for Elric, so there’s a nice love triangle, too.

Part three: ‘Three Kings In Darkness’ (pp55-80) and Part four: ‘The King Beneath The Hill’ (pp 81-106) begins with Elric and Moonglum fleeing an enraged mob from Nadsokor, City of Beggars and escaping into the Forest of Troos where no animals or insects live, a remnant of some ancient sorcery gone wrong. Here they find a lone lady who needs a safe escort home. She is Zarozinia from Karlaak by the Weeping Waste, daughter of a rich merchant. She was travelling with her uncle’s caravan when it was attacked. ‘I am no wanton, sir’, she tells Elric and jumps straight into his sleeping bag. There follows an adventure with Gutheran the Mighty and the men of Org.

Part five: ‘The Flamebringer’ (pp 107-132) has Zarozinia’s homeland threatened by a mighty horde of eastern barbarians laying waste to everything in their path. Evil warlord Terarn Gashtek has a sorcerer’s soul imprisoned in a cat so the magician must obey him.

Part Six: ‘To Rescue Tanelorn’ (pp 133-158) isn’t an Elric story but features Rackhir the Red Archer who must seek help from another dimension to save his city from another ravaging horde, this one led by a Chaos Lord. It was okay.

There are two artists credited in the book. The first eighty pages of pencils are by Mark Pacella. His style is loose, sketchy with thin lines and reminded me a little of Barry Smith’s classic Conan work. Excellent stuff and Nick Koening did a fine job on the inking. The second half of the book has pencils by Mary Mitchell which I didn’t enjoy as much because the faces and figures seems a bit wonky sometimes. However, the layouts were dramatic and told the story clearly. There are all kinds of art styles nowadays which is probably a good thing.

There are dramatic highlights in the Elric saga, especially at the beginning and the end, but there are lesser parts, too. Here Elric wanders around having some adventures. He faces real danger but tends to get out of it by summoning his patron, Chaos Lord Arioch, for help, which is somewhat unsatisfying. The stories are full of imagination as Moorcock can tell a tale and it introduces a key character in Zarozinia but don’t expect a satisfying climax when you get to the end.

However, that’s the nature of serials. This is an adaptation and since ‘The Bane Of The Black Sword’ isn’t the best book in the saga, the graphic novel won’t be neither. On the other hand, it’s a nice edition and good value for money given the page count and the price. That’s one advantage of reprinting old material. Recommended but not the best introduction to one of the greatest characters in fantasy.

Eamonn Murphy

July 2022

(pub: Titan Comics, 2022. 208 page graphic novel hardback. price: £26.99 (UK), $29.99 (US), $38.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78773-619-1)

check out website: www.titanbooks.com 

Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website: https://eamonnmurphywriter298729969.wordpress.com/

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