Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Department of Lost Barbarians: Arak

Back in 1981, original Marvel Conan comics scribe Roy Thomas had left Marvel for the competition, DC Comics. Not surprisingly, Thomas created a sword & sorcery title for DC. This was Arak: Son of Thunder. I remember reading a couple of issues back then, but this was during the period when I was obsessed with crime fiction and reading virtually no fantasy or science fiction and that included fantasy comic books. Arak ran for four years, 50 issues and one Annual and that was that.
   The other day, having just read some "new" Roy Thomas comics and having really enjoyed them, I started casting about for something else to read that Roy had written. I recalled Arak and decided to give that series a try. Since I never do anything halfway, I found a comics dealer who had a set of all 50 issues and the annual at a decent price and a couple of days later a cardboard box showed up with the complete run of Arak. Sat down today and read the first three issues.
   So far I've been having fun. Arak is basically an Indian (Native American) version of Conan, adventuring in Europe in the Eighth Century. However, as Roy is quick to point out, this is an alternate universe Europe where magic works and where history may not follow the exact path that it took in our own reality.
   The first issue shows how a young Indian boy was found drifting in a canoe by a Viking longship and was taken aboard where he was more or less adopted by a Frankish member of the crew. This is historically sound as the Norse did sometimes have members of other races on their ships when they were 'gone a viking.' Over the next ten years the boy grows up among the Norse, eventually becoming a Viking himself and accompanying the rowdy Danes on looting runs to what will eventually be Britain.
   Through a series of odd circumstances, Arak (the way the young Indian pronounced Eric) ends up the last surviving member of the crew and is marooned in Northumbria.
   I was a little concerned that the comic might not have enough sorcery, given its pseudo-historical setting, but by issue #2 Arak is involved in an adventure where Conan would have been right at home, so no worries there.
   The artwork on the series features Ernie Colon as penciller and long time Conan inker Tony Dezuniga doing the finished art. I suspect DC was hedging its bets back in the day by having the comic look as Conan-ish as possible since Roy's version of the big Cimmerian was very popular.
   Anyway, having fun so far. I have 47 issues and an annual left to go. I'll let you know what I think later on.

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