Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Monday, December 21, 2009

Of Warlords & Wolfhounds...

We've long established that I like sword & sorcery sagas, be they in the form of paperback pulp novels by Howard, Jakes, Carter et al, 70's comics like Claw and Dagar, or 80's drive-in movies like The Sword & The Sorcerer and The Beastmaster.

Well, this past week, I received some early holiday gift cards from my in-laws and, at their insistence, used them to acquire a couple more fantasy epics for my collection.

I always liked Mike Grell's Warlord comic book series from DC Comics, and have a fair number of issues from the middle of its long run. I also own a copy of its debut in the oddly-titled try-out series First Issue Special, and a handful of the earliest issues. But there are large gaps in my collection - especially during the book's initial years - so when I discovered that DC had collected the first 30 or so issues in one of its low-priced, B&W Showcase Presents volumes, I was thrilled.

I ordered the 500+ page book from Amazon and received it last Wednesday.

Great stuff. The Warlord is Colonel Travis Morgan of the United States Air Force, whose spy plane is shot down in 1969 over the Arctic during a reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union. The plane descends through a "polar opening" and crashes into a jungle. Travis Morgan survives and finds himself in a primeval, savage world at the Earth's core. Yep, it's Burroughs' Pellucidar under a different name (Skartaris), and Morgan is immediately embroiled in a life of ERB-styled adventure.

First, he rescues a beautiful princess from a Tyrannosaur, then they're captured by slavers, then he's tossed into an arena as a gladiator, then he escapes and leads a rebellion, etc. etc.

It's familiar stuff, but Grell knows it, and has fun with it. The storytelling is relentless - the action moves at a breathless pace, doled out in compact, 17-page installments. The writing is a bit purple at times, but also self-aware and witty. The artwork is dynamic and detailed (at least until Vince Colletta takes over the inking chores about halfway through the volume) and Grell really lets his imagination have full reign, with a dizzying array of strange civilizations, bizarre creatures, plentiful cheescake (and beefcake) and frequent full-page and double-page action shots.

It's great fun and holds up really well as pure, old school comics entertainment. You can find the collection online for under $15 bucks, and it's one of the few bona fide bargains you're going to find in this day and age.

Also last week, I picked up the DVD of a movie I'd read about over on Ain't It Cool News almost a year ago, and had been eager to see ever since.

Wolfhound is a Russian sword & sorcery film, recently released on DVD by the Weinstein Company. While the story (based on a novel by Mariya Semyonova) borrows from numerous sources, director Nikolay Lebedev brings the tale to the screen with style and energy.

The story chronicles the adventures of an ex-slave-turned-warrior (Aleksandr Bukharov), who, like Conan in the 1981 film, is out to avenge the massacre of his clan and the murder of his parents by raiders. In fact, the first scene in the movie is a virtual remake of the opening of John Milius' Conan the Barbarian. But, fortunately, Wolfhound soon takes on a style and tone of its own, with an appealing hero, a solid fantasy plot, exciting (if a bit over-edited) swordplay, gorgeous photography, great, unobtrusive special effects, and a terrific climax. The performances are good, the music is suitably sweeping, and the production design is excellent.

Now, we all know that I'm not hard to please when it comes to sword & sorcery films. Heck, I can recite from memory the plots of all the Deathstalker films, and think watching Hawk the Slayer for the fiftieth time is a great way to waste a Sunday afternoon. But Wolfhound is a genuinely good movie that treads some familiar ground beneath its mud-encrusted boots, but does so in a satisfying and compelling way with a number of cool touches. It does slow down just a bit in the middle, but picks up nicely in the third act.

Seriously, what other movie has a barbarian hero with a bat for a pet?

The Weinstein Company/Genius Products DVD is a bare bones affair with no extra features whatsoever. It does present the movies in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, with both English (badly dubbed) and Russian audio options. I recommend watching it in Russian with the English subtitles.

Highly recommended for fantasy fans.

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