“The Three Elders of Aran” & “The Black Galley”
As a character, Thorgal seems to fall somewhere between Conan the Barbarian and Prince Valiant--though there are hints that there’s a bit of John Carter of Mars in his background too. The two stories that are collected in the second volume of the Thorgal series showcase both aspects of the character.
“The Three Elders of Aran” is a sword-and-sorcery piece along the lines of Robert E. Howard’s “The Elephant in the Tower.” However, “The Black Galley” is a more traditional adventure in the mold of Talbot Mundy, Harold Lamb, or Louis L’Amour.
In “The Three Elders of Aran,” Thorgal and his bride, Aaricia, stumble into trouble when Aaricia fulfills a prophecy and becomes queen of a mysterious land. Thorgal must battle rivals for her hand, survive a series of dangerous tests, and cross time to save them both. “The Black Galley” takes place sometime later as the couple awaits the birth of their first child--but the lies of a jealous teenage girl make Thorgal a prisoner and a plaything of the tyrant Veronar.
Both stories are thoroughly enjoyable. Scripter Jean Van Hamme never allows the pace to drag, and while he’s working with very familiar tropes, he handles them in such a way that they seem fresh. Thorgal is an intelligent, likable character. While he doesn’t hesitate to use violence when necessary, it’s not his first response.
Van Hamme and artist Grzegorz Rosinski do a splendid job in depicting the love between Thorgal and Aaricia--an impetuous, but courageous woman. In the opening pages of “The Three Elders of Aran,” the two are riding the same horse, cuddled together, Aaricia’s head leaning against Thorgal’s shoulder. It’s a lovely moment of quiet affection. A page later, Aaricia is taken by the idea of attending a feast. Though Thorgal protests, his expression shows he’s going to give in to make his lady happy.
In service of the story, Rosinski mixes his art styles. Thorgal has a rough, scratchy look to him whereas other characters, especially the women, are more smooth and defined. Still other characters have a broad, caricatured appearance--Aaricia’s one suitor looks like he wandered in from one of DC Comic’s old mystery/horror comics. However, Rosinski makes them all work together. The styles don’t jar; they just make you focus on the art a bit more.
Additionally, there are some stunning scenes in this volume. The first is a series of six panels that runs across the top of a page--increasing in width as they do so, and depicting Thorgal diving from a castle wall. Each panel shows him nearer to the water (and to the reader). In the night sky behind him, a face appears--one that runs almost the width of the six panels. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition of stillness and motion.
A second beautiful sequence is a series of four panels that form a montage of Thorgal riding across the beach at night. Yes, Rosinski does some beautiful night scenes. The central image is of him on the rearing horse. Again, motion and stillness.
The two pages featuring the bound Thorgal against the leopard is also worth noting. For the most part, Rosinski stays distant from the action, focusing on full-length shots and only occasionally shooting in tight on an expression or tightening hands.
The coloring also has to be mentioned. The shadowed and night scenes feature a strong use of blue, black, and purple. The panels never look muddy, and the action is never obscured, but there’s always a sense of almost total darkness. There’s also a psychedelic pink, orange, red, and yellow set of panels that totally captures the sheer weirdness of what’s happening to the confused warrior. Another set of panels showing the rowers beneath the decks of a ship’s galley uses shades of brown, yellow, and black and is highlighted with white. This combination creates a striking woodblock effect.
Anyone who enjoys well-told adventure tales should seek out the second volume of Thorgal.
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