ADVANCE REVIEW! Elric: The Balance Lost will come out on Free Comic Book Day: Saturday, May 7, 2011.
Time to admit my biases: outside of slogging through Tolkien's major works only once as a teenager, I don't read fantasy. I do, however, experience fantasy in other mediums, which is to say that I play J-RPGs, own the extended editions of Lord of the Rings and watch Game of Thrones religiously. Which I suppose is like saying "Oh, I just listen to whatever's on the radio," but gimme a break -- I do tons of geeky stuff already.
As such, I've not read any Michael Moorcock, but I enjoy a lot of creators who are fans, so I'm positive I've read many things influenced by his work, whether I know it or not. The Invisibles comes to mind. Either way, BOOM! Studios' Free Comic Book Day special Elric: The Balance Lost brings me ever closer to Moorcock.
Balance Lost opens with the becloaked albino warrior Elric wandering down a barren landscape, only to be attacked by toothy ape-like creatures that wouldn't be out of place on Barsoom. Elric violently cleaves them into pieces with his glowing blue sword Stormbringer in a glorious full-page shot that artist Francesco Biagini renders in darkly comic, Kevin O'Neill-like hilarity as Elric shrieks, "Blood and souls! Blood and souls for my Lord Arioch!" The pieces of monster flying in different directions, the screaming, the one beast futilely tugging on Elric's cape -- this page had me giggling with delight. With time, Biagini's art could prove a revelation.
Here's the thing about fantasy that generally keeps me away from it: all the swords and sorcery, horseriding and fate hanging in the balance. Granted, you get all punching, lasers shooting out of hands and "Things will never be the same!" in superhero comics, but I've been indoctrinated into that cult already. Roberson seems aware that the basic trappings of the fantasy genre may ward away casual readers, so he has Elric address cliché as he speaks to a chatty, prophetic crow: "I am sick to my death of all talk of law and chaos, fate and the balance. I am already bound on a quest to preserve the balance, and haven't the time to hear about another." Self-awareness is an easy way to win me over.
You know what else wins me over? Worlds like "Multiverse." Granted, it's a classic Moorcock term (thanks Google), but that his characters all exist in the same cosmic continuum speaks to me as a fan of superhero universe cosmology. Here, Roberson and Biagini feature couple Moorcock characters (Corum and Hawkmoon) as Elric's multiversal counterparts amidst whatever's throwing off the balance of law and chaos. I smell a team-up.
Elric: The Balance Lost is a 10-page comic padded up to 20 thanks to some illuminating backmatter where BOOM! CEO Ross Richie talks about Elric's history in comics and we get some sketches from Biagini. For newbies like me, this whole issue is a valuable primer, and one that whets the appetite, giving readers a taste of what to expect when the series debuts in July: smart scripting and fantasy violence in equal doses.
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