October 24, 2009

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Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

Adapted by Howard Chaykin
Illustrated by Mike Mignola and Al Williamson
Dark Horse (Originally Marvel/Epic)

Mignola!
Chaykin!

Good stuff, right?

Well, not always, at least not for me in this case.

Chaykin and Mignola both have a strong attachment for Fritz Leiber, a writer who came after Robert Howard and Lovecraft and wrote sort of a hack-and-slash-meets-noir world that works great for them but frankly falls flat for me.

Now perhaps that's the failure of Chaykin to translate it to the comic medium, but I think a lot of it has to do with the source material. I just could not get myself interested in the two protagonists. Fafhrd and gthe Grey Mouser are rogue thieves who mess with the thieves' guild and lose their sweethearts violently. After the typical revenge, they then just sort of plug away as though they'd lost at cribbage or something and had to kill a few people to make up for it.

Typing this, I realize that's the problem. The deaths of the women before we even get a reason to care is so senseless and typical of so many fantasy stories--and yes, I include comic books in this--that my feminist-leaning side said, "this sucks" and nothing could get the story back on my good side. I can deal with the damsel in distress if it's done the right away but this one's so ham-handed (either by Chaykin or his source) that I can't get around it.

Gwen Stacy's death wasn't tossed away as a minor plot point--it still resonates today. These deaths were just thrown in there, made the main characters angry, and we moved on. The women didn't matter at all to the story the author wanted to tell, other than as furniture, and I didn't care for it.

Thus, no matter how potentially interesting things got, I just wasn't ready to enjoy myself. Two magical beings, ghost wolves (the only story in the collection I rather liked), and religious cynicism are thing I'd normally like in a comic, combined with the two men's growing friendship. But like watching an episode of a TV show and not finding it compelling, further reading just didn't motivate me to get over my annoyance back on page twenty-two or so.

The careless treatment of the girlfriends wasn't the only problem with this collection, however. Because Chaykin and Mignola just chose these stories at random, there's no sense of consistency. As Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek can tell you, when you're adapting things to the comic medium, you must find a way to link stories together. After all, that's what happens in comic books--the end of comic 1 starts the beginning of comic 2, and so on. This series did not do that at all, leaving my scratching my head between chapter breaks trying to figure out where I was in these character's lives. That made my problems worse, since I wasn't exactly digging them to begin with. A few linking panels would have gone a long, long way, even if they were just added for the trade.

There's only one real reason to read this, in my opinion, and that's Mignola's art. As always, he's put together a creepy world with shadows everywhere and a fine sense of how to draw magical beings with menace rather than majesty. He even gets around the Marvel rule of "keep the characters moving" which takes some doing, since this was originally a Marvel Epic book. I am a huge fan of his art, and it's in fine form here.

All in all, though, I don't think it's enough to recommend to anyone. However, if you really like fantasy and are already a fan of Chaykin and/or Mignola, this is probably woth a look.