While my last review, about Arion: Lord of Atlantis #1, was a sword and sorcery book that I found underwhelming, I didn’t have the same issue here with Roy Thomas’ Arak: Son of Thunder, which was a similar type of book. With art by Ernie Colon and a number of different inkers (including Tony DeZuniga, whose inks on Colon’s pencils are downright amazing) and later Ron Randall, Arak is more sword than sorcery that spans continental Europe in the Middle Ages and is some great historical fiction.
The premise is that Arak, who is a Native American, is found at sea by a viking ship and they wind up rescuing him and one of them takes him under his wing and raises him. Years later, he is a warrior who has fought alongside these Vikings and over the course of the issues I read, he journeys throughout Eighth Century Europe, finding his way into the course of Charlemagne as well as fighting to save the life of the Pope against an immortal evil “Black Pope,” whom he fights in the catacombs of Rome. His allies include a monk named Malagai and a woman knight called Valda “The Iron Maiden” and the whole series is very much this “motley crew” fighting off worldly and supernatural threats.
I’m condensing for brevity, but that’s not because it’s bad or repetitive; it’s actually a great series that’s fun to read. This is around the time that Thomas started The All-Star Squadron along with some other series, and I can tell that just as much as he had a love for the Golden Age heroes that he was writing in that title, here he has a love for old-timey adventure stories. But instead of going with a straight-up knight or viking character, he gives us a “stranger in a strange land” story through the use of a native american protagonist. If following the tropes of the stories he’s obviously pulling from, Thomas could have very well made a stereotpyical “savage Indian” type that played upon tired stereotypes. Instead, from the moment we meet him, Arak shows himself to be intelligent and resourceful as well as strong, adapting successfully to every situation he is in, no matter where he winds up.
Furthermore, Thomas imbues him with confidence and tries to show respect for his character, especially when considering Arak’s culture. This could have very well been a comic where the “stranger” doesn’t just adapt to his surroundings but assimilates by doing things like converting religions, changing appearance, and completely sublimating who he really is. Arak definitely picks things up from his time with vikings and in the various courts he visits, but retains that which makes him unique. Plus, Thomas plays within the real world of the Dark Ages, putting us during Viking raids on monasteries, the court of Charlemagne, and sending him on a mission through Byzantium. I’ll admit that some of it reads like Native American Conan, but I liked seeing him fight monsters, knights, and the occasional vampire.
And seeing is the key thing here. Ernie Colon was on pencils at first and handled at least the first ten issues–I’m sure there are more, but I haven’t read those–and at some point, Ron Randall was on art chores. Everything that I’ve ever seen Colon draw has been gorgeous and he’s aided by some capable inkers, the best one being Tony DeZuniga. They bring Thomas’ script to life and make you want to pore over the panels even more than you already are because Thomas writes a dense, detailed script.
Outside of the series’ 50 issues and an annual, Arak had his first appearance in Warlord #58 and was in All-Star Squadron #55, which was a Crisis crossover (and which I have in a hardcover), so there is not a lot more for me to pick up if I want to get a complete set of his appearances and read them all the way through. I think that’s a good idea; Arak is a character worth exploring.
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