Saturday, August 22, 2009

Out of the Vault - The Realm

Okay, I was planning to do Tony Wong's Oriental Heroes this week, but I'm a little kung fu'd out (although if you're desperate for a kung fu fix, come back for Movie Monday where kung fu is still the subject du jour). So instead, I decided to finally get around to covering The Realm.

I originally had planned to make this one of the very first Out of the Vault entries, but for some reason I couldn't get into it. The Realm was first published by Arrow Comics in 1986 as part of the big black-and-white wave of the mid-80's. The basic storyline, by writers Ralph Griffith and Stu Kerr, with art by Guy Davis and Tim Dzon, was simple and familiar:

Four college students, two guys and their girlfriends (Dom and Alex and Sandi and Marge), go on a trip to a cabin in the woods...

Where they find a mysterious book bound in human skin...

No, sorry, that's "Evil Dead."

Actually, they find a metal chest that promises some precious treasure inside. Yay!

But when they open it, they get zapped. Oh noes!

When they wake up, they are in a decrepit house deep in a mysterious forest, and Dom, the jock, has grown some massive muscles. When they walk outside, armored men on horseback ride up from out of nowhere, kidnap the ladies and knock out the guys.

When the guys come to, they are attacked by creepy goblin-type creatures. Dom beats up a couple of goblins while Alex fends off another with what seems to be magic. Then they are saved by a mysterious hooded archer who is revealed to be...

Silverfawn the Elf. And quicker than you can say, "Oh crap, it's yet another dude's D&D game written up as a comic book," they acquire more party members, including a dwarven fighter and a halfling thief. They manage to save Marge, who has manifested healing powers (cause every party needs a cleric), but Sandi is purchased from the slavers by the Big Bad, Mr. Mushroom Head.

Okay, his name is actually Darkoth, and that's actually a hat. Even though artist Guy Davis claims on his letters page profile that his main influence is Japanese animation, he also cites Nelvana animation as an influence. Therefore I think it's safe to say that Darkoth's look was inspired by Mok from "Rock & Rule," who shared Darkoth's big lips, jutting cheekbones and affinity for flamboyant headgear (although in Mok's case, it was poofy wigs).

Anyway, though it had a cliched concept and a shaky, amateurish start, The Realm actually developed over the first few issues into a decent adventure book. Though Guy Davis's art was sketchy, he matured quickly into a more confident storyteller. The first issue's layouts were actually by someone named Jim Miller, and they were a little blocky and dull. By issue two, Davis was apparently doing everything, and the layouts became much more vibrant.

Like so many independent books of the time, The Realm ended up jumping around from independent publisher to independent publisher. I stuck with the book for 11 issues. After issue 12, they moved from Arrow Comics to WeeBee Comics and then to Caliber. The first major arc ended with issue 15, after which the original creators left, and the series fllailed after that. Two different creative teams tried their hand (including current Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis doing penciling duties), but didn't last long. Another team had better success with the spin-off/reboot Legendlore, which lasted 17 issues.

No comments: