There's a howling demon within me now, and it screams for...

Wulf the Barbarian #1-2

Wulf the Barbarian #1

Written and Penciled by Larry Hama
Inked by Klaus Janson
Lettered by Cathi Ann Thomas

Oh, Atlas, you never fail to disappoint. Somehow you always manage to dish up either uninspired trimmings from the once-greats or half-cooked slop from young artists who haven't managed to figure out what they're doing yet. Todays feast consists of warmed-over Conan leftovers courtesy of Larry Hama, future writer of G.I. Joe, Nth Man and Wolverine.

So. Wulf. He's a barbarian (as you may have guessed). Also, he's secretly a prince (didn't see that one coming, did you). As a child he was driven from his ancestral home of fair Baerhölm by the terrible trolls of Drakenroost and their malevolent monarch, Mordel Mal Moriak. Now he is of age, and rides forward to fill his blood oath — or maybe his sword oath, it keeps changing — overthrow the sinister sorcerer and avenge his parents. Only he keeps getting interrupted along the way by tons of hoary old fantasy clichés and never seems to make it there, though according to the map in issue #3 he's managed to visit everywhere else in generic fantasy not-Europe.

Really, I'm not sure what I can say about these two issues because there's nothing you haven't seen before. There are bandits and trolls and dragons, and swordfights that don't make sense and are hard to follow, and evil sorcerers and monsters at the top of towers, and brazen harlots and haughty cortesans, and four-man parties of adventurers consisting of two fighters a wizard and a thief, and half-naked women and monsters on the covers that never seem to actually be in the issue, and crazy names with no vowels in them, and blonde people who are good and dark-haired people who are evil, and blood feuds and vengeance and oh boy a lot of people getting stabbed for no good reason. Really standard stuff.

If you put any other barbarian hero in a rock tumbler for days, Wulf is what would come out at the end of the process.

There's not even much to say about the art. It's not good, it's not bad, it's just mediocre and uninspired. There's no hints of potential, and nothing so awful that it makes you howl in derisive laughter. Actually, let me take that back, because there was at least one nice visual trick I noticed in issue #2....

Wulf the Barbarian #2, p. 12 (detail)

Wulf the Barbarian #2, p. 12 (detail)

Oh no! Wulf and his companions have been trapped in an Escheresque nightmare!

Except... wait...

Look really closely at that panel and you'll see that there's actually nothing in it that's physically impossible. All of the edges actually line up just fine. There are no stairways that start on one plane and end up on another, no posts that suddenly switch planes halfway up, no odd shifts of perspective or shading tricks.

In fact, the impression of unreality comes from exactly three things: placing each of the characters on a different plane, a slight fisheye effect on a few of the beams in the foreground, and half-sketched details in the background that suggest something much more complex and detailed than what's actually one the page. Put together they create the impression of bedlam in what is actually a very well-organized area.

So I suppose there is something we can learn from Wulf the Barbarian — pick and choose your details and you can save yourself a lot of effort.

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