New Comics Purchase: FRANK FRAZETTA'S DEATH DEALER (2022)
Hey everybody, it's been awhile since I posted anything, but I've been working a lot on Serpent Sword, the sequel to my novel Battle for the Wastelands. However, I'm writing to let you all know that I've bought some comics from a comic shop for the first time in probably over a decade. Here goes...
A couple weeks ago a friend, his wife, and new(ish) baby were visiting from out of town and after lunch we went to a Marietta comic shop in the same shopping center where, many years ago, the son of our old Scoutmaster worked. One of the comics I saw--but ended up not buying at the time--was based on noted fantasy artist Frank Frazetta's iconic fantasy character The Death Dealer. Given how I'd read the 1990s-era Death Dealer novels at the library when I was younger and own the Frazetta art book Icon, my curiosity was piqued. And when I found out via CBR that Frazetta's family intended the new Death Dealer comic to be the beginning of a "Frazettaverse" incorporating characters and creatures from his art, I decided to give it my financial support.
So I went to a comic shop closer to my home in Atlanta and purchased the first, the second, and the third issues, which is all of what seemed to be available. According to this website, the next issue is slated for August 24.
The Plot: I would describe this as "Conan the Barbarian meets Venom." The protagonist Kur, once a warrior seeking power and glory, put on a supernatural horned helmet, which he cannot take off. The helmet has a mind of its own, generally egging him on to more violence and talking enormous amounts of smack. Kur lives alone and is contemplating suicide when he rescues the red-haired witch Admira and her young son Mesh from wolves. He takes them back to his underground lair, where Mesh takes a liking to him and Admira, tending to his wounds, quickly gets physical. Awakening the next morning, Kur finds both of them kidnapped by dark forces and, against his better judgement, sets off to rescue them. He encounters a sorceress--who seems to be an old flame who has a history with the damned soul dwelling in the helmet--and it turns out there are more supernatural doings afoot.
The Good: Giving the Horned Helmet (in the novels it was capitalized) a mind of its own rather it just being a device that amped up the protagonist's physical prowess and aggression was interesting. This allows for Kur to have an Eddie Brock/Venom-type relationship with it. That was one thing I really liked about the first Venom film (I haven't seen the second), even though the movie was basically a buddy comedy and this...isn't. The Death Dealer is such a cipher character--in the painting he's just a big scary-looking dude--that one can do a lot with him. In the novels he was a noble savage trying to defend the valley that would someday become the Mediterranean by any means necessary, while in this one he's a much more tired and anti-heroic figure. Given how the Horned Helmet can go from person to person, it's possible the novels (and an earlier attempt at comics) take place in the same continuity, although the novels were explicitly set on prehistoric Earth and this comic seems to be in a totally different fantasy world.
The art is also really good. It's very colorful and vivid. I also liked how they worked specific Frazetta concepts into the comics--not only is the titular character a direct draw from a Frazetta painting, but they also worked in another one in which the Death Dealer confronts a gigantic crocodile.
The Bad: I must be a bit spoiled from graphic novels (which are typically collections of multiple issues that tell the complete story) because I thought the comics were a bit short. This is especially blatant with the third issue, in which two side quests (a unicorn and a wizard) that might merit expansion into an issue each are dealt with in a few pages. And since this is a monthly comic, it means a lot more waiting in between. If each comic were a bit longer, this wouldn't be a problem. Also, although I wouldn't expect a Frazetta adaptation to be particularly modest--Frazetta wasn't known for that at all, even if he wasn't nearly as raunchy as other fantasy artists--the way we first meet the sorceress is kind of dumb.
I emailed the comic company to see about the possibility of subscribing (since unlike the 1990s X-Men comics there's nothing to mail in with a check) or whether the individual comics would be consolidated into larger graphic novels. At $5 per comic, a graphic novel consolidating all the individual comics into one larger issue covering an entire storyline would be the better buy. However, the comic is so new (and it's from a smaller company) that it might not get to that point unless it does well enough financially. And that requires people buy it now. The comic shop offered to set me up with a subscription (i.e. they let me know when it's in for me to pick up or they mail it to me), which I might well do if I don't hear back from the company.