By Christopher Claremont & John Bolton (Marvel)
ISBN: 0- 87135-153-6
Scantily clad hot chicks swinging swords have been a staple of fantasy and comics from their very inception, and probably nobody has done it better – certainly visually – than Claremont and Bolton in this heavily recycled yarn set in the days of Imperial Rome.
Marada the She-Wolf is a wandering mercenary whose grandfather was Julius Caesar. When her parents fell into disfavour she was whisked from the Eternal City to live free and grow wild…
Years later in the deserts of Damascus she is rescued from slavers by the Warrior/Magician Donal MacLlyanllwyr, but the indomitable Marada seems a broken doll, devoid of will and spirit. Transporting her to the mystical citadel of Ashandriar amidst the misty hills of Britain the baffled soldier seeks the aid of the legendary sorceress Rhiannon to diagnose, if not cure her illness.
As she slowly recovers the warrior woman forms a bond with Donal’s daughter Arianrhod; a girl of great magical power. Before long the secret of Marada’s malaise is revealed when a demonic creature invades the mystic keep and abducts Arianrhod. Enraged and desperate Marada is forced to brave Hell itself and slash her way through an army of devils to rescue the girl…
These stories originally ran in Epic Illustrated, Marvel’s response to Heavy Metal magazine, (beginning with #10, February 1982) where they appeared in beautiful monochrome wash-and-line, and although Bolton’s sensitive conversion of the art to painted colour is lush and lovely, I have to say that I would have preferred them to have been left that way for this collection.
Also included is ‘Royal Hunt’ a shorter tale wherein Marada and Arianrhod, lost in Africa after escaping the Infernal Realm, are captured by the barbaric Empress of Meroë and given the dubious distinction of being her prey in a competent if uninspired variation of Richard Connell’s landmark 1924 short story (and equally influential 1932 movie) ‘The Most Dangerous Game’.
That crack about recycling didn’t just refer to the art, superb though it is. The original story started life as a Red Sonja yarn for Bizarre Adventures, but when problems arose Claremont and Bolton reworked the thing, and by inserting the whole kit and caboodle into the “real” world of the Roman Empire, albeit braided with Celtic myth and legend, added a satisfying layer of fantastic authenticity to the mix that still leaves it head-and-shoulders above most other Sword and Sorcery “Bad Girls” as well as most general fantasy fiction.
Yet another classy piece of work to add to the “why is this out of print?” pile then…
© 1982, 1985 Christopher S. Claremont and John Bolton. All Rights Reserved.