By Steven Brust, adapted by Alan Zelenetz & John Pierard (Marvel)
In the early 1980s Marvel led the field in the development of high quality original graphic novels: mixing out-of-the-ordinary Marvel Universe tales, new series launches, creator-owned properties, movie adaptations and even the occasional licensed asset, such as the adaptation of the fantasy fiction favourite under review here.
Released in lavishly expansive packages (a squarer page of 285 x 220mm rather than the now customary elongated 258 x 168mm) which felt and looked instantly superior to the standard flimsy comicbook no matter how good, bad or incomprehensible the contents might be.
Jhereg, by Steven Brust was first published in 1983, the first of three novels (Jhereg, Yendi and Teckla, later collected as The Book of Jhereg omnibus) starring Vlad Taltos, an assassin-for-hire on the magic-drenched world Dragaera. The setting was faux-feudal with castes, guilds, brotherhoods and covens all rubbing silk-draped shoulders with fantastic creatures and incredible alien forces.
Unlike the other Families and Noble Clans, the House of Jhereg is a brotherhood of unaffiliated individuals elevated to Noble status due solely to ability not merit or bloodline. The house does scut-work and unseemly tasks – originally for the Emperors but now also for selected clientele. They take their name from the predatory jhereg: a venomous dragon-like flying lizard with near-human intellect, telepathic abilities and the power of teleportation.
The graphic adaptation, published under Marvel’s Epic imprint in collaboration with groundbreaking graphics packager Byron Preiss Visual Publications, opens with the grimly efficient Vlad Taltos plying his trade with the help of his jhereg familiar and best friend Loiosh.
When a Jhereg potentate of the ruling Organization Council offers him the biggest commission of his life Vlad’s greed and caution are tweaked in equal amounts.
A member of the inner circle has embezzled millions in funds and although they would like the money back, what the overlords really want is a very public example made. Moreover, in a society where immortality is commonplace and resurrection just a matter of who you know, the council need the Lord Leareth permanently deceased with absolutely no chance of revivification…
Taking the gig, Vlad sets his resources – human, alien and mystical – into locating the thieving absconder and soon finds him holed up in the worst possible place: as an honored guest of powerful Dragonlord Morrolan in his floating castle, cynically using the nobility’s Code of Hospitality to stay safe and unmolested.
Not every member of the clan is happy with the situation and the assassin has a powerful ally in young Aliera, Morrolan’s cousin, and a puissant sorceress in her own right.
Time is running out but Vlad and Loiosh have hatched a cunning plan…
The high fantasy trappings and milieu will delight fans of the genre but the real delight of this colourful, imaginative romp is the plain and simple fact that even with all the witchcraft and weirdness on display, at its heart this is a classy, hard-boiled, private eye thriller dressed up in fantastic fancy-dress: sly, dry, funny, impressively adult and breathtakingly fast-paced… and there’s never been an ethnic-buddy/sidekick like that smart-aleck flying iguana…
Zelentz’s adaptation rockets along, perfectly blending de rigueur tough-guy inner monologue with the land-of-miracles setting and John Pierard’s full-colour artwork is especially appealing – lush, bold, bright and satisfyingly reminiscent of Howard Chaykin’s painted narratives.
An enticing, appetising change of pace for the usual comics crowd, this sorcerous saga might well win a few fans amongst the dedicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fraternity too.
© 1990 Byron Preiss Visual Publications, Inc. Introduction © 1990 Steven Brust. Original novel Jhereg © 1983 Steven Brust. All Rights Reserved.