[11 July 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
“‘Rolling… we’re rolling in the ruins,’ sings Michael Moorcock on my iPod as I write this, thrown up by coincidence or the magic of the shuffle. Which seems like a good place to start,” writes Neil Gaiman, author and award-winning creator of DC/Vertigo’s Sandman, in his Afterword to BOOM! Studios’ recent Elric #1. Gaiman’s essay isn’t purpose-written for this issue of Elric. Not in the way BOOM! CEO Ross Richie’s magnificent ‘40 Years of Elric Sequential Art’ was for the FCBD Elric. Instead, Gaiman’s essay was originally published in 2008’s Elric in the Dream Realms.
There’s a visceral shudder as I contemplate what BOOM!‘s Elric might be, even this early in the game. Will the tension of the book be carried forward by Elric commentary and analysis rather than the story itself? Perhaps it’s better to simply retreat into Greil Marcus, to watch the drama of scholarship unfurl directly. Or has this already happened?
Chris Roberson, writer on Elric, has achieved nothing short of a masterstroke. Elric, in Roberson’s hands, proves to be something of a misnomer. This book is not about Elric himself, but about Elric as the primary expression of the Eternal Champion. The Eternal Champion is keeper of the Balance between Chaos and Law, the perennial forces that shape human society. We become deeply involved in the stories of Elric as he walks the Moonbeam Roads, of Dorian Hawkmoon who upon vanquishing an apocalyptic threat to his world now leads a life of serene retirement, of Prince Corum who released the death god Kwll, and of Eric Beck who dreams these stories.
A jaded way of looking might dismiss the Eternal Champion as nothing more than a gimmick Moorcock employed to connect all of his works. However, Gaiman correctly senses something deeper at work. “My debt to Michael Moorcock is unrepayable,” writes Gaiman. “It was from him that I learned—at an early enough age that the information sculpted the way that I thought—that a good writer should be able to do anything: that you could write heroic fantasy and mainstream fiction with the same typewriter, not to mention comics and movies and essays, political screeds and strange punk fantasies. Moorcock was the kind of editor who changed the field of speculative fiction simply by publishing the kinds of stories he wanted to read.”
The story goes even deeper in Roberson’s hands. Roberson charts a course for Elric (by way of Hawkmoon, Corum and Eric) the same as Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson. This is the artist’s identity project, the project that as an entertainer there is a constant reconstruction of persona that you undergo; that even your everyday identity is performance. This is exactly what Harmonica Frank, what Robert Johnson, what the Band, Sly Stone, Randy Newman and Elvis did to themselves and to the Idea of America, as Greil Marcus reminds us in Mystery Train.
Roberson has reestablished Elric on an epic scale. In his gifted hands the character now enters history, wrestling with the ongoing project of the American identity in the same way that Fitzgerald or Whitman’s writings have. Moreover, the arrival of this unique vision of Elric could not be more timeous, but where is Moorcock in this?
Moorcock’s genius lay in his mastery of the various genre he presented the audience with. Hawkmoon’s stories were qualitatively different to Corum’s and to Elric’s. While Hawkmoon was heroic fantasy in the tradition of Frank Miller’s 300 (eternal struggle against inhuman odds), Corum was closer to Hugh Laurie’s House (where every action he attempted only made matters worse).
So, does Hawkmoon’s daughter turn out to be lying to her father to lure him into a trap? Or is she the unwilling puppet to an as yet unseen malevolent force? (That wouldn’t quite be the right tone for a Hawkmoon story). Does Corum usher in even greater banality to oust even greater evils? And what of Elric himself? What of dark prince addicted to the power of the Stormbringer blade despite it leeching his own vitality?
Elric was an essay on petty megalomania every bit as lurid and as powerful as William Burroughs’ Junky, or Allen Ginsburg’s Howl, or Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns & Money”. So when we read the Elric segments, we have to ask, where’s that Need, where’s that Drive, where’s that magnificently weak character. And for the rest, where’re the genre boundaries that segregate one Eternal Champion from the next?
Roberson has certainly elevated Elric, tapping as-yet uncharted depths to the character. Or perhaps in a Shakespearean, Chandler-esque move, merely invented those depths by himself. But in doing this, he’s made BOOM!‘s Elric a high-wire act. Will he master the various nuanced tones that made the Eternal Champions so rich? Will he tiptoe his way across to the far side of the span and write the Elric who was essentially an essay in cowardice and avarice? Or.