It’s not really the story at all, not really, that ushers in that faultlessness of Elric: The Balance Lost, one of BOOM! Studios‘ two Free Comic Book Day offerings. It’s that essay by CEO Ross Richie. But like every piece of popular culture, there’s a backstory even to that.
Not that the story should be set aside. Not in the least. Could you think of any better way to introduce Elric, Michael Moorcock’s timeless creation? Weak and alone, Elric stalks a wasteland. But of course, he is not alone. And his weakness is simply an overture to power yet to come. True strength of course for Elric, is something that might never materialize.
It is incredibly easy to grasp the concepts at work in Elric with the primer BOOM!’s put together for FCBD. The ongoing series will pick up in the summer, and clearly it will be worth reading, rereading, poring over, animating with your own imagination.
And everything (at least this time around) can be traced to this FCBD offering by BOOM!. Elric: The Balance Lost FCBD Edition is ground zero, the genetic launchpad for what will still come.
The story is an exceedingly simple one. Nothing more than an overture, an opening gambit. Elric stalks an unknown wasteland, only to be ambushed by a pack of monsters. Stormbringer, the vampiric black blade that drinks souls, the same blade that is now parasitically imbricated with Elric himself, is introduced. Elric meets a magical creature that warns him of the bad times looming, is told of his connection to the Eternal Champion and it’s various incarnations. And in true Elric form, the Prince of Ruin rejects the notion that he has any role to play.
Not to detract from the story’s creative team… Chris Roberson has already demonstrated how wildly skilled he is in last year’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep: Dust To Dust. Elric: The Balance Lost will be more, better. Francesco Biagini’s art is so finely crafted it’s perhaps even more compelling to simply get lost in the B&W character studies he provides as cookies right at the end of the book. And Stephen Downer’s cover, the name “Elric” rendered in glowing, just-forged white gold is the perfect complement to his moody, near-impressionistic portrait of Elric separated from the reader by only the barely-contained danger of the Stormbringer.
Not to detract from the obvious skill of the creative team. But this Elric, the one we’re only just getting to know now for the very first time, is Ross Richie’s Elric. In the sense that you’ve seen Kenneth Brannagh’s Hamlet, or Edward James Olmos’ Bill Adama, or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, or… This is Ross Richie’s Elric, not because Ross is CEO of BOOM! Studios and he has demonstrated incredible skill in securing the rights to publish Elric (this is so true, but not cogent to the point), but because Ross is a fan. And when he reads Elric, it’s the same way you and I do.
’40 Years of Elric Sequential Art’ is a personal journey that Ross has had the courage to share in public. It’s the story of what popculture always is; the journey of discovery, the finding of, and owning of, a cultural iconography that’s a little out of reach, something you could never inherit from your parents. It’s poignant when Ross talks about Texas as his metaphorical backyard. Having grown up in San Antonio, Ross lived within the same conceptual milieu as pulp-dynamo and Conan (and Solomon Kane) creator Robert E. Howard and the place Michael Moorcock chose to relocate to.
There’s a secret magic when Ross writes about Elric being able to “kill you with his mind”, about Elric’s gaunt frame as the conceptual opposite to Conan, about Elric clones appearing in his Dungeons & Dragons campaigns and about Elric being whiskey & Led Zeppelin in a Celine Dion and light beer-powered world. There’s something courageous in this kind of sharing, something deeply beguiling. Is it the birth of tradition? That for nothing more than just showing up at a comicbook store this Saturday, you’ll be able to share in that same tradition? Or is it something deeper, more redemptive? That popular culture is popular for a reason. And that popular culture is vast. And that you too will find your Elric or Sandman or Star Trek. And that that will be as transformative an experience for you, as Ross finding Elric. And that in the deepest, most profound sense, the popular matters.
Last year crippled me, and it did you too. Tron: Legacy was just a dagger in the eye. If Tron could be that good, that relevant nearly 3 decades after, why couldn’t it have been that, for everyday since 1982? But if Tron: Legacy was a dagger in the eye, the recent trend of supplementing relaunched comics stories with histories was a knife at our collective throats. These publication histories, read as academic rarefaction. That the culture they describe is no longer popular and that these histories need to be retold to emphasize that these characters and settings have a history in popular culture. “Believe me”, these reprinted publication histories seem to say, “This was important once”. And of course, more often than not, the new stories that these histories support often fail to connect with readers.
Ross’ Elric essay is the opposite of that. It is the portrait of a deep and abiding connection between Elric and the popular. The Balanced Lost has the makings of a great story. Something worth reading, worth owning. Personally I can’t wait for Independence Day weekend when I’ll get a chance to look at the first issue of the new Elric ongoing series. But that’s hardly the point. The point is, leaders lead. And steering away from simply rehashing a publication history (and in that way ensuring a character grow staid and irrelevant) is what leadership looks like. But more than that, Ross’ ’40 Years’ reads like a manifesto, like a promise. That dreams don’t come easy, but they can come true. And more than anything, that is what lies at the heart of Free Comic Book Day.