Thursday, July 24, 2014
A Song of Storm
Storm is the titular character, the guy with the blood-tipped sword and the blaster in a holster. The red-haired almost naked lady is his companion through all his adventures so far. I believe her English translated name is Ember, but for me she will always be Roodhaar ("Redhair"), my first fictional love interest. As the image to the left might suggest, this is a series that takes a dash of Frank Frazetta-esque epic fantasy and mixes it up with space fantasy and science fiction (the blaster pistol), though through the course of the many adventures of Storm and Ember, there have been many genre mix-ups, from near- hard scifi to comedy, western, fairy tale, and much more. Basically, this series blows wide open the gates of genre and doesn't care one whit about it. It allows for very creative visuals, which for the most part of its long run was painstakingly painted by the masterful Don Lawrence (1928 - 2003). Especially in the early books, Lawrence painted some fantastic visuals, be it characters, monsters or locations, putting to life the sometimes very unusual ideas put forth by the writers (there have been many writers, more on them later). Some of the ideas I first found in Storm I later saw in other fantasy and science fiction books and movies; other ideas were reworked from other genres into Lawrence's operatic vision. Each album (or book, whatever you want to call it - a slim graphic novel) presented new adventures, new and exciting locations and foes, each image hand painted to give it a fantastic look. That look, by the way, was already presented in Lawrence's previous series of scifi/fantasy, which perhaps is better known - The Rise and the Fall of the Trigan Empire, basically a mash-up of Flash Gordan, the history of the Roman Empire, and the seeds of creativity that would later blossom fully in Storm.
There was time travel, swords but also firearms, certainly obscure language, arresting images, a seemingly complex back story I had to figure out, and in the end, the story also touched me emotionally.
Since then, I have been a fan of this series; it has changed a whole lot going forward, to the point that the most recent works feel like a different series using the same characters - the stories are the visions of several different writers, but they all manage to capture that which makes it so entertaining and above all, original (mostly in how the series mixes things up - some of the stories are really unoriginal in concept, but shine in execution - for example, the book I read last night is basically "Ember gets kidnapped, Storm must free her", a classic damsel-in-distress story (and not the first, unfortunately for Ember), but the way it's packaged in vivid creative ideas makes it stand out none the less).
Eventually, as I got my claws on the previous books and began collecting the series from book 8 and onward, I got the full story, and have been reading it ever since. Because the series is hand-painted, image by image, new books weren't published that often and I was able to keep up even after I left the fatherland behind. Many set pieces in my tabletop role-playing game campaigns have been borrowed from this series, and I once developed a space fantasy setting mixing up Storm with Star Wars which was quite fun for all involved (I believe).
So, the 21st century astronaut Storm appropriately ends up in the biggest storm of the solar system - the Great Red Spot on Jupiter - and when he comes home, Earth is but a barbaric primitive place, with some remains of its high tech past. Storm has ended up millions of years in the future, and is quickly captured by primitive sword-wielding barbarians and thrown in a dungeon. Here he finds another prisoner, Ember. Together they escape and end up in an underground power station which Storm recognizes as a relic of the past. He manages to get it running, which results in the seas being pumped back up from below, destroying the barbarians on their heels and leaving Storm and Ember to sail on a float into the horizon and further adventures. A simple story on the face of it, the genius lies in the way the story manages to sell its concept, and the many neat details that make the unusual setting come to life - such as the winged spiders. I still shiver as I think of them. It certainly isn't the best Storm story, but it sets up the next eight stories. Most Storm stories in this first cycle (later named The Chronicles of the Deep World) are self-contained, but books 4,5, and 6 can be seen as a trilogy.
In the third story, The People of the Desert, Storm and Ember are once again captured - Storm is trying to make a sense of the world he has come to, and is still rather naive and not the hero he eventually turns into, and so he gets easily captured - this time to become workers in a strange mine out in the most glaring, harsh desert you can imagine. A plot involving almost Nazi-like experiments in creating an 'übermensch', bandits who have maintained and control flying vehicles from the distant past, salt storms and eventually Storm and Ember coming out as victors, flying off into the sunset on a speeder bike-like vehicle makes for another intriguing reading experience.
Which brings me back to book seven, The Legend of Yggdrasil, with which I began this series of comic books that have continued to inspire me. Storm, who has been looking for a way to get back to his own time, finally manages to get himself back to the Great Red Spot of Jupiter (by way of capturing the space-travel technology of the Azurians in book six), where he attempts to get back in time - only to be sent even further into the future (thus leaving behind the setting of books 1-6 in one quick stroke), the future where dinosaur men rule the Earth. Again, Storm and Ember must fight seemingly impossible odds. They learn of a device Storm might use to correct his time traveling mistakes, located on the south pole, and the book ends with the pair going there to find it.
In the book, the pair have to navigate the corrupt, dark part of town and here they encounter a number of disturbing obstacles, such as the grasping hands seen on the cover to the left, and a Darth Vader-like armored knight whose sword sheds bubbles containing flesh-eating monsters (told you it's pretty wild).
The ninth book is the final book in The Chronicles of the Deep World, the last story to be Earthbound so to speak - The Creeping Death (though a more accurate translation of the original title would have been The Slumbering Death if you ask me) is an adventure that takes Storm and Ember to what looks like Latin America for an adventure involving rivaling Aztec-like brothers and the reactivation of ancient nuclear missiles of terrifying size and power. With this novel, the quality of the artwork took a dip for some reason, and it would never reach the same heights as books seven and eight again.
With book ten, Martin Lodewijk became the permanent writer for Don Lawrence's Storm, and together they decided to move Storm and Ember off far future Earth (or the Deep World) and to a setting entirely of their own devising; the spectacularly creative, bizarre and sinister multiverse where the living planet Pandarve takes center stage, giving this new collection of tales The Chronicles of Pandarve. Storm has been discovered by the illustrious theocrat of Pandarve, Marduk. Because of Storm's time travels, Marduk takes a great interest in the former astronaut, and using some sort of intergalactic tractor beam he beams Storm and Ember to Pandarve - and the most creatively unique tales can start.
Among the strange, but cool ideas thrown around in these tales are lava-sailing steamboats, the aspect of a god taking on the likeness of Alice (from Alice in Wonderland), a journey through a mathematically created Death Star-like planetoid where Storm encounters Virgil (from Dante's Inferno) and an upside-down city (among many other things), synthetic ring worlds, gladiator-like games to the death fought on randomly sliding pillars, space with air in it (allowing sailing boats to move between planets), space whales, wind surfing on mountains so tall they jut into space, Eternal Princes kept alive by brain coral, a circus train running wild through a world that loops on itself, a robot human rights activist, battling the subconscious of a god-planet, and much and more. I could go on about all the ideas packed into these 50-page albums. One fun little detail is how Storm's introduction of the game of chess is transforming the culture of Pandarve and the nearby planets (including Eriban, a planet shaped like a crystal).
All right, time for some finishing touches in my preparations for this weekend's epic tabletop role playing game session. The story that we began in 2005 is beginning to come together, and while the end is not in sight yet, at least a few plot threads might just finally get tied up. Have a nice weekend.
Posted by R.J. at 6:29 AM