Stephen King, in Danse Macabre, intelligently broke down the difference between OK fantasy and great fantasy. OK fantasy is about powerful people using that power in various ways, whether that power takes the form of magic or the form of iron thews and clever wits. It’s not bad stuff but it’s a literary equivalent of an action movie.
Great fantasy, on the other hand, the stuff that gets people obsessed with books about races of midgets, is about people who have no power discovering that they, in the end, do.
The thing is that he’s right. Every great fantasy is essentially an underdog story.
And that’s what Keith Giffen, taking over for James Robinson, is doing here.
My expectations were pretty high for this: I was excited when Giffen took over. And honestly, it’s got more wit and snap than most sword and sorcery comics have right now, even DC’s own Demon Knights.
It’s really the little details that make this book: Skeletor’s brutal and creepy punishment of Beast-Man for his failures, Adam wondering why he can fight with a sword when he’s always been a “simple woodsman”, and the introduction of beloved characters from, let’s face it, a terrible cartoon from the ’80s in a way that stays true to their goofy looks while actually making them genuinely threatening.
Sprinkled in, with a light touch, is Giffen’s trademark wit: Skeletor’s last line in the book came out of nowhere and cracked me up.
Philip Tan and Howard Porter also deserve credit for their art, keeping the original’s van art look while giving it considerably more emotion and drama. These are guys who can make Trap-Jaw menacing.
In short, DC has in two issues turned a ’80s cliche into something I’m genuinely excited to keep reading. It’s not perfect, but it’s turning something that shouldn’t work into something you can’t miss.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.