Valen the Outcast
Hi everyone, thanks for all your help sharing that last post. Please keep up the momentum so we can close out our second stretch goal!
As part of this Kickstarter we are presenting essays on sword-and-sorcery fiction written by our contributors. If you pledge at the Legion of the Skull level, you'll get these nifty essays in a printed bonus album! Here are the previous essays:
- Defining Sword-and-Sorcery
- Sword-and-Sorcery's Grandfather
- Dynamic Duos of Fiction
- Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Two Who Sought Adventure
- The Dark Tower of Jaquays
- The Three Ms: Writing Horror in Sword & Sorcery
- Celebrating Robert E. Howard
- It Came From Appendix N: Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows
- Celebrating Leigh Brackett
- By the Sword: Adding Realism to Sword and Sorcery Combat
- Finding Sword and Sorcery
- Striking the Balance
- Horror in Sword-and-Sorcery
And for today's essay we present...
Valen the Outcast
By John C. Hocking
Sword-and-sorcery enthusiasts tend to be on the hard edge of enthusiastic. Most of those I know, myself included, tend to take in as much of the genre as they can, and are often close to obsessive about being aware, at the very least, of most everything the genre has produced or is producing.
But back in late 2011 and into 2012, there was a sword-and-sorcery comic that seemed to fly under just about everyone’s radar. I’m talking about the Boom! comic, Valen the Outcast. I picked up the first issue just because it looked like Sword & Sorcery, and found myself enjoying it enough that I watched and waited for each of its eight issues to appear. These eight issues form a complete narrative, but I ended up wishing for an ongoing series.
Valen the Outcast was written by Michael Alan Nelson and drawn by Matteo Scalera. Nelson went on to adapt Robert E. Howard’s powerful historical adventure, Hawks of Outremer, to comics for Boom! That four issue comic does a spectacular job of bringing REH’s fearsome warrior Cormac Fitzgeoffrey to life. I think it’s one of the best adaptations of REH to comics format since Marvel’s glory days of Roy Thomas and John Buscema. But that’s another story.
To make too many comparisons, but hopefully give you an idea of the 'feel’ of Valen the Outcast, the story depicts a Conan-influenced hero in a somewhat Tolkien-influenced world, but with the magic dark and grim enough to add a strong, pervasive horror element. The comic leans more on the Sorcery aspect of Sword & Sorcery than the genre often does – there's a Dark Lord threatening the land, and our hero, the Warrior-King Valen Brand, is pitted against him.
The kicker is that, as the tale begins, the Dark Lord has already utterly defeated and overrun Valen's country, and has turned Valen into his undead servant. Valen escapes captivity and wins back his free will, but not his soul, the result being the world's first zombie sword-and-sorcery hero. Valen starts off about as beat down and discounted as any fantasy hero has ever been. He’s lost his kingdom, friends, family and soul, and is now an animated husk that is beginning to rot on its feet. How can he ever hope to win back his kingdom and take a just revenge on the monstrously powerful sorcerer who did all this to him?
This works a good deal better than I expected it would, with our hero fighting the problems inherent in being an animated corpse, notably the instant hate and horror of those he encounters, while racing against time (and the relentless decomposition of his body) to find some way to free his kingdom of magical tyranny and, incidentally, get back his soul. A couple decent supporting characters and, even better, a handful of honestly surprising plot twists, help make this an engaging story and something that I think a good many sword-and-sorcery fans, especially those with a fondness for comics, would enjoy if they only knew it was out there.
Given, there's never enough sword-and-sorcery in the world, in comics or elsewhere, but here’s a unique example you might have missed.