Talk to a fan of the sword and sorcery genre, and it won’t take long for the conversation to turn to Elric, the 428th Emperor of Melniboné.
With alabaster skin and wielding the soul-eating sword Stormbringer, Elric is the Eternal Champion, someone who is chosen to fight for the cosmic Balance. In Michael Moorcock’s stories, Elric is one of many such Champions, who exist in every different version of reality throughout the multiverse. Each Champion must fight for the balance between Law and Chaos, two opposing forces locked in an eternal struggle for dominance. Should either side win, all would be lost.
'Game of Thrones' season two may be over on HBO, but you can still experience the graphic novel.
This is where Chris Roberson, author of the comics Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love and iZombie, and the new science fiction novel Further: Beyond the Threshold, picks up Elric’s story for a new series of comics illustrated by Francesco Biagini. Originally published as an ongoing comic series from BOOM! Studios, Elric: The Balance Lost Volume One compiles the first four issues plus the special eight-page prelude comic released on Free Comic Day to launch the series.
If you are not a fan of Moorcock’s Elric or haven’t read any of those stories, Elric: The Balance Lost has a bit of a learning curve. The idea of the multiverse, the Eternal Champion, Stormbringer and Elric’s power to jump from world to world might throw you. Roberson attempts to ease you in by providing the prelude eight pages where we see Elric crossing a barren wasteland in search of souls to feed Stormbinger. Without those souls, he is trapped on this world. Luckily for him, he is attacked, his power restored with each fresh kill. But before he can leave, a raven appears, warning him that the multiverse is in danger, the struggle between Law and Chaos is being toyed with by “outside forces.” The raven charges Elric with fighting to maintain the balance. When he refuses, the raven sets up the backstory for the reader, in the guise of educating Elric about his own role and destiny.
In flashes, we meet different versions of Elric from across the multiverse, each, an Eternal Champion: Corum of the silver hand; Prince in the scarlet robe; last of the inhuman Vadhagh, sworn to protect the human race who succeeded them; Dorian Hawkmoon, Duke of Koln, hero of the battle of Londra, who believes that he is at last, living in a time of peace; and Eric Beck, a video-game developer who dreams of the multiverse and the things his alternate selves have done and thinks he’s going mad. Each Champion, says the raven, including Elric himself, must fight to preserve the Balance, or all the Multiverse could come to an end.
As primers go, it’s not bad.
Moving deeper into the story, we get a lot of jumping around from Champion to Champion. First Elric, as he appears on a world being swallowed by primordial chaos. Next, Eric Beck seeing the rise of his twin brother as leader of a new political group called the “Law Party.” Then Hawkmoon, who is warned by his daughter, that the Beast-Men he thought he had vanquished, are rising again. Finally, Corum of the silver hand returns to a land he helped to free, only to discover his friend, Jhary-A-Conel, is about to be killed by an angry mob.
In this way, each Champion gains a companion. Elric joins forces with Sepiriz, his old mentor, who claims he was the raven come to warn his friend of the impending danger. Eric Beck joins with M’V Okom Sebpt O’Riley, Gunholder of the Qui Lors Venturers, and a Champion in her own right, who lost her world to the Arrow Fleet. Hawkmoon joins with Huillam D’Averc, Prince Regent of Londra. And Corum joins Jhary-A-Conel, who warns about a rising “Cult of the One Arrow” sowing distrust across the lands. Each companion sets their Champion on a quest leading them to that realities version of New Orleans.
The story is compelling, though constantly jumping from character to character, POV to POV, can be jarring and annoying. Many times, a character gets just two pages, and then you’re onto another character for two pages, and so on. Also, with so many names being dropped, I almost felt the need to keep a scratch pad nearby to help keep track of them all. In that way it felt a bit like some sprawling space opera, without the meaty goodness.
By the end of Volume One, all of the Champions are firmly on their quest, and enough of the overarcing plot has been revealed to justify jumping into the next chapter. As for the artwork? It’s merely adequate and doesn’t stand out in a field crowded with artists constantly pushing the envelope.
The 128-page graphic novel includes a cover gallery of the original comics, including some breathtaking pieces by Erik Jones, Francesco Mattina, Dennis Calero and Tim Bradstreet. All are wonderfully done except for the cover by interior artist Biagini, which is so simple and plain that it stands out like a sore thumb. Last but certainly not least, Neil Gaiman provides an afterword, detailing his discovery of Moorcock and the Eternal Champions, and how it shaped his youth and eventually his own writing.
Elric: The Balance Lost Volume One is published by BOOM! Studios and is available now.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host who lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast is nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award. He writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.