Friday, April 8, 2011

Review: Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser from Dark Horse Comics

One of the many trade paperback comic gems I picked up at c2e2 was the collection of a short-run miniseries from 1991 written by Howard Chaykin and drawn by Hellboy's Mike Mignola. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser star in a series of fantasy stories written originally Fritz Leiber and are true classics among the old school fantasy crowd. Much more Conan than Lord of the Rings, the stories involve the adventures of our two heroes gallivanting around the world of Newhon with many of their stories (especially the stories of the trade collection here) taking place in or around the huge metropolitan city of Lankhmar.

I'll be honest and admit up front that my experience and knowledge with the series was pretty much non-existent before picking up the trade. I had heard just murmurs here and there online about the Leiber's heroes and how they are required reading for any real fantasy fans, but considering I tend to lean much more toward Lord of the Rings than Conan in my fantasy adventure interests (basically high fantasy versus chaotic, barbaric fantasy), I'm really not that well-read when it comes to some of this stuff.

That's really why I was so excited to pick up this book when I saw it. Truth be told, it was the striking cover art (which you can see above and to the right) done by one of my all-time favorite comic creators, Mike Mignola, which first caught me eye. Hellboy's probably the best comic character created in the last 25 years, and it's 100% Mignola's fault! It was through a healthy diet of Hellboy comics and Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD's that I first started to really get into the Cthulhu mythos as well, so I have a lot to thank Mr. Mignola for.

This collection of stories focuses first and foremost on the deep friendship between our two main characters. If I had to compare their bond to anything it would be the bond shared between Frodo and Sam Gamgee if the two were truly equals and instead of selfless sacrifice went around killing thieves, wizards, and conquering all that laid before them. Most of the plot takes place in Lankhmar which is a city so vast and varied that one could easily see an entire campaign played out within its walls. Of course Chaykin and Mignola don't discount the world around Lankhmar, but when the duo leave the city it's more of a deep breath before plunging back within its boundaries rather than a dedicated journey to explore. It's as if all of Newhon exists simply to take a break from the city to truly enjoy what you've got.

Like I said, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser share a very similar flavor to the classic Conan stories. They both excel at fighting and busting heads, and yet they are uniquely interesting. Fafhrd is a large "northerner" who carries a huge two-handed sword and punches like a battering ram. The Gray Mouser is smaller, fences with a thin blade and accompanying dirk, and picked up a bit of arcane knowledge. The adventures they go on have a freedom to them unlike any that could be found in high fantasy like Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time. There are no hard-and-fast rules about how magic works or shared understanding of how difficult it is to fight an ice troll. It's a kind of freedom that a GM would go wild with, and honestly I'm wondering why I've never tried to run a similar free-form game.

In a lot of ways, this short collection of stories reminds me a ton of Skullkickers, which I also picked up at c2e2. The partnership between the two equals is what makes these two books shine. In a world with all too-few fantasy comics, Chaykin and Mignola did something special here, and it's well worth the look whether you're new to the characters or well-versed in this fantasy classic.


1 comment:

  1. I have this one, myself! It's a quality read...

    Kudos on a great find!


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