COMIC REVIEW: Elric: The Ruby Throne

Elric of Melniboné is one of the few true icons of fantasy literature that has yet to make it to the big screen. Perhaps he is too outlandish a prospect for a movie industry that remains locked in conservatism, purse strings tied to the mass market, terrified of risk. He was always a representative of the counter-culture: a freak of nature allied to chaos; a creature of thought and feeling in a corrupt and decadent world; born to rule yet despised for his perceived weaknesses. Where Conan and his kin bestrode the ancient world fighting against sorcery, superstition and fell creatures, Elric revelled in it, calling upon magic as naturally as the Barbarian reached for his sword. Elric is a complex character full of moral contradictions, inhabiting a world full of impossible scenery and horrific consequence. The White Wolf’s adventures have been brought to life in several comic series over the years with various degrees of success (including a brief crossover with Marvel’s Conan) but they all pale before the Titan that is Elric: The Ruby Throne.

For thousands of years the Melnibonéans have ruled their empire with blood and fire and sorcery. Their ancient capital city now lies sated and coddled, its citizens indulging their every whim in careless ignorance of the Young Kingdoms around them. Intrigue stirs within the court as Yyrkoon, cousin to the young Emperor Elric, begins to challenge and mock him in front of his people. His machinations will set Elric on a terrible path to the end of all endings, but for now it is the Empire that hangs in the balance. The Ruby Throne may be vast, but there is only room for one ruler to sit upon it. This first volume then, takes us back to the very beginning of Elric’s story, culminating in the demonic pact which will hound and succour him for the rest of his life. In many ways it reminded me of the early books of Marvel’s Dark Tower series, grounding the hero in his own world, in his own history before leaping into the fantastical fray – and if these Elric books come close to matching the consistent quality of that series we’ll be blessed indeed.

Writer Julien Blondel does a magnificent job of bringing Michael Moorcock’s world to life without filling the panels with exposition. Complex character and plot elements are woven in through natural speech and he never wastes time belabouring the point. Nora Goldberg’s translation from the original French is smooth and nuanced, permitting the art to cross international borders as effortlessly as a bird on the wing. All told, this is fluid and confident story-telling that not only allows the audience to participate, but teases their imagination to fill in the gaps – ever the mark of quality in sequential art. It satisfyingly mirrors Moorcock’s own writing, which was always fast moving and explosive stuff, packed with nebulous description. Here, the description is fleshed out beautifully, leaving the inner world of the characters to be glimpsed and pondered over. This was the Fantasy that blew my mind as an adolescent, and it blasts through The Ruby Throne unfettered. There was a heightened sense of emotion, a moodiness and a raw excitement beneath the surface, animating everything. His pages were filled with blisteringly impossible imagery that worked immediately, yet kept drawing the mind back to try to envisage the whole. Of course those kinds of descriptions would be manna for anybody working in the visual field, and artists Robin Recht, Didier Poli and Jean Bastide pull out all the stops to bring Moorcock’s wild imaginings to life.

Imrryr, the dreaming city, is a veritable vision of hell, reminding me of the work of such diverse artists as Alan Lee and Paul Chenavard. The pages are epic in scope, yet filled with lush and disturbing detail that astonishes as much as it revolts, drawing the eye ever closer to the carnage. If you have enjoyed Clive Barker’s work on the page or the silver screen, you will doubtless appreciate the fleshy excesses of Elric’s decadent Empire, but readers of a more delicate sensibility may want to give this book a miss. I think it’s a phenomenal piece of work, but I would certainly recommend keeping it away from your children until they are well into their teens. Spectacle is played heavily throughout the book, taking full advantage of the infinite budget of the graphic artist’s imagination. The cityscapes are immense, the seas savage, the battles wild and the monsters magnificent. The design of the Melnibonéan culture, from costume and ritual to architecture and armaments, feel suitably alien to our modern sensibilities, edging on science-fictional in places. Dr Jest is a particularly arresting figure, spider-like in his torture room. Though only seen briefly, he represents Melniboné perfectly: an arcane horror beyond mercy or comprehension.

This is the start of the greatest Fantasy soap opera you’ll ever read. This is art to die for (and talent you’d kill for). This is the grand guignol, apocalyptic drama and the seeds of a vast tragedy. This is the good stuff. At time of writing I’ve only seen a pdf of the book. Right now I can only imagine what a delight it will be to leaf through the deluxe hard-cover, but I’ll tell you what – it’s going straight on my Christmas list. It must be twenty years at least since I read an Elric book but, by Arioch, I’ve got the bug again. (Hell, I just snagged a whole Elric trilogy I never even knew existed!) The scene’s been set for the big stuff now. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

GS Rating: 5/5

GS Blogger: Dion Winton-Polak

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