ElfQuest: Fire and Flight

Elfquest: Fire and Flight

by KV Taylor

Wendy and Richard Pini first brought their elf-children* to the public in Fantasy Quarterly, spring 1978. It wasn’t long before they took publishing matters into their own hands, and WaRP (Wendy and Richard Pini, naturally) Graphics was born. They started at #2 and did a tri-annual run of the first 20 issues, otherwise known as the Original Quest. Believe it or not, I wasn’t born back then; I came to the quest a decade later when my Aunt Trish, who was working on a degree in graphic design at the time, gave me, my brother, and our cousins her collected edition graphic novels to read. And oh god, it was, and still is, like crack.

ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Fire and Flight is the first collected graphic novel. Getting the full-color version these days is nigh impossible, but there are newer black and white reprints still available if you know where to look. (I’d suggest the Wolfrider Shop, of course.) Don’t despair, though. When WaRP’s latest contract with DC was up, they started uploading all the ElfQuest comics online — and you can find every single one of them there for free. So for our purposes, Fire and Flight covers the first five issues.

After a little set-up as to how, exactly, elves came to live on this “world of two moons” (aka Abode), we’re taken straight into the action. The humans have caught an elf called Redlance, one of the Wolfrider elf tribe, and mean to sacrifice him. Young Wolfrider chief Cutter leads a daring rescue, but the human priest is so angry, he takes his revenge by setting the whole forest — where the elves live in their “holt” tree — on fire.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Cutter, impulsive but clever, leads his little tribe and their bonded wolf-friends out of the only home they’ve ever known and into the underground troll tunnels for safety — much to the chagrin of Picknose, a well-known troll-guard, and King Greymung. Pugnacious Greymung tells the annoying elves that he knows just the place for them to start over… and tricks them into a desert, then seals the tunnel behind them.

The little tribe survives the crossing, led by a lodestone the stargazing Skywise got in the tunnels — but not before they have to leave the still-wounded Redlance behind with his lovemate, Nightfall, promising to come back for them. Not long after, the tribe finds shade on a mountain side… and, luckily for them, discover cacti.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

To their shock and surprise, Cutter and his soulbrother (and occasional lover — there’s not much of a distinction) Skywise discover a village of elves on the other side of the mountain. They wonder at finding others of their kind, but Cutter has learned his lesson about trusting; he leads a raid on the village for water and supplies. But in the middle of the action, he’s stopped in his tracks by the sight of an elf-maiden. Taken out of himself by something, he grabs her, throws her over his wolf-friend Nightrunner’s back, and takes her to the little camp they’ve made. (Yeah. He’s a dick. It’s true.)

Obviously, the elf-maiden — who is peaceful but hardly passive — is pissed. And her sometimes-maybe lovemate, Rayek, the village’s chief hunter and resident badass, isn’t so happy either.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Eventually most misunderstandings are resolved. The villagers call themselves Sun-Folk, and they’re a peaceful, agrarian lot who welcome their wild, pale little brothers with open arms after a few discussions. The elf-maiden, Leetah, is a healer. Despite Rayek’s “orders”  to the contrary (or maybe a little bit because of them), and despite her intense dislike for her feral once-kidnapper, she goes with Cutter to rescue Redlance in the desert, healing him.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Rayek sees what we know by then — in spite of the unforgivable start, in spite of the fact that Cutter and Leetah obviously don’t like each other much, there’s something going on with them that neither can control. It’s our first look at the integral concept of Recognition.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

OMG! Luminous eyes!

Ahem. Anyhow, the Wolfriders settle down in the caves next to the Sun Village, slowly integrating into life there. They seem like “savage innocents” to the cultivated Sun-Folk, and the Wolfriders are in awe of the Sun-Folk elders, especially Savah, the Mother of Memory, who’s the closest to a “high one” (the first elves on Abode) that any of them have ever seen. Wolfriders live fast, die young, and leave good looking corpses, but even Leetah is already six-hundred years old, and she’s considered young among the Villagers.

The only real drama comes from her and Cutter. Ever led by his instinct, he wants to give in to Recognition and join with Leetah to end the torment — neither of them has been able to eat or sleep properly since it started. But — come on, the feral little jerk kidnapped her. No way Leetah’s going along with that, even if it kills her, though everyone in the village knows, by this time, that it’s inevitable. Though Leetah has already made it clear that she’s uncertain about him, too, Rayek challenges Cutter; though he doesn’t see the point, Cutter agrees.

And roundly thumps Rayek’s arrogant ass in the tests of body, mind, and heart, even saves Rayek’s life, just by being himself, really. (Uh-huh. Sure, buddy.)

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Rayek flounces off to brood in the desert, and Cutter thinks he’s won, but Leetah tells him he’s an idiot. It takes a long time for Leetah to agree to go with the whole Recognition thing; she learns about Cutter’s life and family, the Wolfriders save the village from a trampling, she comes to understand them . Finally, Leetah confides in Savah, and it becomes clear that she’s going to go for broke, if only to stop the torture.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Recognition, we learn here, is not about love; it’s about reproduction. In spite of the generally free-love attitude of both cultures (relative to humanity, anyhow) elf-babies aren’t all that common, but this is a built-in mechanism to ensure that they happen.

And so Cutter and Leetah do as we suspect from the beginning they will. It’s not love, but hey, they end up having fun, I guess?

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

The two tribes are joined like two handfuls of water, but the once favorite son Rayek, one of the few Sun Folk to retain the magic of his ancient forbearers, takes off to sulk alone. His people have a whole tribe of hunters and protectors now, after all.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

This is, of course, just the prelude to the actual quest. A setup for things to come, much, much bigger things — Cutter’s great quest to find all of his people, the elves, scattered over the world of two moons. But that’s in the later books.

So, back in the day, the problems inherent in the later part of the story really didn’t occur to me. For one, I was ten. For another, wait, hang on. Woman briefly kidnapped by a dude she doesn’t like pretty much has to end up sleeping with him. Wow. So bad.

And yet, the forced bonding trope, as it was invented to, subverts the pain somewhat. I don’t know how common it was in 1978, but I’m willing to bet that trope was as prevalent in fantasy then as it is now. The issue is never one of gender, but of an impossible situation and two people dealing with it in ways that their own personality and upbringing dictate. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s meant to be.

That it does come out to a sort of Happy For Now ending is sometimes difficult, but Pini’s treatment of other, so often gendered issues, does pick up some of the slack there. Wendy Pini wasn’t just an artist — she was the artist on the project, her project, a more-than-equal partner in her own indie comics operation. Her characters, both male and female identified, cover the full spectrum from gentle to rough, fighter to lover, healer to killer. Cutter’s line of ten chiefs includes many women (next year’s review!)– their founder and savior, Timmain, comes into play later as a huge guiding force. Leetah and Cutter come at their problem from different angles, oftentimes being pushed and pulled in directions that made me wince by their advisors, but they’re on equal footing. And the next time the forced bonding of Recognition smacks a Wolfrider in the face… well, let’s just say it’s nowhere close to a HFN. But that’s another story for another time.

The story is extremely simple and linear, its main points now exhausted in the genre, but it is, at least, honest. Pini’s artwork  is beautiful and expressive, clearly inspired by manga, and yet uniquely her own, adding extra layers to the large cast of characters. Of course starting with our biggest heroes: Cutter, Leetah, and a few of the larger supporting cast like Skywise.

As the series go on, layers are added to the cultures and relationships within the tribes. But it’s a pretty, if simple start to something eventually complicated. And well worth the read, even if it wasn’t totally free. Which, like I said, it is.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

*No, really. Wendy Pini is commonly known to fans as “Elf-Mom”.

KV Taylor’s first novel was Scripped, a dark fantasy from Belfire Press about mean Appalachian fairies. (Her Aunt Trish did the cover art.) Katey spends most of her free time reading awesome comics and listening to terrible music. She writes romance as Katey Hawthorne — this summer, she’ll have her first fae romance, too.

A Feast For Anime Lovers…And Everyone Else: KARAS

As you might’ve seen in our last post detailing the Toby Daye giveaway, we’re already collecting ideas for Fae Awareness Month, 2012. Today, Alexandra Seidel gives us a little taste of what we can look forward to. She’s got her new ideas in already — what are yours? (Did we mention you can win free books? Awesome books? It’s true!)

A Feast For Anime Lovers…And Everyone Else: KARAS

by Alexandra Seidel

Allow me, Dear Reader, to prepare your eyes for a feast in six courses: I want to tell you about Karas (“karasu”, which is Japanese for raven; the “u” is silent), a six part anime produced by Tatsunoko Production in 2005 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the company.

Karas Boxed Set Cover

Karas starts off with one of the most impressive fight scenes I have ever seen in an anime. But the show’s visual brilliance does not end there. Traditional 2D and new 3D techniques have been fused to create an exciting symbiosis and watching this is pure joy, a constant tightrope walk between fathoming richly detailed dark frames and blindingly bright ones. Obvious at first glance is the effort and love the production team put into this.

Fight Scene from KarasThe story it serves up is unusual, at least as far as traditional anime storylines go. Karas is about heroes but it is not just another ‘good vs. evil’ story. The hero, while he is not precisely an anti-hero is at least a darker version of hero. Lives are sacrificed without much gained, the damage and destruction seen here rivals the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. Two side characters remind us of Agents Mulder and Scully from The X-Files and everywhere, there are youkai.

While I enjoyed the storyline a lot, I will admit that when I saw Karas for the first time, I had trouble following and seeing all the details, so be advised, this is something better watched twice. The reference to Japanese folklore might also pose problems for Westerners, but the well paced action should make up for that, and we all know what people say about broadening one’s horizon.

Shinjuku Night from KarasIn Karas, love for detail can also be heard. The music was composed specifically for the show and works like a charm to build atmosphere, to contrast the traditional Japanese with modern influences. This dichotomy of old–new is perhaps the most important theme in Karas, and I was delighted to find that mirrored so perfectly in the soundtrack.

For all those who find their interest piqued, one last suggestion: watch Karas in its original Japanese version and turn the subtitles on. Even better, find a version that adds explanatory subtitles that give some insight in the folklore used throughout the plot–or check out my article here; if nothing else, Karas will illustrate the need for cucumbers.

Alexandra Seidel likes anime and reads manga, both preferably with a dark twist. She owns more manga than comics, but taken together, those dead trees marked with speech bubbles and fine ink fill shelves and shelves.

Alexandra is a writer and a poet, a poetry editor and a reviewer. Her work can be found at The Red Penny Papers, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium and others. Her blog has claws and stripes and writerly thoughts: http://tigerinthematchstickbox.blogspot.com

Vertigo’s Books of Faerie

by KV Taylor

The Books of Magic, a now-defunct DC-Vertigo comic series, sprouted from Neil Gaiman’s mystical miniseries of the same name, which I went on about at length in a previous post this month. The book on which I concentrated, Book III: The Land of Summer Twilight, details Timothy Hunter’s[1] journey with Dr. Occult through Faerie. It’s a particularly relevant book for the ongoing series (well, okay, they all are), and directly spawned the stories peopling The Books of Faerie: Auberon’s Tale and The Books of Faerie, still available in trade paperback collections[2].

In order to discuss these pretty little TPBs, I’m going to have to spoil Gaiman’s Books of Magic a touch. Not plot wise, but a single line from Titania that could be interpreted in several ways (imagine that!). It will by no means ruin your enjoyment of the GN if you pick it up, as it has zero bearing on the plot, but you’ve been warned.

The Books of Faerie: Auberon's Tale

While both collections consist of pure Books of Magic pre-history and side-plots, I’m sticking to the history stories — all of which were written by Bronwyn Carlton and drawn by Peter Gross (with Vince Locke in Auberon’s Tale). They amount to a kind of double fanfiction: stories based on Gaiman’s cryptic Titania from BoM, and stories based on a more directly Shakespearian concept of Oberon and Titania. The stories are bent to suit and explain the world of the ongoing BoM books, but stand alone as objects of interest to fae lovers.

I’ll start with Auberon’s Tale, to move chronologically — not in order of publication. It begins with Book I: The Regicide, in which King Magnus, a bit of a drunken idiot with a pureblood fairy superiority complex, insists that he compete in the tourney — against a lovable idiot of a troll. (Note that no one tries to stop him.) Obviously, this ends badly, and seeing as fairies don’t reproduce very often, the kingdom is left without an obvious heir. There is the king’s brother, Duke Huonnor, and there is the son of the king’s older sister, little Auberon. The king’s cousin Obrey and a courtier with a deeper connection to Magnus, Amadan, conspire to set Auberon on the throne as a puppet. You can see them talking in the shadows up there, as a matter of fact, in the doorway behind goofily grinning little Aubie, as his aunt and guardian Dymphna calls him.

 Page From Auberon's Tale - Art: Gross/Locke

Even before the sweet, liberal-minded boy can be installed, the machinations begin. Amadan tries to turn Obrey against Auberon, Auberon’s aunt Dymphna becomes engaged to Obrey, Huonnor goes to war with Obrey (who supposedly fights in Auberon’s name), and the whole thing becomes a sticky political mess worthy of the fae. As if it wasn’t enough, Amadan reveals that Magnus was trying to solve the fairy reproductive issue with what some consider less-than-savory experiments.

Anyone familiar with tales of the fae will guess that yes, humans are involved.

It’s a good read, and I think it highlights the slightly more human qualities of the fae here, as opposed to the frighteningly mercurial Gaiman Titania (though Auberon isn’t in BoM), and the sort of otherworldly yet simultaneously earthy fae Shakespeare envisioned. They certainly have the Shakespearean element of jealousy, though. Oh, and as a bonus, you get a really cute short about little Aubie meeting his friend, the magnificent little pink fotch he’s got on a leash on the cover up there.

 The Books of Faerie

Titania’s story, told in the collected The Books of Faerie TPB, begins with Book I: The Foundling’s Tale. There’s a sort of prologue, in which we see BoM frontman (frontboy?) Tim Hunter confronting a fully grown King Auberon and Queen Titania, claiming to be Titania’s son. Remember that thing I said about spoiling a single line of the Gaiman story? I said in my previous post on BoM that “…Titania’s parting words, for us alone, lead us to believe Tim will always be tied to Faerie in ways he can’t yet imagine.” Because what she said was, “And will you also hatch out worlds, my son?”

Take it how you like–and oh, Gaiman’s left it open–but Bronwyn Carlton’s backstory for Titania takes it literally. This goes one step beyond A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘s adopted Indian boy changeling, but it’s cool that the entire tale works as a nod to it, even as it fills in a gap in the BoM mythos. (The double fanfiction element strikes!)

The Books of Faerie Art: Gross

The story really begins with a little girl called Maryrose being led into Faerie in spite of her gran’s warnings. The then-queen of Faerie, Dymphna, takes her under her wing and keeps her along with her little elf handmaidens, and treats her as a daughter. And then, King Obrey, whose machinations only seem to have gotten more ridiculous (oh yes, Lord Amadan is still there, if in a slightly, ah, altered form), comes home from war… and falls for little Maryrose, never knowing she was once mortal.

It’s a more character-driven story than Auberon’s, Maryrose’s journey from innocent to fae courtier, and what she’s willing to sacrifice to be a queen. Almost the moment she achieves this goal, Auberon finally defeats his cousin, Obrey the Usurper, and returns to Faerie to reclaim his crown… and offers Titania a deal, in the name of peace and prosperity for his people. She accepts, and yet, she’s never happy, caught between what she is and what she’s trying to be. Even Tamlin the Falconer can only make her happy for a short time, and that, well, as the above panel implies, spawns a mess.

Titania and Auberon from The Books of Faerie Art: Gross

Naturally it’s more complicated than all that, full of ins and outs and political madness, but that’s the gist. Titania’s tale has that same, slightly more human aspect, which . She’s at once strong and willing to sacrifice, but also swings to vulnerability and regret. Her main conflict stems from the continued emphasis on the importance of fairy blood, and her lack thereof. In that way, it’s this sort of typical fantasy story about queenship, womb control, and domestic complications. She’s not the Titania I expected, but she’s satisfying, if problematic, as a character, all the same.

The other stories in these collections, the side-plots from the ongoing series, are very cool too–and there’s another TPB collection called The Books of Faerie: Molly’s Story (which I’ve not been able to find, but are beyond the scope of this post, anyhow, as they feature the BoM ongoing character, Molly O’Reilly). I like the art; it’s expressive and easy on the eyes, though not perhaps as otherworldly as Charles Vess’s original Land of Summer Twilight work. The covers, reproduced as full-paged panels as with most TPB collections, are uniformly gorgeous.

Covers (Titania's Book 2: The Widow's Tale and Auberon's Book 3: The Usurper)

[1] Boy with the potential to become the World’s Greatest Magician, hero of both Gaiman’s BoM and the ongoing comic book series, for those not playing along at home.

[2] Side note: these TPB Books of Faerie are how I discovered The Books of Magic in the first place. They were in the bargain bin at my local comic shop and I’m going, “Auberon?! I’m in!”


KV Taylor has been a staff member and contributor for Monster Awareness Month, Vampire Awareness Month, and Ghost Appreciation Month, and is very pleased to be on the job again with the fae. Her freaky Appalachian fae novel, Scripped, is forthcoming from Belfire Press this summer.