Friday, November 18, 2011

'The Black Dragon', by Chris Claremont and John Bolton
Marvel / Epic Comics, 1985

‘The Black Dragon’ was published by Marvel’s Epic Comics line as a six-issue miniseries from May through October 1985.

The story is set in England in 1193. The plot centers on Scottish knight James Dunreith, exiled from his country by order of the King, Henry Plantagenet.

With Plantagenet’s death Dunreith decides to end his exile and return to England, where he is recruited by the Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It seems rumors are circulating that a West Country nobleman named Edmund de Valere is planning a rebellion against the realm, even as Henry’s successor, Richard the Lionheart, is off adventuring in Palestine. 

James Dunreith knows de Valere well, having been the nobleman’s boon friend and comrade-at-arms. Dunreith, doubtful of the allegations against his friend, decides to allay the Queen’s fears and makes plans to visit Edmund at Glenowyn Castle.

Once at the Castle Glenowyn Dunreith finds it even harder to believe that de Valere is plotting to overthrow the King. Is a conspiracy underway to pin the blame for an insurrection on de Valere ?

Who is responsible for massacres and atrocities committed on the people living in the countryside around de Valere’s holdings ?

And why are the original inhabitants of the British Isles, the Little People, and their allies among the disgruntled Saxons of Wales, whispering that de Valere has entered into a pact with dark forces ?

Before long, James Dunreith finds himself in the middle of a bloody conflict between Norman and Saxon, between the supernatural and the natural, with the future of Merrie Olde England at stake.

‘The Black Dragon’ is an interesting effort at taking the authentic medieval setting and visual style of ‘Prince Valiant’ and melding them with a narrative full of modern fantasy and horror themes. 

John Bolton’s artwork is very good, despite suffering from the limitations of comic book printing as it stood in the mid-80s. Bolton’s draftsmanship carefully reproduces the environment of late 12th-century England, and yet provides his own visual flair to the battle and fantasy scenes.

I had reservations about Chris Claremont’s writing duties for ‘The Black Dragon’, as Claremont is overly prone to putting together overwritten, overwrought narratives that tend to collapse under their own weight. 

Sadly, this is true of ‘Dragon’. The first four issues are well done in regard to plotting and the management of a large cast of characters, including historical personages such as Robin Hood. However the series’ final two issues suffer from too many plot threads vying for panel space; too many lengthy, stilted speeches by one character after another; too many convenient rescues and deathbed resuscitations; and an underwhelming ending that relies on a contrived act of spell-casting.

Despite the flaws of its scripting, Bolton’s artwork makes ‘The Black Dragon’ worth picking up. It’s also worth investigating for its treatment of classical English folklore, particularly in comparison to the contemporary approaches to this topic, such as Mignola’s recent Hellboy series, ‘The Fury’.

1 comment:

Hectorvadair said...

Thank you for this post. I've just finished to red The fist PB edition in blake and white, ans if it was pretty hard for the french lector I am, i took a lot of pleasure on it. Question : you show coloured pages...are they issued from the original comics ? Cheers.