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In 1972, DC published the first Weird Worlds, a short lived science fiction title that lasted only 10 issues. The first 7 issues were comic versions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' characters such as John Carter, Warlord of Mars. But the last three issues were headlined by Ironwolf, a character created by Howard Chaykin.
The Ironwolf stories in Weird World's 8, 9, and 10 read like a Who's Who of talent. Chaykin plotted and drew the stories. Denny O'Neil scripted Chaykin's plots. And Walt Simonson was the letterer! The stories are simply jammed with so many ideas that you get the sense that Chaykin had a complete universe in his mind. Wildly imaginative and understandably rough in some spots, the stories are like looking into the laboratory of Chaykin's mind, seeing some themes that run through many of his subsequent works.
Ironwolf is a lord from the planet Illium, a world with an incredible natural resource, anti-gravity trees that are used to build space ships. Illium is one planet within an Empire, ruled by the beautiful but wicked Empress Erika Klein-Hernandez.
Being a man of honor, Ironwolf doesn't want to share his world's trees with the Empress' barbarian hordes who will simple invade and conquer. When the Empress commands Ironwolf to relinquish control of the forests, Ironwolf makes a snap decision. He rebels, slaughtering the barbarian troops there, and escaping.
There is definitely a nice mix of both science fiction and fantasy throughout the series. Wooden space ships?
Ironwolf's ship is the Limerick Rake (Chaykin always did have a nice sense of wordplay) and looks more like a pirate ship than a galactic cruiser. The 'sword' at the front of the ship is actually seen ramming other ships.
With a righteous fury, Ironwolf starts to attack the Empress' troops any time he can. He and his crew are skilled warriors and seem to be racking up victory after victory. Finally Empress Erika calls in her secret weapons - The Blood Legion and their leader Omikel. The Blood Legion are a troop of vampire soldiers, loyal to the empire and incredibly strong.
So science fiction, a pirate theme, and now vampires. Quite a nice concoction that Chaykin is creating here. Moreover, as with most of Chaykin's work, there are plenty of beautiful strong women throughout the books.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010Edit
Howard Chaykin circa 1974: "Ironwolf" serialized in Weird Worlds.
Lord Ironwolf is a noble turned terrorist who'd rather destroy his homeworld's rarest treasure than allow it to be used by the empress's hegemony (and does).
In this early work, Chakyin's trademark use of onomatopoeic visuals and cinematic breadth is already on display. Of particular note are the slow motion sequences: close analyses of violent action.
three: the holy trinity: face cards: triangles: separation of powers: pyramids: UFOs: more than two less than four: french hens: persistence of vision  Heading back to his home planet, Ironwolf discovers that his squeamish and foppish brother has lied down with the Empire and has ceded the anti-gravity forests to the Empress.
Rather than allowing the trees to get in the hands of fascists, Ironwolf actually destroys his legacy, his birthright. He burns down his world's forests! Nice panel work here, Ironwolf small, confined to the prison of the panel, back to us, shoulders slumped. But it also shows what a man of conviction he is. This unwillingness to cross personal ethical lines and the ability to sacrifice things to accomplish bigger goals are common characteristics of the best Chaykin characters.
And the Scottish togs add to the feel of the book. There is a medieval sort of feel to the politics here ... lords and ladies, landed gentry, etc. Ironwolf seems more the rogue and outlaw dressed like this. At the end of this first issue he has officially joined the rebel forces, working with comely rebel Captain Sheba O'Neal, and determined to bring down the Empire.
The second issue's story involves Ironwolf trying to assassinate the Empress by impersonating an actor and playing Hamlet for her in a private showing.
Again, Chaykin sort of floods the stories with small flourishes that add to the complexity of the world. Here we learn of Urchin's Blood, a drug that drives men insane with courage.
The plot fails and one of Ironwolf's comrades gets killed in the process.
The last issue has Ironwolf on the run, fleeing to a rebel world to repair the Limerick Rake. This world is the home world of Janus Vanmeer, a noted rebel leader.
These rebels turn out to be just as bad as the empire. The planet's ruling family is peddling Mikah, an addictive drug which turns men into mindless giants. Are you a good guy if you are working with drug dealers? Are you rebelling if the underlying reason is to secure a bigger drug market for profit? Ironwolf wants no part of it.
The issue ends with the discovery that rebel leader Janus has been using Mikah and is now a grotesquely muscled brute. Ironwolf barely survives a skirmish with Janus, killing him in the process.
The last page of Weird Worlds #10, the last issue of the title, sums up Ironwolf's character - and most of Chaykin's best protagonists: Cody Starbuck, and Reuben Flagg, and the Midnight Men, and Harry Kraft of American Century.
Ironwolf feels like he is battling a corrupt world from all sides. He is a dreamer ... a dreamer of peace and decency ... but he is a dreamer who can fight. That is the quintessential Chaykin hero.
Here are the covers to the other two issues of Weird Worlds that starred Ironwolf. Weird Worlds #10 sports a very nice Mike Kaluta cover.
These books are sort of cherished by Chaykin fans, the petri dish of his later stuff. They can often be found at conventions cheap, sometimes in the 50cent boxes.
Chaykin came back to the Ironwolf character in 1992, co-writing Ironwolf: Fires of the Revolution with frequent collaborator John Francis Moore. This one shot graphic novel again sports incredible talent. Mike Mignola penciled the book and P.Craig Russell inked it. Some of the events of these Weird World stories are recapitulated here but it also brings the story to something of a close. This work melds nicely with the Chaykin/Garcia-Lopez mini-series Twilight, re-imagining the other silver age space heroes like Tommy Tomorrow and Space Ranger, another very good mini that can be found cheap.
If you are a Chaykin fan of any level, I would definitely look for the Weird World issues. In the late 1980s, DC collected the three issues and reprinted them in one book. That is simply titled Ironwolf and is probably just as hard to find as the original issues.
Chaykin's later works all seem like echoes of the ground-breaking stuff on the late 80s and early 90s. But there is usually some glimmer in them that keep me coming back. So I have read Bite Club, his Challengers of the Unknown, City of Tomorrow, and the more recent Dominic Fortune. Still, of all those recent stuff, I am still more apt to reread Ironwolf or Flagg or The Shadow or Twilight.