Longbox Junk Arak, Son of Thunder #1

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Longbox Junk - Arak, Son of Thunder #1

575 views • 25 weeks ago • (0) Comments

Welcome to Longbox Junk, where the comics are cheap and the reviews are FREE!

 
Let's return for a bit to a little something I was getting into last year. . .comics that you are pretty much guaranteed to find in just about ANY bargain bin you may find yourself digging through.  The bread and butter of cheap comics. . .the Longbox Junk of Longbox Junk.
 
At hand today is the first issue of a series that, if you DON'T spot at least one issue of  the run in the bargain bin, somebody already bought it.  As far as I can tell, it's a REQUIRMENT that any bargain bin has to contain at least ONE of these comics.
 
I'm talkin' about ARAK, SON OF THUNDER!
 
That's right. . .DC's very own version of Conan, even written by the man many consider to be THE Conan writer, the legendary Roy Thomas.  But is that ALL Arak is? An 80s Conan knockoff?  Is it any good? Why are so many of these comics in the bargain bins?  I have questions.  Let's get some answers!

ARAK, SON OF THUNDER #1

DC (1981)

 
 
COVER: Ernie Colón


The Sword and the Serpent!


SCRIPT: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: Ernie Colón
INKS: Tony DeZuniga



THE COVER:

I absolutely LOVE the gigantic ARAK title on ALL the covers in this series! But other than that, this cover is a bit "meh". The central figure of Arak is done nicely, but if you look in the background, especially over on the right, the figures are sketchy, giving the cover a sort of unfinished look. 
 
I'm not sure that this cover would have caught my eye on the comic rack. A bit of a disappointment because Colón's work inside is really very nice. Let's get to the story!


THE STORY:

We begin our tale aboard a Viking ship. . .far to the West of anyplace that's been explored by Norsemen before. Driven before the waves during a fierce storm, the hard-bitten crew of reavers has barely survived the night.

As they survey their situation, a small boat is spotted adrift. Aboard it is a young boy with strange, reddish skin.
 
 
The Vikings rescue the boy, but as they try to revive him, he attacks the leader of the band, Sigvald.  To keep Sigvald from killing the boy, a Frankish raider named Hermold claims the boy as his slave.  
 
In the weeks that follow, Hermold begins training the strange boy in swordplay, so that he may join the rest of the band in their violent life of raiding.  He also gives the boy a name. . .Erik, but the child pronounces it Arak, and that's what the crew comes to know him as.
 
Arak proves himself to be a natural fighter with sword and bow and ax.  The seasons begin to pass as he becomes one of the raider band.
 
 
We move forward eight years. . .
 
Arak takes part in his first raid.  The band invades a peaceful Christian monastery  on the coast of Northumbra.  As the battle rages through the monastery, Arak comes upon his leader, Sigvald, as he kills the Abbot and claims the monk's treasure, including an ornate jeweled cross.
 
Arak is confused as to why the monk refused to defend himself, and as he tries to comfort the dying Abbot, he is surprised to find himself being cursed by the dying man and called a devil.
 
 
Leaving the Abbot's quarters, Arak becomes sickened by the raiders who have become his family when he sees them tormenting the defenseless monks. . .inflicting violence for no reason other than their own amusement.  
 
When he's finally had enough, Arak steps in to save a monk being tortured by a Viking named Hrolf.  He is mocked for being soft and Hrolf attacks, but he's no match for Arak, who swiftly kills him.  The leader of the band, Sigvald, tells Arak that his actions prove that he's no real Viking any more than a wolf is a shark.
 
 
As winter falls and the Vikings rest in their longhouses and prepare for the next raiding season, the raid on the monastery weighs heavily on Arak.  His former master and now friend, the Frankish Hermold, tries to ease Arak's mind by telling him the tale of Jesus Christ and how the monks follow His example of pacifism.
 
Arak is intrigued by the tale, and by the tales of the Frankish Christian Empire his friend speaks of.  In return, Arak tells Hermold what he remembers of his own land. . .far across the sea to the West.
 
 He belonged to a tribe called the Quontauka, who worshipped a Thunder called He-No.  His mother told him that he was He-No's son.  Truth or not?  Who can say?  He claims his people are all dead except for him.
 
 
We move forward.  Winter is gone and another raiding season comes.  Arak and Hermold try to convince Sigvald that no good can come of raiding defenseless monasteries.  Such attacks will only rouse the anger of the Anglo-Saxons who rule Northumbra. 
 
Sigvald ignores them and sets his sights on another monastery.  But as they approach in the darkness, a strange sight comes into view. . .a white-haired woman standing alone on a rock in the sea!
 
As the Vikings ponder the strange encounter, she chants words of dark magic and a giant serpent rises from the depths to smash the raider band's ship!  Only a few of the Vikings make it to shore, along with Arak. . .where they are greeted by armed and enraged monks.
 
 
Hermold tries to appeal to the Christian monks, throwing down his weapon and surrendering in the name of . . .but the monks leap on the Frankish raider and kill him, driving Arak into a berserker rage!
 
But even in his rage, Arak is soon overwhelmed by the strangely-aggressive monks.  When he wakes, he finds himself being tended to by one of the monks.  The only survivor of his band beside him is their leader, Sigvald.  They are both being held prisoner, along with the monks who had killed their companions.  Arak is confused.
 
The monk explains that they were forced to fight by a brother and sister named Argalia and Angelica (the woman who summoned the serpent), who appeared with a pair of giant Oriental bodyguards two days earlier and took over the monastery.
 
 
It's not long before Angelica comes to meet Arak.  She's intrigued by the strange red-skinned man and offers him his life in exchange for service as her personal slave and bodyguard.  Arak agrees, claiming any deal is a good one if the second offer is death.
 
When Angelica takes Arak to meet her brother, Argalia, she reveals that the reason they have taken over the monastery is because of a magic ring hidden among its relics.  A ring that not only makes the wearer invisible, but also protects against all enchantments.  
 
Angelica mentions that she will be using the ring against Malagigi. . .court magician to King Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne), a name Arak recognizes from Hermold's tales of the Christian kingdom of the Franks.  Now curious about traveling to the Frankish kingdom, Arak leaves the monastery with his new mistress and her brother.
 
 
As they set sail, Arak sees the remaining monks, as well as Sigvald, marooned on a rocky island.  Angelica once again casts the spell summoning the giant serpent to kill the prisoners.  As the monks pray, Arak begs his new mistress to spare them.  She refuses and reminds Arak of the oath he swore not to take up arms against her or her brother.
 
Arak proclaims that he will keep his oath, but that doesn't prevent him from killing the serpent!  He leaps overboard and swims to rescue the monk who tended to him, leaving Sigvald to his fate.
 
  Arak spots the wreckage of the Viking ship and grabs the jewel-encrusted cross  Sigvald had lashed to the mast.  Using it as a sword, Arak strikes down the attacking serpent!  
 
 
In the aftermath of the battle, Arak sees that Angelica has left without him.  He declares his intention to travel to the Frankish kingdom to meet King Carolus Magnus, and to perhaps gain some answers about the gods.  Who saved him during the battle?  The Christian , or He-No of his lost tribe?  Either way, he sets forth on a new journey.
 
 
The End. . .To be Continued.
 
THE REVIEW:

There it is. The first issue of Arak, Son of Thunder. Let's break it on down!

It was. . .better than what I expected. Like I said in the introduction, I see issues of this series CONSTANTLY in bargain bins. But now I wonder why. This first issue was pretty dang good!

First off, any time I see Roy Thomas' name as writer, I KNOW the story will be solid. Thomas is one of the most reliable writers in comics, and has been for a long time. The man is a comic legend in MY book for the sheer amount of good stories he's given us over the decades. I'm not sure why he's not mentioned often when fans talk about great comic writers, but I think he deserves to be.


Thomas gives this tale his signature sword and sorcery swagger most well known from his MANY Conan stories. . .but Arak gets a little twist in that it's set in the actual dark ages world we know from the history books, but with some magic and mystery thrown into the mix. A little dark ages "What If?" if you will.

I think what caught me by surprise the most in this story is the amount of Christian imagery to be found. The Christian faith is definitely front and center, and a big part of this story. It's a pretty bold move to have a comic from 1981 really leaning into an existing religion like this one does, especially for a mainstream title put out by one of the "Big Two".

To ME, the setting of this story makes it great. Not the prehistoric Hyborian Age of Conan, but a world of Vikings and Native Americans and Christian Monks and Frankish Kings. Really more along the lines of Solomon Kane, if you really want to make a comparison to R.E. Howard's works that were the more familiar stomping grounds of Roy Thomas.

That said, this first issue DOES read like a Conan story. Later issues lean into Arak's Native American heritage as the son of Thunder He-No, and Arak becomes more of a Hercules character. . .half man, half . But at the start of the series. . .yeah. . .it's sort of Conan for DC.

But that doesn't make it bad. If there's ONE thing Roy Thomas does well, it's sword and sorcery in the Conan style. You get that here in full measure. Seafaring raiders. . .mysterious sorcery. . .giant serpents. . .a burly outcast hero in a strange land. If you like Thomas' Conan, you're gonna like Arak!

On the art side of things, the Ernie Colón/ Tony DeZuniga art team do a fantastic job of bringing this dark ages fantasy world to life! I really think that DeZuniga's inks are the magic touch here. Colón's pencils are very nice, but DeZuniga's dark, bold inks lend to the individual panels a lifelike sense of motion in his signature style that has long made me consider DeZuniga one of my favorite Bronze Age comic artists.

That's not to say that Ernie Colón's pencils aren't just as good. I really like how his backgrounds are either sketchy or not existent at all. . .providing more of a backthan a background where the characters and action in the foreground push forward and grab the eye! It's a style I really enjoy, especially for this kind of story.


CONCLUSION



This was a surprisingly good read for a series that is pretty much bargain bin fodder. Roy Thomas provides a solid story with a great dark ages setting, and the Colón/ DeZuniga art team make it come to life in a big way.

If you're looking for some great Bronze Age sword and sorcery that ISN'T Conan, then don't pass Arak by next time you spot it in the bargain bin. I have most of this series (30 issues) and can tell you that the story just gets better as it goes along and leans more into Arak being a sort of Native American Hercules.

There are some similarities to Conan, but trust me when I say that they are just sort of on the surface. This is most certainly not a Conan comic. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that those surface similarities to Conan is why this series lives in the bargain bin. Frankly, I think it deserves better.

This series has never been collected, for some reason (probably those surface similarities to Conan) but the issues are very easy to find. I Highly recommend Arak, Son of Thunder for comic fans looking for some Bronze Age sword and sorcery comics that don't revolve around R.E. Howard's grim Cimmerian.


Up Next. . .

It's a comic tie-in to a movie that never got made.
AC's BLACK DIAMOND!

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