Of all the popular fantasy book series, the one hero (or anti-hero, rather) that I identified with most in certain ways was Elric of Melniboné from Michael Moorcock’s Elric Saga. Not because he was royalty—that aspect I don’t identify with—but because unlike most fantasy heroes and warriors he was not physically robust. He was of ill constitution, weak and frail, and needed a multitude of medicines and sorcery to maintain enough strength to rule and fight. And his sword, Stormbringer, is one of the most compelling weapons in fantasy lore—long, big and black (wait, that came out wrong) it was an enchanted, vampiric weapon that drained the soul energy of its victims and sustained Elric’s life with it.
As a closet goth, I equally appreciated Elric’s appearance which was impeccably gothic. He was often depicted in illustrations as wearing full black armor contrasted with his sickly albino skin and tortured, crimson eyes, his black sword never far from his side.
Though there has never been a movie, the Elric series have been adapted in graphic form numerous times, somewhat recently by BOOM! Studios and even by Marvel. I have not read any of these works so I can’t comment on them, but I can say that a new adaptation from Titan Comics by writer Julien Blondel and artists Didier Poli, Robin Recht, and Jean Bastide is an absolutely sumptuous treat for anyone who has read any of the books and loved them.
Elric, Vol. 1: the Ruby Throne seeks to not just adapt again but also to improve. It adds a few twists to Moorcock’s original narrative and, in an introduction to this volume, Moorcock states that he not only approved of these adjustments he wishes he himself had thought of them. He also writes:
“This is perhaps the first graphic version of Elric fully to capture the sense of utter decadence I tried to convey in the books.”
And decadent it is. Artists Robin Recht and Didier Poli together with colorist Jean Bastide have created a vision of a kingdom and city gorged on enough naked bodies, blood, sex and violence to make Sodom and Gomorrah look like Disneyworld (it’s so NSFW that I’m having trouble finding suitable sample images to use for this post!). But it is also lavish, epic and magnificent. It is no wonder that this book required two artists and a colorist to illustrate it. Panel after panel will make your jaw drop and stare in wonder at the scale and level of detail in the architecture, the costuming, the everything. Melniboné has been brought to stunning visual life and it’s unsurprising that Moorcock himself heartily approves.
For those not familiar with the Elric saga, he is the last in a line of emperors of Melniboné, an empire so old, vast, powerful and cruel it puts Rome to shame. But unlike his forebearers he is cursed with a conscience and philosophical temperament, burdened with the duty of ruling a kingdom and legacy that he inwardly does not embrace. And, as mentioned, he is doubly cursed with a sickly body that does not heed his will (the artists effectively depict this physical and spiritual weariness, often showing Elric hunched over or leaning on something for support). Elric’s ambitious cousin, Yyrkoon, sees his emperor’s introspective and sometimes merciful nature as a weakness that will be the ruin of Melniboné’s glory and plots to overthrow him.
For a hardcover, Elric, Vol.1: The Ruby Throne is pretty slim—just 66 pages. But each and every page and panel is gripping and is packed with painstaking effort and detail.
Look, let me just save you the trouble of having to think. Simply, if you’re a fan of fantasy, get this. If you’re a fan of comics, get this. And if you’re especially a fan of Michael Moorcock and his Eternal Champion, then get this not only for yourself but for your friends and fellow comic and fantasy geeks and help propagate the dark splendor of the anguished antihero clad in black known as Elric of Melniboné.