Who's Arak, Son of Thunder?

Who's This? A displaced Native American.
The facts: Given the popularity of Roy Thomas' work on Conan at Marvel Comics, it was only a matter of time before he was asked to create a similar book for the Distinguished Competition once he crossed over. His interest in history led Thomas to co-create (with Ernie Colon) a Native American "barbarian" who would travel the Medieval World, fight monsters from myth, and hang with Vikings (among other things). After a preview in Warlord #48 (August 1981) before headlining 50 issues of his own series, ending in November of 1985. Arak got an action figure in Remco's "Lost World of the Warlord" line, one of the few actual DC names in that Masters of the Universe knock-off.
How you could have heard of him: Well apparently, Brainiac's stooge Telos, in the Convergence event, is in reality Arak, mindwiped and transformed to the point where it really doesn't matter WHO he is. He got his own 6-issue series which equally doesn't matter.
Example story: Arak, Son of Thunder #6 (Feb 1982) by Roy Thomas, Ernie Colon, and Rodin Rodriguez
Clearly, what was missing in Conan was consistent opportunity to info-dump historical facts into the narrative. Wordy history buff Roy Thomas must have been quite frustrated with his most celebrated run in comics. Arak, initially set in Medieval Europe some time between 794 and 800 AD (going by the fact Charlemagne is married to Luitgard of the Alemanni tribes, two can play that game Mr. Thomas, though obviously I have the extra advantage of Wikipedia), has all those opportunities and makes for dense reading. As issue 6 gears up, Arak is trying to convince the Frankish king's court of some supernatural danger, and there are just enough details to make you wonder if they aren't ALL historical personages, or at least ones from knightly tales of the day (Roland is mentioned, and Valda's mother Bradamante is also from the canon). But of course, there has to be room for fantasy, and the villains here come from White Cathay, which is invention. Cathay is an old name for China, and this blond knight and his white-haired sorceress sister don't look like natives of that nation, though their enormous henchmen do. Anyway, it's a conversation that doesn't go well and Arak has to defeat the entire Frankish army. (Why would I kid about that?)
The Viking maiden Valda also throws in with him and will become his constant companion through the series. She's a very violent young woman.
And not one you manhandle, Arak! Then the Cathayan knight jumps on his horse, takes his glowing lance, and barrels down on Arak, which really isn't how you joust, yo. Arak doesn't move even as everyone else runs out of the way. He'll be killed! Except no, he's a badass Native warrior, and an athlete like they've never seen in the Old World!
Don't you just hate it when your horse steps on your head? The knight's sister isn't happy, naturally, and she summons a demon who takes her away.
I'm enjoying the dynamic layouts and also the lettering typo there. Pretty sure Angelica is silver-TRESSED. But she just lost her brother, she's probably stressed too. With the witch gone, the king comes to his senses and asks Arak for help in getting his own magician, Malagigi, back from White Cathay's clutches. Here's a letter of recommendation to give the pope who might know where this White Cathay lies.
I like this little detail, where Carolus Magnus is slow to sign his name. I'm sure Roy read something about the king having arthritis or something, and created a little moment (WITHOUT exposition) out of it. They also give him a horse and some furs for the mountains, and oh, Valda is going too, not yet, but I imagine soon, impressed with how Arak treats her as an equal and not as a "wench". As they cross the Alps, they come upon an incredible sight:
Hannibal's army trapped in ice for a thousand years?! The two warriors be down in a nearby, abandoned hut, and in the middle of the night, a red-haired woman, not at all dressed for the climate, rouses Arak from his sleep and silently brings him to a hot spring for a swim. A hot dude does the same a few moments later with Valda. And oh crap, they're vampires!
It's all illusion, and Arak almost gave himself hypothermia down there. The lady vamp jumps him and takes a big bite - so I'm gonna assume these vampires don't conform to the usual trope and Arak's not gonna have an aversion to garlic going forward - but Arak fights on, eventually hacking away at the elephant in the ice and making it avalanche right onto the monster. Result: While Valda overcomes her adversary conventionally, something a little more original is reserved for Arak's.
Valda surmises that these were undead who kept wandering after they were killed by the cold. Part of Hannibal's army, or outcasts for some evil deed. They may have built the hut to trap unwary travelers. I guess that tracks.

Roy Thomas' style will always seem old-fashioned because of the amount of verbiage, but I do like his stories and how he puts a lot of research to use in them. Based on the few Arak comics I've read (which is probably, like, three stories), his take on Mythical Europe is fertile ground for stories in the Conan mold. It's a bit more grounded, but not by much. We just recognize more place names.

Who's Next? Swamp Thing's uncle-in-law.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Small point of order, Valda isn't a Viking, but daughter of one of Bradamante (I think).

I didn't look into it deeply in my "Bulfinch's Mythology" when "Arak" was being published, but in the tales of Charlemagne's paladins, there was indeed a Malagigi who was taken to Cathay in some fashion comaptible with the comics.

Siskoid said...

Yes, I do mention that. I was using Viking in the less literal sense, you're right, she's not Norse.

 

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