Friday, February 23, 2018
NEAR MYTHS: THE THOUSAND WIZARDS OF URD (1981-82)
THE THOUSAND WIZARDS OF URD, Frank Thorne's follow-up to GHITA OF ALIZARR, shared its origins: appearing first as installments in Warren's 1984 magazine before being collected in an album-like volume. URD is, like GHITA, a very bawdy take on Red Sonja, the character whose fan-popularity boosted Thorne to comparative celebrity. But whereas I found GHITA interesting enough to invoke Bataille to describe its interactions of violence and sexuality, URD is just very well-drawn sword-and-sorcery.
I won't dilate on the plot, since there isn't much of one. GHITA had an episodic plotline as well, but the episodes were strengthened by an overarcing goal: Ghita's mission to re-take the city of Alizarr. The story featured a lot of "sword" but not nearly as much "sorcery." URD reads like Thorne decided to shift the balance this time, with a lot more magical phantasmagoria, closer to the content of the Thorne-Clair Noto collaborations on RED SONJA. However, perhaps because artist-writer Thorne is so focused on depicting his S&S world as a place of infinite bawdiness, there's not a lot of room for enchantment. (And I never figured out the reference to "thousand wizards," since' there's just one. He can project himself into various phantom duplicates, but he certainly doesn't come up with a thousand such proxies.)
It's some months after Ghita and her boon friends Thenef and Dahib have kicked the trolls out of Alizarr and assumed the reins of power. Having been used to the wastrel life, they decide to cut out on their boring royal duties for a while and check out a traveling acting-troupe, for which Ghita and Thenef performed. But their vacation comes at a bad time, for Rahmuz, the wizard of Urd, conspires to get rid of Alizarr's current rulers and take over. The three friends do indeed overtake the acting-troupe, which leads to Ghita hooking up with a handsome actor and thus making her sometime lover Thenef jealous. But more serious problems arise, as Rahmuz's threats flow thick and fast, ranging from a tribe of nasty dwarves to an Asian assassin. Eventually Rahmuz captures Ghita, and tries to sacrifice her in an otherworldly dimension referred to as "the Ebony Sea." The foul-mouthed heroine wins out, of course, and is reunited with her friends. There's a small suggestion that things might grow more serious between Ghita and her almost-old-enough-to-be-daddy mentor, but Thorne naturally prefers to end things on a bawdy note. To the best of my knowledge, that's where the sage of Ghita ended-- possibly because Thorne said everything he had to say with the character.
Thorne's writing is heavy and sometimes repetitive, but the tone is at least consistent, and there are flashes of strong wit throughout. The biggest problem with URD-- which looks forward to the near-shapelessness of 1989's RIBIT-- is that Thorne loses control of the story. In the GHITA graphic novel, the heroine meets a strange unicorn, "the Ghibelline," which apparently wants to mate with her. I interpreted this as Thorne having a laugh at the medieval "unicorn-and-virgin" trope, However, the unicorn appears again in URD-- and it turns out that it contains the spirit of Khan-Dagon, the man who raped Ghita and somehow imprinted male attitudes upon her. This by itself would be an okay turn of events, but then, by the end of the story, Ghita once again encounters Khan-Dagon-- and this time he's one of Rahmuz's undead soldiers in the Ebony Sea. It's as if Thorne became obsessed with reiterating this part of Ghita's mythos, rather than moving on to fresh ground-- obsessed to the extent that he didn't really plot out why the dead ruler turned up in either of these peculiar places.
THOUSAND WIZARDS OF URD offers lots of hard nudity and loose language, as only Thorne could render them, but it's unfortunately also the place where the stronger threads of the Ghita-myth start to unravel.