Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Inspiration: The Wilderness Sea

In 1987, DC Comics published a 48-page 'special' (with no internal ads) called Talos of the Wilderness Sea.  Prominent creator Gil Kane wrote and illustrated the book.  Writing credit was shared with Jan Strnad, but the premise was entirely Kane's.  Kane intended Talos to be an epic saga that would span twelve issues.  Sadly, the special is the only portion that was published; evidently, there was insufficient reader response to warrant additional issues.

Kane considered Talos distinct from the usual sword-and-sorcery material:
It's not another one of those...In those stories, the barbarian is seldom if ever part of any ongoing environment.  He's always the single heroic figure, but it doesn't matter what background he's placed against.  There, the background is not really important, the secondary supporting characters are not really important  The barbarian becomes just this phantom cowboy dragged in to face a set of difficulties which rarely have anything specific behind them.  There's little to suggest that it's a special kind of world.
The Wilderness Sea is part of “the disrupted environment of a post-holocaust world” – specifically, “a future America after a nuclear holocaust...The oceans in this time would be lower, there would be pockets of heavily radiated areas, mutated life, and so on.”

The story of Talos is “structured after the Book of Exodus in the Bible.”  In an irradiated forest, “beastpeople” dwell; the 'civilized' people of Totthmain raid their settlements and conscript them into slavery.  Due to their greater tolerance to radiation, beastpeople are put to work in the radioactive mines.  (Ore from the mines is “critical for the production of weapons and temples.”)

The ruler of Totthmain is Zar Totth and his queen is about to give birth; however, her past three pregnancies have resulted in stillbirths.  On each occasion, the Zar caused the midwife to be put to death.  The mate of the current midwife is the chief slave-taker and, on a raid, he comes across a beastwoman giving birth.  Strangely enough, the beastbaby appears to be human and the slaver takes it.  (You see where is is going?)

Anyway, the slaver brings the baby into the royal household via a secret passage and, sure enough, the queen delivers another stillbirth.  The slaver and the midwife are successful in making the switch.  (“Look my queen...the child lives!”)  The baby, 'Carn Whitemane,' is raised as the Zar's son.  Characters are introduced which – had Talos survived as a series – would doubtless play important roles; however, for purposes of this summary, we need not mention them further.

Eventually, Carn grows into a young man and must “face the will of the gods” (i.e., partake in a rite of passage).  The rite requires that he enter the irradiated forest – without bringing weapons or other supplies – and spend a month therein.  However, crafting weapons once in the forest is not prohibited.  During his stay, Carn encounters a large, white panther-like animal that saves him from a pack of wolves.  The two form some ill-defined metaphysical connection and Carn names the cat “Star.”  Carn encounters the “beastpeople” and his birth-mother informs him of his true heritage.  Carn accepts this claim without proof (although the slave-taker eventually verifies this) and the “beastpeople” accept him as the incarnation of Talos – the one foretold in prophecy who will take them to a better existence.

Talos (as he is now called) leads his people in combat against an expedition of Zar Totth's legionnaires.  Victorious, Talos ends the book (“The end of the beginning...”) with some observations about fulfilling his destiny.  Had Talos become a series, our hero would have brought his followers “down the continental shelf, down through the Wilderness Sea, in search of a 'promised land.'”

So, in conclusion, submitted for your approval is an Old Testament/Gamma World mash-up from twenty-five years ago.  Inspiration abounds – it's just a matter of keeping your eyes (and your mind) open.

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