Thursday, July 11, 2013

Inspiration: The World of Wulf the Barbarian

The Atlas (Seaboard) line of comic books was introduced in 1975.  By 1976, the line had vanished.  (The line was briefly 'revived' in 2011; this post does not address that incarnation.)  Most of the books were forgettable, but a few had potential – at least at the beginning of the Atlas endeavor.  One of those few was Wulf the Barbarian.  Certainly, it had its share of clichés and tropes, but it is not unworthy of consideration.

According to the first Atlas bullpen page, “[T]he saga of WULF THE BARBARIAN is set on a planet the size of which is beyond mortal comprehension.”  This aspect of the setting is never addressed in any of the four published issues of Wulf, neither is mentioned the name of the planet.  In the third installment, a map is provided; named simply 'The World of Wulf the Barabarian.'

The map as shown in WULF THE BARBARIAN #3

I have it from good authority that your humble host is mortal.  Since I seem to be able to comprehend the area that this map describes, I am forced to conclude that the map does not depict the entirety of Wulf's world.  It does, however, show the various locations that Wulf visits in his abbreviated saga as well as many locations he does not, such as Ulm, Kwan Jhoon, and the exotic Newark.

The same map, altered for legibility
Whatever charm Wulf the Barbarian held was supplied by artist/writer Larry Hama.  Alas, Hama did not continue beyond the second issue.  Still, we can reflect upon what we have.

Wulf is a Northern barbarian who goes on adventures in the lands to the South.  That part may sound familiar, but Wulf is really the heir to a kingdom.  Very well, that part probably sounds familiar too; however, after he witnesses the murder of his parents, he is raised by a family retainer and dedicates himself to vengeance.  Yeah, OK, that part is not exactly original either.  The thing is,  Wulf's ultimate goal is to defeat the evil wizard who has deprived him of his rightful domain...  Look, not everything can be original, it's how the concepts mesh together that's important.

Balik, the Eye of Mordek
Anyway, an army of trolls wearing “the sigil of Mordek Mal Moriak, the sorceror” (sic), attacks a hunting expedition of “Lord Wulfgar, Thane of Baernhölm and Master of Castle Silver Keep.”  Wulfgar and his wife, “the Lady Lenore,” die valiantly.  “Count Stavro Dar Kovin, Fencing Master of the House of Wulfgar,”  rescues the young heir, the titular Wulf.  Being a badass, Stavro kills Balik, “The Eye of Mordek,” (see depiction to the left) and makes off with his dragon.  Stavro and Wulf fly more-or-less South and pass some noteworthy locales (see illustrations below).  Eventually, the wounded dragon expires and Stavro and Wulf take up residence in the city of Azerbajia.  Stavro becomes a street performer, juggling knives, to generate a subsistence income for the orphaned prince and himself.  Of course, at night Stavro trains Wulf to be a badass in his own right.  After a montage of training panels, some exposition and a flashback, Stavro is killed by the same troll that killed Lenore.  Wulf, now a well-trained young man, gets vengeance and rides off in search of adventure and, in his own words, “To slay a sorcerer!”  (In proper barbarian style, almost everything Wulf says ends with an exclamation point.)  Thus ends the first issue.
Wulf's journey
In the second issue, Wulf meets up with some supporting characters, “Berithe of the Free Swordsmen's Guild...Rymstrydle the Blader, also of the Guild...and Zemba, a magician of Abba-Maroja.”  The foursome travel to the city of Rama-Kesh, which has suffered from the enmity between the two water merchants that control all of the city's wells...
These were men of wealth and was Melekantis, a vain man motivated by pride...The other was Rasselas, whose only love was power, a bitter man driven by greed...Their animosity blossomed into violence and both men had armed gangs of hired thugs clashing in the alleyways...Some thought a stalemate had been reached but Rasselas dabbled in sorcery!  And he called forth a Nameless Thing to slay Melekantis!  But the very powers he unleashed had driven Rasselas over the boundaries [of] sanity!  And in his madness, he delved deeper into his sorcery...'twas Rasselas' magic what emptied the wells of Rama-Kesh...and loosed strange gibbering creatures upon the nighted streets.
Like any party of player characters worth their salt, our protagonists resolve to surreptitiously enter Rasselas' lair and – in Wulf's words – thrust “a yard of cold steel in Rasselas' gut.”  However, once they gain entry to the palace, our heroes find that the sorcerer's madness has warped the interior into an Escher-esque labyrinth.  Yes, the characters prevail and evil is defeated, but not until Wulf exclaims “Blood and Iron!” two more times and one of the characters dies in a noble sacrifice.

...A Sorcerous Manifestation of Rasselas' Insanity!


  1. All of the Atlas comics died before reaching their full potential--though admittedly, not a lot of potential was in evidence in a lot of cases.

    Still, Wulf is definitely good game fodder.

  2. "Planet of the Vampires" and Howard Chaykin's "Scorpion" were my personal favorites. "Iron Jaw" may've been my least favorite among those I read.

  3. I wanted to like "Planet of Vampires," but it just didn't work for me.

    "Ironjaw" is Fleisher’s paean to misogyny. That said, I found issue #3 to be enjoyable. First, there are no female characters for Fleisher to hate on. Also, the relationship between Ironjaw and his ‘mentor’, Tar-Lok, is amusing – as is the ‘religion’ of The Great Machine.