Hasslein Blog: GUEST BLOG: Eerie Presents El Cid


Hasslein Blog

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Eerie Presents El Cid

Eerie Presents El Cid
By Matthew Sunrich

"[W]allowing, boiling, seething from the ocean's bowels came 
the diarrhetic expulsion of nightmarish deformities."

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid, is to Spain what King Arthur is to England. The primary difference between the two men is that we know for a fact that Vivar existed, while Arthur's historicity is less clear cut.

The tales of Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain, and the other Knights of the Round Table are ubiquitous, the subject of books, movies, and television series too numerous to mention. But this is certainly not the case with El Cid, who has enjoyed little exposure outside of a couple of films and operas. The reasons for this are unclear, but it could be related to Vivar's somewhat less-mythic persona (he did own a magic sword, but it's a sure thing that "Tizona" will never evoke a reaction equal to "Excalibur"), coupled with the fact that our collective love affair with early Britain frequently eclipses the historical grandeur of the rest of Europe.

We also tend to equate fantasy with England, probably due to the inescapable influence of Tolkien's Middle-Earth, although, admittedly, the genre owes much of its development to American writers.

It comes as little surprise that Arthur has appeared in several comics, as well, the best known of which is certainly Hal Foster's Prince Valiant. In 1975, writer Budd Lewis and artist Gonzalo Mayo decided that El Cid deserved his own representation in comics and introduced their version in the pages of Eerie #65. His adventures took up the entirety of issue #66, and he was featured again in #s 70 and 71.

Luckily for us, Dark Horse Books, which has been rereleasing Warren Publishing's interests for the past few years, has saved us the trouble and expense of tracking these issues down by compiling all of the Spanish hero's stories into one very nice, affordable hardcover (a mere $16 at your local comic shop).

Prior to reading about this book in Previews, I had never heard of the series, although I was familiar with the work of Mayo, known as perhaps the greatest of the Vampirella artists. I could tell right away, based on the description, that it was something I was going to have to pick up.

There are two striking things about this book.

The first is the artwork, which is absolutely stunning. Mayo packs more into a single panel than many artists do an entire page. His work is amazingly detailed, yet it looks almost effortless. The images flow together naturally and never appear forced or crowded. He uses a variety of techniques to create depth and contrast. He is among the last of the great classical illustrators, most of which hail from Spain, The Philippines, and South America (Mayo is from Peru), whose like the world of comics will probably never see again.

The second is the writing, which has to been seen to be believed. I get the distinct impression that Lewis, who was Eerie's most prolific writer, read a lot of Lovecraft. Those of you familiar with the latter's work know that he walked a thin line between evocative, haunting language and purple prose. There are fans on both sides of the argument, but we are not concerned with that just now. I bring it up because many of Lewis' captions are like Lovecraft at his best/worst taken to an even more extreme level.

I selected the pulled quote at the start of the article as an excellent example of this. Here's another of my favorites, taken from a fierce battle scene: "I slew until death grease and gut slime made slippery the grips of my sword."

"Death Grease" would make a good band name. Or perhaps just a death-metal reworking of the Grease soundtrack.

In any event, I don't mean in any way to denigrate the writing. It's quirky and sometimes over the top, but it draws readers into El Cid's world and helps them to achieve a deeper understanding of the character.

Eerie Presents El Cid features seven delightful stories.

"El Cid and the Troll" explores the well-known fable of the "monster under the bridge." It delves into the whole question of myth vs. reality and leaves the reader wondering about the truth of the situation.

"The Seven Trials" (featuring an awesome frontispiece by Bernie Wrightson) is a tale fraught with peril, taking place mostly at sea, that reminded me of the voyages of Jason and Odysseus in Greek mythology. The story opens with El Cid's slaying an evil wizard, who promises with his dying words that the other will endure seven trials. After sleeping for, appropriately enough, seven days, El Cid awakes on his warship, surrounded by his soldiers, many of whom have taken ill. He suspects that this might be attributable to the curse. With the captain dead and no rudder or helm, the ship is at the mercy of the turbulent waters. In the ensuing days, the ship is beset by Sirens (one of whom becomes an ally and El Cid's lover), a sea serpent, and knights on winged steeds. When the few that remain after these attacks finally reach land, they face evil dwarves, the wizard himself (now undead) on a flying ship, and the personification of Death itself, cast as a beautiful woman. The story is in every respect absolutely breathtaking.

In "El Cid and the Vision," Spain has been attacked by Moors. On his way to see the king, El Cid encounters an enemy knight whose fighting prowess is unearthly. Our hero fights hard, but the knight defeats him. When the dust clears, however, the knight has vanished, leading El Cid to wonder whether he ever existed. When he reaches the castle, he explains the situation to the king, but a courtier named Don Urraca taunts him. The fight that ensues ends with Don impaled on El Cid's blade. The king, displeased, threatens to put the warrior to death, but El Cid, truly penitent, offers to fight the Moors' greatest champion so that God can determine his guilt or innocence. The knight he winds up facing turns out to be the one he fought in the "vision," giving our hero the advantage.

Ed Cid encounters two demons, Ahriman and Az, in "The Lady and the Lie." Also known as "Lie" and "Lust," respectively, they twice attempt to trick him into committing an evil deed, but our hero prevails. Realizing they cannot inveigle him, the demons move on to another victim, a young girl. They transform themselves into the girl's fiancée and a whore. Finding them lying together, the girl becomes infuriated and kills them both. The demons reveal their true selves and inform her that her soul now belongs to them. El Cid, overhearing this and the girl's weeping, engages them, but they both change into likenesses of the girl, making it impossible for him to tell which two are his foes. They offer to give her soul back if he will follow them to Hell and fight there. He agrees and, after battling a host of infernal creatures, winds up beating them at their own game.

"The Emir of Aragon" sees El Cid's king, Alphonso, engaged in battle with the Moorish warlord of the eponymous city. Defeated, the emir surrenders the beautiful servant girl Arias, whom El Cid takes as a lover. He is quite taken with her, and it appears to be mutual, but El Cid experiences disturbing visions one night during his evening prayers, revealing his paramour as a vile murderess. He tells Alphonso of these visions, and the king asks that he not tell anyone else of them, but Arias overhears the conversation. When he returns to his chambers, she embraces him, effectively allaying his fears, but then knocks him out. Her lover subdued, she hurriedly writes a note to the king, signing it with her lover's name, urging him to come to El Cid's room to discuss a plot on the king's life that the other has uncovered. The king opts to send one of his courtiers instead, and Arias murders him, making El Cid an unlikely suspect.

As "Crooked Mouth" opens, El Cid is returning to his father's house, following a victory, with several Moorish prisoners. An old man of the village is outraged when El Cid insists that the Nobles be treated well rather than killed. His well-publicized chagrin eventually reaches the ears of Count Garcia Ordonez, better known as "Crooked Mouth," who holds a grudge against El Cid. The Count spreads rumors of treason, and when the king catches wind, he orders El Cid brought to him. Crooked Mouth summons a demon to stop El Cid from reaching the castle but falls prey to his own dark designs.

Aledo, master thief, goes in search of his ultimate triumph in "Demon's Treasure," but finds only terror and death. El Cid is sent to retrieve the thief, who, despite his ignominious profession, is Alphonso's cousin and trusted ally. Our hero enters a realm of shadow and madness, battling hideous phantoms and his own capacity for lasciviousness in the arms of an alluring female sent to detain him. He finally reaches the fortress of the wizard who owns the treasure and after slaying the dragon guardian, encounters the wizard himself, who unsuccessfully attempts to poison the hero.

This collection gets my highest possible recommendation. It deserves a spot in every sword & sorcery fan's library.

Matt Sunrich, a great fan of the Bronze Age of comic books, maintains two blogs: The Other Other Castle, about Bronze-Age sword and sorcery, and Forging the Dark Knight, concerning Bronze-Age Batman.

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