Hasslein Blog: Matthew Sunrich Presents...Sword of Sorcery #2


Hasslein Blog

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Matthew Sunrich Presents...Sword of Sorcery #2

Sword of Sorcery #2

By Matthew Sunrich

If there really is such a thing as "honor among thieves," it certainly doesn't exist in Lankhmar, the home city of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, at least if the events in Sword of Sorcery #2 are any indication.

Continuing the adventures of Fritz Leiber's sword & sorcery duo, the second issue of this dynamic series finds our heroes at odds with the Thieves' Guild, as well as a ghostly triumvirate threatening vengeance if a certain purloined item is not returned to them. Denny O'Neil and Howard Chaykin again take the reins as the crimson-haired barbarian and his cloaked companion become ensnared in a morass of skulduggery.

"Revenge of the Skull of Jewels," adapted from Leiber's story "Thieves' House," opens in the expansive and malodorous tomb of Votishal. We are thrown right into the middle of the action as Fafhrd attempts to keep some sort of humanoid-lizard guardian at bay while the Mouser picks at a difficult lock and an impatient, corpulent man named Fissif stands nearby.

As the Mouser gets the lock open and Fafhrd defeats the monster, it becomes clear that Fissif is the mastermind behind the raid, having hired the pair for their reputation. Opening a coffer, he retrieves a skull with ruby eyes and diamond teeth and a pair of skeletal hands with pearl fingernails. He has promised to share the riches, but he outwits Fafhrd and the Mouser by giving them drugged wine: a simple ploy, but an effective one.

When they awaken, they head to the Thieves' House to find Fissif and make him pay for cheating them. Inside, they find the leader of the thieves and a red-headed wench admiring the jeweled skull and hands. Without warning, the woman takes the treasures and disappears through a door that cannot be opened from their side. When the attempt to question the leader, they discover that he has been strangled. Hearing footsteps, they duck behind a tapestry.

Fissif enters with a man named Sleyvas and two other members of the guild. The fat thief tells Sleyvas that the leader was murdered by the skeletal hands and that the skull flew away. Of course, Sleyvas rejects this absurd tale, insisting that Fissif convinced Fafhrd and his companion to steal the treasures for him. While this heated exchange is going on, one of the thieves spots Fafhrd's shoes beneath the drapery, and a swordfight ensues.

Fissif bashes the barbarian on the head with a vase, but thanks to the Mouser's quick thinking they escape. They duck down a dark passage, and Fafhrd manages to hit his head again on a low-hanging beam. The Mouser exits through a window before realizing that he has left his friend behind. By this point, the barbarian's brains are effectively scrambled, and as he staggers down the hallway he stumbles into a hidden chamber.

There, he encounters three ghosts who know of the theft of the skull and hands and demand that they be returned to them within a day, or else they will drain the very life from his body. While weighing his options, Fafhrd is ambushed and captured by the thieves. They have also discovered the Mouser's whereabouts and send him a message, stating that if he does not return the skull and hands to them they will take it out on the barbarian.

Disguising himself as a fortune-telling hag, the Mouser gains admittance to the apartment of the woman, known as Ivlis, who stole the treasures, having figured out its location based on its proximity to the Thieves' House. He ties her up, reclaims the skeletal treasures, and returns to the den of thievery. Pretending to be the spirit of the dead man whose skull and hands were made into valuables, the Mouser succeeds in freeing Fafhrd. The thieves attack the interlopers just as Ivlis appears, having been freed by her housekeeper.

Realizing they are outnumbered, Fafhrd resolves to take as many of them with him as he can. Just then, the skull's eyes begin to glow, and its jaw begins to move. This terrifies Fissif, but Sleyvas becomes enraged, insisting that the fat man is again acting foolishly. He strikes the skull with his blade, causing the ghosts to materialize. He suffers the brunt of their vengeance, and they squeeze the life out of him. The other thieves flee in horror, leaving Fafhrd, the Mouser, and Ivlis alone.

The Mouser rues the fact that they failed to profit in any way from this venture. Fafhrd suggests that they drown their sorrows, as they usually do, with wine.

The art is in this issue, as in its predecessor, is a cut above what was found in most comics of the time. Sword of Sorcery was Chaykin's first major assignment, having been recommended to DC's editors by Neal Adams, and considering the strength of the illustration it really is hard to understand why it was canceled so quickly. It's entirely possible that it just got swallowed up in the racks by the numerous other comics that were coming out around the same time. (Recall that the Seventies was a period of major expansion for Marvel, DC, and others.) Despite this initial hiccup, Chaykin would go on to do groundbreaking work in the following years (American Flagg!, Black Kiss, features in Star*Reach and Heavy Metal).

Definitely deserves a slot in every sword & sorcery fan's longbox.

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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