Friday, April 07, 2006

The Empire Galaktika

Today, let's look at a space opera from the nineteen-seventies, chock full of a galactic empire, rebellion, swordplay, blasters, aliens, an imperial legion, and heroism. No, it's not Star Wars - it's the saga of Lord Iron-Wolf, as told in its entirety (sort of) in the pages of three issues of Weird Worlds:

Nov-Dec 1973, Jan-Feb 1974, Oct-Nov 1974
Created, plotted and drawn by Howard Chaykin
Scripts by Denny O'Neil
Covers by Howard Chaykin, Nick Cardy, and Mike Kaluta

This is an outer space adventure typical of its time: in some distant future, the principled hero, Lord Iron-Wolf (yes, hyphenated in the dialogue but not in the title), renounces his priviliged position in the Empire Galaktika in opposition to the Empress's policies and cruelties. He become first an outlaw and then a revolutionary, and escapades in a tradition unbroken from Robin Hood through Zorro to Flash Gordon ensue.

The plot just starts rolling along from the very first page, whipped along by dialogue such as "Control yourself, Lord Iron-Wolf! You may be my best officer but I can still discipline you!" that shoehorned exposition into conversation, and captions such as "At that moment, a mime troupe hired to amuse the court enters, and..." that eliminated any need for those slow, set-up scenes. Ah, they don't write 'em like that anymore.

Howard Chaykin, in both story and art, envisioned a captivating world: Iron-Wolf dresses like Macbeth and talks like Horatio Hornblower; the Empress consorts with hulking aliens reminiscent of oversized Kazakhs and has a praetorian guard of vampires; illegal drugs turn people into supercharged, aggressive brutes. But the crown jewel of Chaykin's conceits was his splendid twist on space-travel technology: starships made of anti-gravity wood!

I still marvel at the audacity and visual appeal of this notion.
Since this epic does predate Star Wars, it remains firmly in the Buck Rogers tradition when it come to personal technology: although the characters carry ray guns, they also fight with plain old edged swords, rather than with light sabers or solar scimitars or plasma foils or atomic epees or any other sort of non-trademarked energy weapon. Chaykin uses an interesting device in portraying the action scenes: in addition to the usual set-piece fight scenes, we are treated to several little mini-conflicts, shown in triptych in one tier of borderless panels. This set-up is repeated so often it takes on a ritual nature, almost like something from kabuki theatre. Here's a sampling:

Since this is Chaykin, there are several prominent women characters, all of whom display both strength and sexuality, often in a confounding combination. And in this case, all of them wear that odd fashion that marked the transition from the hippie-influenced sixties to the disco-seventies. We have the villian of the piece, the Empress Erika Klein-Hernandez:

There's Missy, she of the aforementioned mime troupe, who becomes an associate of Iron-Wolf's:

And of course, the intriguingly named Shebaba O'Neal, the revolutionary:

Chaykin is working here before his arc of Scorpion (Atlas), Dominic Fortune (Marvel) and American Flagg (First). His art is more baroque and less streamiled, but a lot of the elements that he would continue to play with over the next ten years are in place. (Walt Simonson did some of the lettering, and his streamlined sound effects are jarringly incongruous at times.)

Sad to say, Lord Iron-Wolf never got much more than an introduction; the series - indeed, the whole comic - was cancelled with issue #10, a dream deferred.

Additional notes:

Chaykin and John Francis Moore reworked these themes and characters in the 1992 graphic novel Ironwolf - Fires of the Revolution. The new story, wonderfully illustrated by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russel with achingly idiosyncratic detail, was more steampunk than space opera (extrapliting even further with the wooden spaceships) and got the usual nineties grim-n-gritty treatment (though not so much as Twilight, the science-fiction magnum opus from which it was spun off).

In the text page for issue #8, Denny O'Neil draws a comparision between the corruption in the Empire Galaktika and the revelations of the Watergate scandal of the Nixon White House, which were just beginning to come to light at the time.

In the text page for issue #10, O'Neil sums up the cancellation in the word ecology. He says they couldn't get enough paper to publish it.

Issues #9 and #10 each contain a back-up feature, Tales of the House of Iron Wolf. The stories concern two brothers, who are the ancestors of both Iron-Wolf and the Empress, in quasi-medieval adventures suposed set 2,000 earlier than the main story, but still in the distant future.

Issue #9 includes an in-story performance of Hamlet, and carries the credit, after Chaykin's and O'Neil's, "With Additional Dialogue by Wm. Shakespeare". (This has become a bit of an in-joke with Shakespearean adaptations.)


Jeff Rients said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Rients said...

Based upon this article I picked up the 3-in-1 reprint from '87. Thanks so much for calling my attention to this work! I really enjoyed Ironwolf.

matt iv said...

After reading a comment in the letters column of an old Star Hunters comic that referenced Iron-Wolf, I looked it up on-line and found this blog entry.

After looking through this post, I decided to try to find the comic and ended up finding the 3 in 1 reprint from the 1980s. I would like to read the originals--I just really like the old school coloring!

I really enjoyed the comics, though--new coloring and all. Thanks a bunch!

Anonymous said...

Great posting! of a kewl series i collected in my hitchhikeing days...IRONWOLF would make a great movie with todays cgi-etc effects,..thanks for your wonderful site "took me and my brother back to our nice-memory-days" ...doobiekat.

Walaka said...

Thanks for the great responses - and I agree that this would make a cool movie with the technology we have now. Who knows? If Ant-Man is in development, anything can happen.

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well I must be too young because I have never ever heard of the Lord Iron-Wolf in my life. by looking at the beautiful pictures you posted here, the comic looks exciting, it is a shame I didn't read it when I was a child, it would have been awesome, thank you so much for sharing this comic!