09 July 2018

Review: Ironwolf: Fires of the Revolution by Howard Chaykin, John Francis Moore, Michael Mignola, and P. Craig Russell

Side note: my review of the 2015 audiobook of the 1995 novel that inspired the 2007 episode, Doctor Who: Human Nature by Paul Cornell, is up at Unreality SF! Read by Lisa Bowerman, as it deserved to be.

Comic trade paperback, 96 pages
Published 1993 (originally 1992)

Acquired and read August 2017
Ironwolf: Fires of the Revolution

Writers: Howard Chaykin and John Francis Moore
Penciller: Michael Mignola
Inker: P. Craig Russell
Colorist: Richmond Lewis
Letterer: Bob Lappan

Before reading it, I had thought Ironwolf: Fires of the Revolution would be a retelling of the events of Howard Chaykin's original IronWolf* story in the new context of his Twilight story. It turns out that Fires of the Revolution is largely a sequel to the 1973-74 IronWolf, albeit one that retcons it a little bit to fit it into the future history established by Twilight. The original IronWolf concerned struggles over the "Empire Galaktika"; Fires of the Revolution quickly establishes that this is a high-faluting name for a group of three planets. The capital of the Empire Galaktika was Earth; Fires of the Revolution clarifies that early human colonists named a ton of planets "Earth." This does require us to ignore that in the original series, IronWolf visited the Grand Canyon, but it mostly all fits together (except for the Tales of the House of IronWolf back-ups, but they weren't such a big deal anyway).

Well, I say it all fits together, but Fires of the Revolution actually opens with a retelling of an event from the first issue of IronWolf, Weird Worlds #8: Lord Ironwolf's burning down of his family's ancestral forests of anti-gravity wood, to keep them out of the hands of his brother, who's working with the Empress Erika. I complained that in the original, this moment seemed underplayed; here the writers and artists turn it into the big dramatic moment it deserved to be. From there, though, Fires of the Revolution shifts into following up rather than retelling: Ironwolf and Shebaba's fledgling revolution is cut short when one of their own betrays them. The empress is willing to cut a deal with the rebels and form a parliamentary government, but only on the condition of Ironwolf's death, so one of Ironwolf's allies betrays him.

It's a slightly different world than the original IronWolf stories of two decades prior: less sword-and-planet warlord, and more courtly intrigue. Penciller Mike Mignola follows this new approach with visuals that come right out of the French Revolution: his Empress Erika is a highly refined aristocrat, not the sultry seductress of Chaykin's originals. (Though, of course, she is no less venomous underneath.) In the highly repressed world of this Empire Galakitka, Lord Ironwolf is different from the other aristocrats: something primal and barbaric, full of energy, willing to burn the world down if it means progress might result. This resonates with the larger story of Twilight, too (to which this is a sidequel; Homer Glint puts in an appearance, and everyone in this story can live forever because of what happened over there), in that Ironwolf claims that if the Empire Galakitka is integrated into humanity's galactic civilization, it can reverse some of the stagnation that has set in.

On the whole, Fires of the Revolution is kind of pulpy just like the original IronWolf, but in a different way. Lots of fights and betrayals and fires and shadow and plotting, but the universe feels darker and less swashbuckling. But I would partially attribute that to putting the fabulously gloomy Mignola on art. I enjoyed reading it on the whole, and looking at it even more. I still do have one complaint: I get what motivates Ironwolf's personal goals. He is a simple man at heart, and he wants revenge for the various ways he's been wronged. (There's a lot of them by this point-- basically everyone who ever threw in with him was killed.) But what motivates him politically? As an "aristo" what makes him want to rid the Empire Galaktika of aristocratic control and put a democracy in place? This was a weakness in the original IronWolf and continues to be one here.

(This book was originally published as a graphic novel in hardcover in 1992, and released in paperback in 1993. DC finally collected Chaykin's Twilight in 2015; it would be cool if they also released a collection of both Fires of the Revolution and the original IronWolf stories from Weird Worlds. It would make a nice little 150ish-page space epic.)

* As always, it's hard to tell how comic book character names ought to be capitalized. While the text pieces in the 1986 reprint special used "IronWolf," Walt Simonson's introduction to this volume goes with "Ironwolf," so I am capitalizing that way in the context of this volume.

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