GrimJack: "Blood and Thunder"
Hey folks. Sorry GrimJack Monday is falling on a Tuesday this week, but as you may have noticed, this blog has entered (once again) a bit of a low-content mode over the past couple weeks. I'm trying to rectify that, but darn it if life doesn't keep happening. I tell you what, anyone wants to put me on salary, I can promise you I'll be more than happy to devote my full time to blogging. Until that happens, well, we'll all have to make do.
As we learned last issue, the back-up feature GrimJack was primed to make a crossover with the lead story, Starslayer. Here, presented in fairly to-the-point fashion, because I don't think it's very good, is that "BOOKLENGTH THRILLER" of a crossover. From Starslayer #18, featuring the final appearance of John Gaunt within its pages, written by John Ostrander and drawn by Timothy Truman, this is "Blood and Thunder."
This, as the caption above notes, is indeed one Torin MacQuillon, the Starslayer himself. He is an ancient Celtic warrior, plucked from his own time by Tamara, captain of the good spaceship Jolly Roger, and descendant of MacQuillon's wife (who I guess remarried after his disappearance). I don't want to get too much into the backstory of Starslayer, so that's going to have to be enough to get you up to speed. Oh, but you should also know, his headband acts as both an attractive cover for his missing eye, and as a psionic link between himself and Sam, the monkey-like droid who helps him to function in the unfamiliar future. Plus, he's been captured by Count Ariosto, an aristocrat and hunter whom MacQuillon recently bested, and was imprisoned in Ariosto's dungeons, from which he has now escaped, leading a ragtag crew of assorted other prisoners in an attempt to gain their freedom.
Oy! You can see why I didn't want to get into too much backstory!
Here we see that John Gaunt is narrating the tale, which is part of the main reason I have a problem with this comic. Gaunt completely dominates the proceedings, thoroughly overshadowing the regular characters, right down to being the one who tells the story. In all fairness, John Gaunt is far cooler and more interesting than Torin MacQuillon, and I prefer him leading the way. But, from the POV of a comics fan in general, it pains me to read this issue. A comic book guest star should be just that: a guest, serving to accentuate the action and add some flavor here and there, not illustrate how weak the actual stars of the book are. I mean, come on: if the Thing fights the Hulk, you know the Thing's going to triumph if it's in Fantastic Four, and the Hulk will win if it's in The Incredible Hulk. You don't have the Hulk visit FF, and then pants the Thing, shove him in a locker and make him cry. Which is essentially what Gaunt does to MacQuillon here. Ostrander is undermining the comic's main characters at the expense of a crossover guest, and I don't think that's good storytelling.
That's how I see it, anyway.
As we saw last time, John Gaunt has run across the Starslayer gang because he's been hunting down Crayne, a scoundrel, coward, and con artist, and a tenuous member of MacQuillon's alliance. Crayne owes Gaunt a substantial amount of money. Problem is, he doesn't have it, nor do the rest of the group (which consists of Tamara, Sam, and Chris Heyman, the Free Marine whose name has previously appeared in a GrimJack backup story).
That's Chris. And the statuette Gaunt mentions is of course the Manx Cat, the grand MacGuffin of Cynosure, which Gaunt was chasing down in his very first appearance. Again, that's one of the things I love so much about GrimJack: the rich and consistent continuity.
Ostrander has Chris drop a little bit of an in-joke here. She calls Count Ariosto "the Rude Baron," which is a shout-out to Mike Baron and Steve Rude, co-creators of another one of the greatest comic books ever, Nexus.
Heyman and Tamara attempt to enlist Gaunt's aid in helping them spring MacQuillon from Ariosto's clutches. But Gaunt drives a hard bargain.
Tamara is crushed, but she agrees to give up her ship in return for Gaunt's help. As Gaunt and the rest storm Ariosto's fortress, we get an idea of how Sam works, and why he's been unable to contact MacQuillon: MacQuillon's high emotions tamper with their mental link.
Tamara and Heyman create a diversion with explosions and gunfire, allowing Gaunt to slip in the back and make contact with MacQuillon, who is battle-enraged and unreasonable, lashing out at Gaunt. Isn't that always the way with crossovers?
While it amuses me how Ostrander acknowledges the comic book tradition of heroes fighting each other before realizing they're actually on the same side, then subverts it by having the battle between Gaunt and MacQuillon last exactly one panel, again it pains me to see the star of his own comic so easily dominated by Gaunt. MacQuillon has proven himself again and again to be a mighty warrior, and Gaunt deflects a vicious punch from him by catching it in his open palm. Makes MacQuillon look like a total puss, frankly.
"By the way, nice scar." Ha!
Sam receives an S.O.S. from Tamara -- she and Heyman have been captured. Gaunt is ready to bail on them, arguing that he only made a deal to rescue MacQuillon. MacQuillon of course refuses to leave without rescuing them, and his fellow escapees refuse to leave MacQuillon's side. This combination of nobility and stubborness strikes a chord in Gaunt.
He agrees to stay and fight as well. But see, there it is again: the way Gaunt patronizingly regards MacQuillon as a less evolved version of himself is another slight from Ostrander to the comic's actual main character. Constant undermining. Maybe it doesn't bug you the way it bugs me, but you can at least see why it bugs me, I hope.
And now, the final battle is joined. I really dig this image, with Ariosto top left and his wizard ally Sphinx bottom left:
MacQuillon goes sword-to-sword with Ariosto, the escapees rescue Tamara and Heyman, a bunch of people fight a bunch of other people, and GrimJack faces the wizard Sphinx.
Sphinx works in silence, casting a monster of a whammy at Gaunt. Gaunt deflects it with the help of a little trinket called the St. Elvis vial (ha!), and sends the energy back at Sphinx, destroying him. Or almost:
There's that continuity again: Sphinx would indeed become a recurring member of GrimJack's Rogues Gallery.
Gaunt's final line to Sphinx -- "Count on it!" -- was the slogan of First Comics at the time this was written. I wonder if that was intentional.
Meanwhile, all the other good guys win. Hooray!
Now, as to the matter of Gaunt's payment. Tamara doesn't want to give up her ship, and demands to know what MacQuillon is going to do about it. His answer:
And Gaunt's final salute to Torin MacQuillon (after making him look like a bit of a chump for the preceding 24 pages):
Gaunt's noble nature shines through here; it's not always discernible, but it's most often brought to the fore by recognzing the quality in others. So that's two cases in a row now on which Gaunt has gotten stiffed! Nobility doesn't pay the rent, John.
MacQuillon (since he is noble) offers to share the Jolly Roger's captain's chair with Tamara (though, if he were really noble, he'd probably just give it back to her with no strings attached). His fellow escapees become the Jolly Roger's crew. And as for the last member of the group, Crayne, he skipped out on the battle and on his debt to Gaunt.
He's gone from the pages of Starslayer, but he's not gone from John Gaunt's life. Elections, you say? Hmmm....
Next time: the debut issue of John Gaunt's own title, GrimJack!