Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Ironwolf was a strip that ran in the last three issues of Weird Worlds, and although it was scripted by Denny O'Neil, it's clear from first glance that it was really Howie Chaykin's baby all the way, O'Neil ( as the more experienced writer ) putting Chaykin's plethora of ideas into a proper story form. Having broken into the biz adapting Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd & The Grey Mouser stories for the short-lived Sword Of Sorcery book, this was Chaykin's first go at a regular series character of his own. And Ironwolf is both like, and unlike all of his subsequent hero's.
I think most fans would agree, there is a Howard Chaykin 'type'. From Cody Starbuck, through to The Scorpion/Dominic Fortune and Monark Starstalker, all the way to American Flagg and beyond, all ( or most ) of Chaykin's characters are generally variations on a theme. Firstly, they all kind of look like Howie, if in idealized form. Then, they are all, to some extent, self - serving. None of Chaykin's heroes are generally out to save the world, but usually have their own agenda, are quite often gleefully violent, understand the rules of whichever crazy universe they exist in, and are never completely good guys or completely bad guys, but more often operate in the gray areas inbetween. Just like real people, in fact.
As the earliest of Howie's professional characters, Ironwolf fits into that mold too, sort of.
Ironwolf is kind of a futuristic feudal baron, the ruler of one of many worlds living under the semi-benevolent dictatorship of Empire Galaktika, and it's spoilt bitch of an Empress. As the first issue opens, The Empress has just put a deal together with the Empire's sworn enemies, a bunch of ten foot tall barbarians who seem to have wandered in from a John Carter Of Mars novel. Ironwolf, long a loyal subject of the Empire, is unimpressed, particularly when told he'll have to give up the rights to his planet to the enemy, including the forests of ( get this ) gravity defying wood that his people build spaceships out of. By the start of page 2, swords are drawn and it's all kicked off.
After being rescued by his female lead, Missy the cute actress, Ironwolf adapts pretty quickly to his new life as a rebel & pirate, as seen here:
Eventually seeking sanctuary on his home planet of Ilium, Ironwolf goes to stay with his brother Tyrone, who one look at tells you not to trust. And sure enough, Tyrone has already sold out his bruv to The Empress & Omikel, leader of the vampires. Left with no choice, our hero blows up the forests, destroying any chance of wood spaceship manufacture by the Empire, and makes his escape in the last such craft, The Limerick Rake.
Sometime later, ( yeah, I know, a lot happens in this one issue ) Ironwolf and his disposable crew come across a spaceship graveyard, and narrowly rescue Female Lead no.2, rebel fighter Shebaba O'Neal. I never quite understood why Ironwolf needed two sexy babes to sail the stars with ( though Shebaba's surname suggests something ) but anyway, off we go to the next issue.
As I say, this chapter is crammed full of incident, almost as if Howard & Denny were trying to fit an entire graphic novel into one 20 page story.
By the next issue, Ironwolf and gang have come up with a plan, of sorts. The Empress is having a bunch of actors shipped to her Pleasure Palace to put on a little Shakespeare for her. ( It's good to be The Empress ). Our heroes intercept the transport, and Ironwolf and Missy take the lead roles for themselves, intending to take out her Royal Tartness once and for all. Oh, but wait, Pete, wouldn't The Empress spot Ironwolf instantly? Isn't that the dumbest plan ever? Ah no, you see, one of the actors has already had himself surgically altered to look exactly like Ironwolf, just for fun. You see how all this insanity fits together?
Natch, like every other actor before him, with the smell of greasepaint & the roar of the crowd in his ears, Ironwolf seems to forget the plan completely and goes and does the whole entire play. The only thing that stops him is when Omikel, presumably a frustrated thespian himself, steps in and starts playing the duel scene a little too realistically.
Despite the Red Sonjaesque Shebaba attempting to take care of business, both The Empress and Omikel escape, and Missy is killed, for no readily apparent reason. ( The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that Missy was Howie's character, while Shebaba was Denny's. It's the only possible explanation. )
Onto the final issue, as the gang land on Rorvik, the pirate planet that's a no-go area for The Empress's troops. Almost immediately, Ironwolf is betrayed again ( if you can't trust a pirate, who can you trust? ) and narrowly escapes to Rorvik's moon, where Shebbaba's 'uncle' Dwyte Vanmeer is hiding out. Vanmeer is the father of Janus, a hero of the revolution against Empire Galaktika, who's mysteriously vanished.
In Vanmeer's library, Ironwolf goes looking for answers, unfortunately finding more than he bargained for.
So Ironwolf's faith is shaken, as he realises that both sides in this war are as bad as each other.
Again, a very Chaykinesque statement.
For the Chaykin fan, Ironwolf is an interesting look at the beginnings of the style he's since made his own, not just in terms of the art, but in the kind of heroes he writes about. Unlike Cody Starbuck for instance, Ironwolf is noble, good hearted and slightly tortured. Also he ( and all the other characters ) talk in a kind of stilted, received english which I think might be down to Denny O'Neil. At times, it seems like you're watching classic british character actors strut their stuff ( which, joking aside, is what I suspect the Shakespearian story is meant to suggest ).
Although lines like " I care, you squit! " and the unseen here " Blot your pretty lips on the floor! " could only've come from Chaykin.
Ironwolf the strip was clearly not meant to end after three paltry issues, and often feels stuffed full of too much of everything, in order to compensate. Interestingly, O'Neal admitted as much in the letters page of the first issue, but you have to give both creator's credit for trying something different.
Almost immediately after Ironwolf, Chaykin's first Cody Starbuck stories started to appear, set in basically the same universe, but with a much nastier, darker hero at their centre.
This was a beginning for Howard Chaykin, but one worth seeking out.