Weird Heroes was a brilliant, short-lived series of illustrated sci-fi / fantasy anthologies from Bryon Preiss, the man who spent most of the Bronze Age trying to invent the graphic novel, and damn near succeeding.
As I've said before, Preiss' books are always beautifully put together, and contain the absolute best talent, but are never quite what we think of now, when we reach for a graphic novel.
Partly, I think, this is because he was so keen to get away from what comics were, into what they could be, that his books sometimes went too far the other way.
Neal Adams for one, was moved to ask Byron, why are you trying to reinvent the wheel? In other words: The language of comics is fine, it's just how that language is presented that needs to be played around with.
So each one of Preiss' varied works are sort of comics, sort of books, and sort of both and neither. But I find them fascinating, particularly as he was smart enough to get THE best writers & artists available, each and every time.
Weird Heroes was Byron's attempt to bring the pulp creative style into the '70's; with new, up to date characters and plots, but with the excitement and thrills of the pulps. Imagine Roy Thomas doing Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthologies and you're kind of there.
The first edition I've managed to get hold of is this one, Vol.6:
The first story, Shinbet Investigates ( Ron Goulart / Carl Potts / Terry Austin ) is a comedic sci-fi piece about a human professor at an interplanetary university accused of murdering a cat-alien professor, and the case being solved by the cover star, Shinbet, a mysterious and haughty alien who looks like a half-human / half-snake, but gets annoyed if you mention that.
Interestingly, Carl Potts ( who came up with the original design for Shinbet ) is clearly not a man to let a good visual go, as seen with this character, Sarigar from his later series for Epic, The Alien Legion:
Next is Orion ( Ben Bova / Craig Russell ). This is the most superhero-esque entry, as Gilbert O'Ryan, a man who can't remember anything about his life beyond three years ago, and who has extra unexplained powers, slowly comes to realize he's actually Orion The Hunter, the eternal warrior who dies and is reborn again, destined to appear and reappear throughout history.
His constant nemesis is Ahriman The Dark One, the future survivor of an alien race that Humanity will wipe out, whose revenge rests on interfering in crucial points in Mankind's history, to destroy us before we can reach the stars. Further, the death of humanity will have such repercussions that all reality will collapse in on itself. So the stakes for our amnesiac superhero couldn't be higher.
It's a great setup, similar to Ellison's Demon With A Glass Hand, and it's a shame it's a short story and not a novel, as it can't help but all feel a bit rushed. It's also an uncomfortable mix of mythological fantasy and 'hard' sci-fi. I've never been a huge fan of this brand of science-fiction, and the end of the story does descend into scientific gobbledegook that I'm sure is completely genuine, but makes my eyes glaze over instantly. Happily, though, it does all come together for a slam-bang finale that leaves you wanting more ( and more was to come ).Preiss, in his introduction, suggests that Orion is likely to be the readers favourite story in the anthology. It's not, quite, but it's a close run thing.
There's a nice little interlude next, as pulp & comic writer Edmund Hamilton reminisces about his work, and life, in the science-fiction field. Preiss justifies this by reminding us that Weird Heroes' original subtitle, and intent, was as: 'The New American Pulp'In reality, he clearly included this piece simply because he's a fan, and it's his book so why not? And anyway, although I didn't know a lot about Hamilton, apart from the fact he wrote this classic Silver Age Superman tale:
Plus Alex Nino contributes some of his usual brilliant insanity.
I'd like to tell you about the next story, Greatheart Silver In The First Command ( Philip Jose Farmer / Tom Sutton ) but I haven't actually read it yet. And I'm not going to, until I get the rest of Weird Heroes' run. Apparently, this is the third appearance in the series for Farmer's hero, and I'd rather read the other stories first.
What? Don't look at me like that, so would you.
What I can tell you is that Greatheart Silver flies an airship, and is supposedly the most pulpish weird hero, allegedly guest-starring thinly disguised versions of '30's characters. And Tom Sutton turns in his usual great work. Can't wait to read it...
And the best is saved for last. Galactic Gumshoe ( Arthur Byron Cover / Ralph Reese ) is a rollicking hard-boiled fantasy romp, as 1960's private detective Franklin Davis finds himself having to eke out an existence in the twisted fairytale world of Rakish.
Davis is mysteriously teleported from Earth right at the moment he saw who shot Kennedy on the grassy knoll, and now lives in the year 2678 Seldon Cessation ( Seldon being the god of Rakish, whose unhinged flock he keeps bumping into )
Davis is a great character, living the self-perpetuating myth of the tough but tender hero because, well, somebody has to, and fighting wizards who turn into dragons and monsters who aren't quite as monstrous as they first appear.
Reese also, is on fire, and contributes the best art job of the book, and maybe the best piece I've ever seen him do ( no easy feat, when you see who else is in here ) and I'd totally read a novel about Franklin Davis if Reese illustrated it.
So here's the deal, gang: I've currently got Volume's 6 & 8 of Weird Heroes, I'm aiming to get the rest. If you see any gaps on ebay, don't bid against me, ok?