Saturday, February 3, 2018

Sleeping Dragons #1

Fantasy February and Magical March!

Moving onward to tales of magic and mayhem, swords and sorcery, The Crapbox is proud to present two whole months dedicated to fantasy comic books that in no way should be interpreted as me trying to clear out space in a specific overly full longbox of fanstasy titles. I give you two months of all kinds of Fantasy books – both good and bad!

Sleeping Dragons #1

A morality tale you’ll want to read over and over

Written – Kevin Mason
Artist – Alex Szewczuk
June 2000

What a great way to kick off Fantasy February/Magical March! Lurking at the back of the Crapbox was this hidden gem from the Amaze Ink imprint of Slave Labor Graphics. It features a one-and-done story with some of the best prose and most amazing art I’ve read in a comic for some time.

Sleeping Dragons lasted a scant five issues. I only have the one, but I can tell you that from the looks of just this issue, all five are probably wonderful reads. I’ve been looking and a pack of all five can be had for around ten American dollars, so not a bad deal for storytelling of this caliber.

I’m gonna shut up now and let us dig into this tale of dragons, knights, wizards and that most magical of all powers…common sense.

We begin in the picturesque little village of Ravenslocke nestled aside the towering mountain peak called Sky Mountain. In one of the houses, a well fed figure sits by candlelight recording his adventures of three years ago.

It's on the second page of this slow intro that I really started to fall for this story. It has a quaint charm about it. The art is well made and detailed, but I think the real hook for me was the writing style was clear and evocative of a true fairly-tale like fantasy story. We go back three years, to when the town faced starvation for the very first time. A time of desperation…and dragons.

When who should appear as all seems lost in the town, but a knight. He comes with a proposition.

Ya see, Michael Augustine here has heard tale of a dragon that has a lair near the town. A dragon that sleeps on an enormous pile of gold. Gold enough to buy the town food for themselves, their children and their children’s children for all their lives. Just one little catch. He needs help slaying the beast.

The locals make like they don’t understand his reference to a “hill” until the elder points out that the knight is clearly meaning Sky Mountain. 

Note this subtle play on words here. You’ve heard the phrase “making mountains out of molehills” which means making something big out of something small or insignificant. Here the writer plays with the reverse of those terms by making our knight take something significant and turn it into something inconsequential. That’s a metaphor for what he’s asking the townspeople to do in slaying the dragon.

Because dragons aren’t easy to kill.

Smart writing in this one.

The knight lays out his audacious plan for taking out the dragon, which puts him at odds with the town’s shamanist wise man.

However, being a wise man, he allows each of the villagers to make up their own mind about this audacious plan.

Which ends up with all the able-bodied men and women choosing to join the knight in this fool’s errand, for surly even a hundred poorly armed and unarmored men would have a difficult time slaying a magical beast of such size. All the able-bodied men except this one:

More like Muley the smart-ass, which doesn’t work at all toward persuading anyone to stay. He tries again.

And, as in life, people can seldom be influenced once they have set their mind to a thing. Especially when money, fame, and glory are involved. 

Muley steps aside so that knight Michael can lead the rabble out of town.

What comes back from their ill-planned adventure…

…is one pissed-off dragon, and…

…one empty helm.

Pause for a moment here, because I’ve been very complementary of the writing in this, absolutely loving every line of it, yet have said very little of the art. The line work in this is exquisite. It’s clean, clear, and understandable. The artist has his own style that feels a bit like the work of Bone artist Jeff Smith in some panels, and yet others show the influences in the rough style of Mike Mignola. Since page one I have been enraptured by this morality laced fairy tale and I have BOTH the artist and the writer to thank for that.

Anyhow, now the village elder-shaman runs out saying the dragon will be back and claiming that he knows spells over and over.

Nice framing sequence. Anyway, this pseudo-wizard thinks he can drain the dragon enough (with the townspeople’s help, of course) to siphon its energy into himself. That would leave it vulnerable to a physical attack by the villagers.

Of course, Muley has something to say about this…

He presents his best case against taking action (and speaks out directly about the motives of our local magic-buddy). The wiz counters with some name calling and the villagers mull it over…

…and decide to make the exact same mistake as their recently deceased neighbors. The wizard prepares to lure back his dangerous quarry.

Love this part quite a bit. The writer allows the artist to convey the battle with no dialogue and a brief bit of narration. This feels a bit like when a band allows a guitarist or drummer to do a solo in the middle of the song.

And Szewczuk succeeds with great visuals and clever cues to motions.

And speaking of success, the only thing the wizard succeeds at is at getting himself turned to smoke as the much older and wiser dragon turns his magics back on him. 

It is a masterful sequence and reminds me so much of what would happen in D&D whenever our party encountered a creature with ancient power (our DM James was an extremely worthy opponent.)

As the dragon lets out a squeal of triumph, the townspeople cower in fear. At least until it returns to the mountain from which it came. Then they come up with yet another foolish notion.

…so again with the “throwing ourselves against an much stronger opponent” illogic is ruling the day. Muley sees that the village is behind this idea, so he attempts to head off this foolishness…

…with a foolish idea of his own. He alone goes to face the dragon.

So Muley sets off without a sword or armor to save his village from the wrath of an intelligent, overpoweringly strong enemy. He creeps into its cave…

…finds the wounded creature, which is entirely aware of his presence…

…and proceeds to bind its wounds as a sign of friendship.

Job finished, Muley prepares to leave, at which point the dragon stops him and gives the boy three gold coins as way of repaying his kindness.

They part ways as friends and Muley makes his way back down the mountain.

Muley takes the dragon’s kindness back to the townsfolk and shares it with them. It allows them to rebuild and to purchase enough food and provisions to outlast the coming winter. And as we pull further back, we find our narrator is actually…

Muley the Coward, who saved the entire town with his wisdom and courage. 

He offers us one final piece of advice:

Which sounds like amazingly sage advice in these troubled times we find ourselves in. Don’t follow glorymongers or wizards that seek fame nor power and listen to the voice inside you that tells you what is morally right.

Such a GREAT story! I picked this up in a bundle pack and it set the tone I wanted for this two month ode to the fantasy genre. There’s plenty of great tales out there to encounter…and some fun clunkers to discuss as well.

As for me, I can’t leave a title like “Sleeping Dragons” lie. I have no clue where the story goes from here, but I’m durn sure that I’m along for the next ride. I hope that you will be too.

Welcome to two months of fantasy comics (with time outs for some holidays and great movie premiers, of course), I hope you enjoy what we find in the Crapbox this go around.

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