Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser

This book collects together four issues originally published by Marvel Epic back in 1991 and features a pair of rogues created by Fritz Leiber back in 1939. The tall Fafhrd and the diminutive Mouser may be a contrast in appearance, but they share a love for adventure and quickly became friends when both try to rob the same men at the same time. Together they try to survive, and at times flee, what is essentially the third character of the stories, the great city of Lankhmar.

While Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser make contain many of the elements of high fantasy, it determinedly shakes off any genre limitations. As Chaykin points out in his introduction, this is really a fantasy New York and our heroes a couple of wise guys on the make. Their first adventure takes them up against the Thieves Guild, with terrible consequences. They determine to leave the city once and for all, but after a series of misadventures, including facing a pack of ghost wolves, they return. That launches a second series of adventures, often at the behest of the sorcerers Sheelba and Ningauble.

As a Mignola fan there was no way to pass on this volume and I am really glad I didn’t. You don’t get to see a lot of his pre-Hellboy work but Mignola is on record as saying that, outside of his own characters, this is the work he is most proud of. It was done two years before Hellboy’s first appearance, but already he had developed much of his recognizable style. The tone of these stories is lighter than many Hellboy stories and that is reflected in Mignola’s art, but at times I was reminded of the folklore tales Mignola would go on to adapt into his own stories.

Each of the stories is an adaptation of an original Lieber story, and Chaykind does a great job bringing the duo, with their camaraderie and wit, alive for readers. I haven’t read any of the original stories, because I am not much of a fan of high fantasy, but after reading this I will definitely have to hunt them down. The two come across as real people, for all their improbable adventures. A buddy story with swords and magic. Leiber wrote Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories over a forty nine year period and Dark Horse has already published four of a planned six collections of them. This volume contains an exempt from the first collection. I really wish Dark Horse had done more to promote this title than they had. If Mignola’s cover art hadn’t caught my eye, I would never have seen it. I did a little googling, with precious few results, at least regarding this book. But it is well worth your attention. If you like Chaykin, if you like Mignola, if you like adventure stories of any kind, you must try this book.

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