REVIEW: Humanoids' Elias the Cursed
A new heroic fantasy with unique characters and interesting themes...
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Before their was the fan-favorite Heavy Metal Magazine, which began in 1977, there was the French publication Métal Hurlant. First published in 1974 by Les Humanoïdes Associés, the sci-fi and fantasy magazine's success inspired the publisher to continues to bring hard-hitting, gritty, and violent comics to the marketplace. Now, thanks to the publisher's American counterpart, Humanoids, fans of original sci-fi, fantasy, and hardcore comics can pick up a variety of graphic novels.
One such graphic novel is Elias the Cursed. Illustrated by the award-winning Italian artist Corrado Mastantuono, whose work in animation and the cartoon industry has spanned over 30 years, and written by Sylvianne Corgiat, whose work has appeared repeatedly in Métal Hurlant, Elias the Cursed is described as "an old fashioned tale of heroic fantasy." Not surprisingly, it's so much more than that...
The book itself is immediately attractive as its cover features the title in bold red and black block lettering standing out against a white background (top). The artist and writer's names are posted above the title while, below, the majority of the cover features the main character - Elias - standing in stark contrast to the cover's light blue background atop of pile of slain corpses. Wearing dark-colored armor and war-torn clothing, Elias tromps forward towards the potential reader, a bloody sword in hand. Immediately eye-catching, the cover simply makes one want to know what this comic is about...especially when sitting on a shelf next to brightly colored superheroes and cartoon characters.
As previously mentioned, the story itself is much more than a heroic fantasy. King Elias, the greatest conquer and ruler who ever lived, has almost accomplished something no other monarch could: the complete annihilation of all sorcerers and witches. However, when facing the last-living and most powerful sorcerer, Melchior, King Elias fails to kill the evil wizard (above).
As punishment for his arrogance and to simply torture the egotistical ruler, Melchior uses a unique spell which switches the two mens' faces, giving Melchior the face of Elias and Elias the face of his most despised and hated enemy (below).
Thus begins Elias the Cursed.
There's no doubt the first 20 pages set a solid foundation upon which the entire tale builds. Creating in every sense a unique type of suspense and drama, the titular character's actions - be they with sword in hand, naked in bed, or with wrists bound in chains - stem from his need for vengeance. Unlike most heroic tales in which our hero or knight in shining armor refrains from all acts of evil, Elias the Cursed features a hero whose scruples are torn, twisted, and misshapen by his experience and unsatisfied goal.
One such flashback scene finds King Elias putting to death all those responsible for the mistreatment of a conquered land's citizens. However, the kingdom's princess, in trying to save her father's life, pays the ultimate price. Elias says her death is unfortunate, but shows no regret and readers again realize this warrior and king has a distinct idea of right and wrong (below).
At the beginning of the story, Elias is self-wrought with the destruction of other magicians, ensuring him to be the most powerful of spell casters. With his willingness to sacrifice others in order to accomplish this goals, Elias is established to be a self-centered, egotistical, maniacal warrior and ruler. However, as the story develops and Elias is joined by a variety of characters on his quest, readers quickly realize Elias isn't only on a quest to recover his face, but his conscience as well.
Elias isn't a good guy or a bad guy, but simply a fallen ruler whose very life and identity have been ripped away, making him a very angry man with no cares save one: recovery of his face and soul.
The artwork by Mastantuono expands so perfectly upon the story by Corgiat that the pairing of these two creators is sublime. The individual page layouts can include anywhere from 11 panels of art (to show fast, sequential action) and large half-page battle scenes to even larger double-page splash images which provide massive views of vistas and locales and single image pages to show the character chained, battered, and defeated.
As for the story's characters, all support Elias' quest in one way or another. The cast includes Bertil the Zworg, whose quest for knowledge outweigh his craving for human flesh; Evangeline, a female doctor and magic skeptic who seeks to cure a mysterious plague; Araneo, a slave and giant who served Elias in the past; and Matilda, a Woloof seeking to challenge her kingdom's queen for rule of her people.
These character's individual histories are revealed throughout the story and provider readers with additional information about their interesting lives, their personal quests, and their unique motivations. Araneo's fight for freedom from slavery against Elias is one such tale that helps establish the giant's character (above). The loyalty shown by Araneo years before plays a major part in his actions much later in the story and it's because of this flashback we fully understand the character's later sacrifice.
As is evident, each character plays a vital role in determining the fate of the motley crew. Each character has special gifts which they use to aide in the company's quest, be it strength and size (Araneo), smarts (Bertil), or bravery (Matilda). And while the main quest to recover Elias' identity may take precedence, a secondary quest to cure the kingdom of the Red Plague forces the good doctor Evangeline to question her loyalty to Elias and instead seek to achieve her own goals instead of help Elias with his. This again speaks to her character and foreshadows later actions.
Thankfully, the story includes a number of scenes in which humor helps alleviate the intense drama and action. It's this humor which provides much needed respite and, when in context, it's this character-based humor - especially around Bertil and Matilda and their budding romance - which will make readers smile (above).
Themes explored in Elias the Cursed include everything from science versus magic to pride verses humility. And while each of these plays out through the development of the story and its main characters, the ultimate theme reveals itself as "it's not what one looks like, but what's on the inside that counts" seems to take precedence above all others.
Overall, Elias the Cursed is an amazing heroic fantasy graphic novel that'll impress even casual fans of the genre. The characters are easy to relate to and well developed, the action is sharp, fast, and violent, and the story is easy to understand with deep themes which will leave readers well satisfied.
Elias the Cursed is available wherever fine books and comics are sold for a retail price of $19.95.
For a full selection of Humanoid graphic novels and comics, check out Humanoids.com
- Jess C. Horsley