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Mark Kidwell Returns to Frank Frazetta’s “Dark Kingdom”

by  in Comic News Comment
Mark Kidwell Returns to Frank Frazetta’s “Dark Kingdom”
Dark Kingdom
“Frank Frazetta’s Dark Kingdom” #2 on sale October 14

Sea monsters, ocean-dwelling witches, bloodsucking thorns, and the ever-menacing Death Dealer – these are just a few of the awful obstacles in store for Red Morden in October’s “Dark Kingdom” #2, the first of three new issues from Frazetta Comics and Image Comics. Continuing where the April 2008-released “Dark Kingdom” #1 left off, series writer Mark Kidwell and artist Tim Vigil return to tell more sword and sorcery tales with the Red Reaver, who remains devastated and blood-hungry following the death of his family in the first one-shot. This time, however, there might be a way to restore Morden’s wife to life… but can Morden himself be saved?

CBR News checked in with writer Kidwell for the answer to that question and many more.

“Dark Kingdom” #1 told the tale of Red Morden, a hardened warrior with softness only for his family. “In the first book, Morden was a pirate, a berserker bent on the destruction of his and his clan’s enemies and the capture of stolen booty and treasure to support his family,” Kidwell told CBR. “His rages and battle lust were controlled only by the existence and love of his wife, Brynna. She was completely opposite in nature, with a peaceful, strong will and a loving soul. She was the core of Red Morden’s life and the key to calming him, allowing him to live a life other than that of the bloody sea raider. Then she was gone, murdered by a beast along with her children.”

By the end of the first issue, Morden is able to avenge Brynna’s death – but Kidwell said the loss of Morden’s moral center changes the hero forever, creating an even more brutal warrior that teeters on the edge of sanity. But if nothing else, Morden has his eye on the prize: there is a fabled artifact that could very well resurrect his wife.

“[The second issue] picks up right where the first issue left off – with Morden sailing the icy Brumal Sea in search of a mysterious, whispered legend,” Kidwell said. “The legend speaks of a magic talisman that has the power to return life to the bodies of the dead. Obsessed with using this magic to breathe life back into his dead wife, Morden is prepared to face all odds to get what he wants. He’s nearly suicidal in his quest to get her back.”

From there, “Dark Kingdom” proceeds exactly as you’d expect it to: a whole lot of steel and a whole lot of revenge, with some mythical opponents peppered in for good measure. “This is Swords and Sorcery 101,” Kidwell said of the book’s tone. “The single best thing about writing Morden’s saga is that he’s a barbarian. I can do away with all the polite trappings of any sort of medieval society or civilization and concentrate on raw life. These characters are motivated by their own primal wants and desires. They’re hard and savage enough to take on anything in their path, but they pay the price in doing so. Morden doesn’t worry about how his actions are seen by others; he only worries about the strength in his axe-arm and the frailties of his own flesh. His world is designed to be as harsh as the man himself. It’s brutal, unforgiving and wild. There aren’t any cities or taverns to get drunk in and lick your wounds – it’s a world that will take and keep taking from you if you let your guard down.”

“Frank Frazetta’s Dark Kingdom” #2 on sale October 14

One creature that Morden will have to keep his eye on is the Death Dealer, fresh off the pages of Joshua Ortega’s “Death Dealer” miniseries. “In bringing Death Dealer to ‘Dark Kingdom,’ we obviously wanted to give the Death Dealer fans more of the character to enjoy; what we didn’t want was a trite, contrived way of joining the stories of these two characters, so we hammered at it until it made sense,” Kidwell explained. “Death Dealer is a creature inspired to take corporeal form at any disturbance of life’s natural balance. Thus, he comes roaring out in times of war and brutality to level the playing field between armies and show them the error of their violent ways, taking no one’s side, just swinging that black axe and dealing slaughter on all fronts. When Morden gets close to changing the whim of fate by cheating death and raising Brynna from the dead, Death Dealer’s natural sensibilities are aroused. He basically comes forth to stand between Morden and his goal, attempting to preserve life’s natural balance and show the Vikavian berserker the folly of continuing.”

The battle between Morden and the Death Dealer will occur in the paneled pages of issue #4, but the two books leading up to that climactic collision will take a different form. “Dark Kingdom” #2 and #3 are written in prose format with accompanying illustrations by Tim Vigil, offering a unique glimpse into the Frazetta universe than what’s already been seen. “I originally approached [Frazetta Comics overseer] Jay Fotos about pitching a full-blown ‘Dark Kingdom’ novel to the Frazettas,” Kidwell said of the format’s origin. “He decided to think about it for a bit and in the interim had lunch at a show with Tim Vigil, who also pitched the idea of illustrated prose. The result was Jay calling me and asking if I’d be interested in keeping the stuff in comic-size serialized format and doing it as a text story with spot and splash illustrations. I agreed immediately.”

The result is what Kidwell described as a comic book Oreo – issues #1 and #4 are in standard paneled format, sandwiching two illustrated prose stories in issues #2 and #3. “Two tasty standard cookies on either end and a load of amazing, fattening prose goodness in the center,” explained the writer. “We had a ton of story to tell and the limitations of three issues of panel-to-panel storytelling were too strict. The prose stuff lets us tell a much broader story without a lot of uncomfortable scene jumps and smoother, chapter-like transitions. There’s a lot of entertainment in ‘Dark Kingdom,’ and I think readers are gonna be amazed at the bang they’ll get for their comics buck.”

A big part of that bang comes from series artist Tim Vigil, who Kidwell can’t describe without a good measure of glee. “Man, Tim hates it when I go all fanboy on his work, but I do it anyway,” he said. “I’ve been a huge Vigil fan since I was in high school. I even snuck copies of ‘Faust’ and ‘EO’ into geometry to read behind my textbook. That was risking expulsion if you’ve seen those books! But it beat geometry all to hell. Tim’s stuff on ‘Dark Kingdom’ is, in a word, amazing. You think you like his work now? Wait until you see some of the splash pages in this series. They are simply masterpieces. Every time he e-mails me a new batch, I just stare at his ink and line work and shake my head. He’s that good.”

“Frank Frazetta’s Dark Kingdom” #2 on sale October 14

No matter how good Vigil’s artwork is, even the illustrator can’t save Morden from his ultimate fate. In the first pages of “Dark Kingdom” #1, readers were treated to a glimpse of Red Morden’s skeleton, though his exact cause of death remains unknown. “The miniseries is pretty much self-contained and will show you by issue #4 how the Red Reaver met his end,” Kidwell said. “[But] Morden’s book will never be closed as far as I’m concerned. I’ve got story ideas for tons of new stuff and a plot line that will allow the tales to span time before the events of the current series and after. After his death, you ask? Yeah, post-mortem! Popularity and reader demand will always determine how much of it you’ll see and how much of it will just play out over and over in my imagination.”

Whether or not Red Morden fights another day past “Dark Kingdom” #4, Kidwell is at the very least proud of this miniseries and the Frazetta line in general. “Everyone involved has really gone above and beyond expectations to present something rare and different in the realm of fantasy comics,” he said. “It’s a reading experience that, while it has roots in a format from the past, turns a new light on within the medium. It’s a return and a progression, blended and fine-tuned to give the reader an action-packed but in-depth look at Morden’s grim saga and his savage corner of the Frazetta-verse. But above all, it’s sword and sorcery, heroic fantasy done the way it should be. It’s pure escapism with a heart and iron-hard first full of steel. I urge all fans of this genre to give it a spin – I think you’ll dig the ride.”

“Dark Kingdom” #2 hits stores on October 14 from Frazetta Comics and Image Comics.

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