Elric of Melnibone, the albino hero of several series of novels by legendary fantasy writer Michael Moorcock, made his triumphant return to comics earlier this month with a special Free Comic Book Day issue, nearly forty years after his first appearance in the medium and fifty years since his debut in Moorcock’s novella, “The Dreaming City.” An incarnation of the Eternal Champion as well as the emperor of a withering realm, Elric’s prowess is bolstered by the sword Stormbringer, though the weapon — which must be fed on the souls of those it cuts down — cannot help but corrupt and bring ruin to Elric’s noble intentions.
The new, ongoing series from BOOM! Studios, which officially launches in July with “Elric: The Balance Lost” #1 taking place after the FCBD preview, follows the weary champion as he and allies throughout Moorcock’s Multiverse fight to restore the delicate equilibrium between Law and Chaos. CBR News spoke with writer Chris Roberson about his and artist Francesco Biagini’s new series.
CBR News: First, Chris, how did your Free Comic Book Day signing go?
Chris Roberson: It was fantastic! I was a guest of Austin Books, who always have a huge turnout for FCBD. And this was the first time that there was something of mine among the free offerings, which was very cool. Just a great time, all around.
What has response been to that preview issue?
It seems positive from what I’ve seen, so fingers crossed. Some longtime readers of Elric and the other Michael Moorcock characters have said that they’ll be picking up the series on the strength of the prologue, and readers who had never encountered the characters before have said that they’re definitely going to give the series a try after reading the FCBD issue. It’s always a difficult line to tread when you’re trying to introduce a character and concept to new readers while not boring the old readers senseless. Hopefully, we managed to strike a workable balance.
The FCBD issue provided a pretty solid introduction to Elric and his environments, as well as setting up the challenge he’ll face over the course of the new series. How difficult was it to create this sort of “Intro to Moorcock” while still giving the story some narrative thrust?
Actually, I didn’t have to look any farther than Moorcock’s own stories and novels. He has written scads of Eternal Champion books over the years (encompassing Elric, Hawkmoon, Corum, Erekose, Oswald Bastable, etc), and yet readers have always been able to jump in at any point, rather than starting from the beginning and working forward. In structuring the FCBD prologue (and the series itself, for that matter), I simply did a careful study of how Moorcock has managed that balance in the past, and did the best I could to follow in his footsteps.
Elric strives to uphold the balance between law and chaos, but the series’ subtitle tells us that balance has been lost. How did this come to pass, and what does it mean for Elric personally?
In Moorcock’s cosmology, the Balance is a delicate thing, always threatening to tip one way or the other. The role of the Eternal Champion, of which Elric is simply one incarnation, is to fight on the behalf of the side that’s losing ground in any particular place and time. The reason why the Balance has been lost in this story is a mystery that will be solved as the series progresses, but as for Elric himself, he’s pretty weary of the fight. We meet him here close to the end of his life (in fact, the quest that he’s embarked on as the series opens takes place between two chapters in the most recent Elric novel, “The White Wolf’s Son”), and he’s been down this road many times before.
What can you tell us about the first story arc?
The first four issues serve as the first act of “The Balance Lost,” and serve to introduce the four main characters (Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon, and Eric Beck) and to put their story in motion. We gradually learn the scope of the problem facing our heroes, and discover that there isn’t going to be a simple solution.
Beyond Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon, what other familiar or new characters might be playing a major role?
We will be seeing guest appearances and cameos by a lot of Moorcock characters, beginning with the second issue. But in addition to the three Eternal Champions you mention, we’ll also be meeting two new incarnations of the Eternal Champion, one of whom was mentioned once by Moorcock in a novel but never seen, and one we’re meeting here for the first time.
This series looks to make use of several locales throughout the Multiverse. What sort of opportunities does this afford you as a storyteller?
It’s actually one of the most enjoyable aspects of working on the series, figuring out where the characters can go in Moorcock’s incredibly vast cosmology. And we’ll be sending them to some unexpected places. In the first issue, for example, Elric finds himself in the Chaos-haunted world that was featured in Moorcock’s “Blood,” the first of the “Second Ether” novels.
In your recent interview with Tim Callahan, you mention that you’ve read the source novels a number of times, and had another look when you were developing this series. As you’re going through these books, are there ever pieces that catch your attention for the first time?
Every time I revisit Moorcock’s novels I notice things that I’d never seen before! And this time was no exception. In particular, I discovered that there are little mysteries that Moorcock has seeded through the various novels, hidden in the background. He doesn’t call attention to them, but a careful reader will discover that they’re there, and eventually can find what the solutions to those mysteries are.
Again, based on your re-readings, were there specific themes, characters or situations you decided you’d like to explore in the comic, that maybe hadn’t occurred to you when you were first offered the project?
We’ll definitely be playing with some of those “hidden mysteries” I mention, but in general, the broad strokes of the plot and the themes involved were already in place when I started doing my re-reading. But that could simply be because it had only been a couple of years since the last time I sat down and reread all of my favorite Moorcock novels!
Finally, what about “The Balance Lost” do you hope will appeal to fans of Moorcock, and what will appeal to readers who are encountering these characters for the first time?
Well, I hope that longtime fans of Moorcock will recognize the characters and concepts that they’ve come to love over the years, and that newcomers will hopefully be inspired by the series to go and read Moorcock’s novels for themselves. And that everyone, longtime fans and newcomers alike, enjoys the comics series in its own right!