Showing posts with label Eerie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eerie. Show all posts

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Dax the Warrior #01 - Dax the Warrior

There are a hundred or more Conan clones saturating pop-culture, including fiction, comics, movies, and games. These sword-and-sorcery stars were extremely popular in the 1970s and 1980s, pairing with the popularity of Lancer and Ace reprinting many of the Robert E. Howard Conan stories along with new entries by the likes of Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. In addition, the great Conan comics emerged like Conan the Barbarian

Eerie, published by Warren Publishing Company, debuted a Conan-esque hero in the pages of their 39th issue, released in April of 1972. The story, “Dax the Warrior”, featured Esteban Maroto as both the artist and writer, a joint position that Maroto maintained for all of the early installments of the series. Maroto would later rise to prominence within the world of Conan, contributing to comics like Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian and Savage Tales and creating awesome paperback artwork for Ace including Conan: The Flame Knife, Conan and the Sorcerer, Conan the Mercenary, and Conan: The Treasure of Tranicos. Needless to say, I was excited to recently discover this Dax series created solely by this talented artist.

"Dax the Warrior", later re-titled to "Dax the Damned", was Eerie's second serial after the short-lived Prince Targo. The character appears in Eerie issues #39, 40-41, 43-50, 52, 59, and 120. Oddly enough, ten of these dozen stories were re-written for Eerie issue #59, published in April 1974. While the reasoning isn't completely explained by Warren Publishing, apparently the company felt that these stories written by Maroto needed to be reprinted and re-written to centralize plots and to smooth out some of the hero's strengths. The artwork of these prior Dax stories remained for issue #59, but the stories are all written by Bud Lewis instead. I may be crucified for saying this, but I think Lewis is a superb writer and does a better job with these stories than Maroto. But, there is no criticism from me or anyone else in terms of the art. It is exceptional. Issue #59 also features Dax on the book's cover for the first time, appearing in an awesome painting by Ken Kelly (Conan, Molly Hatchet). If you want to read this character's stories, issue #59 would be the best. It features 10 stories over the course of 100 pages.

So, who or what is Dax exactly? That part of the story is mired in darkness for most of the series, including the character's debut in “Dax the Warrior”. In the opening pages, the swordsman is riding through a battlefield littered with corpses. The narrator states that Dax is returning to his native land now that the battle is over. He is tired and his horse is weary, but he hears a voice in the air coming from a young woman. He is excited to find her and says to himself he had almost forgotten that there were women in the world. 

Increasing the pace, the girl, who is known as Freya in this story, suggests that they both try to escape. Who the girl wants to escape from isn't clear, but suddenly the couple are attacked by a creature riding a large bird (reminding me of the Tarn on Gor) and the girl is taken from Dax. He swears to rescue her, so he pursues the pair into a dark gruesome lair filled with webs and bones. He is met at the passage's opening by a cloaked individual who warns Dax to never enter this place. He demands that Dax live with the memory of Freya and to leave forever. Ignoring the warning, Dax ventures further into the lair to discover its horrible secrets. The last panel is instrumental in setting the tone and ominous nature of these stories. 

As I alluded to earlier, this story was re-written for issue #59, including a splash of color on one panel to illuminate Maroto's excellent artwork. Again, Maroto's art remains intact throughout the story, but Bud Lewis re-writes the narrative. Freya's name is changed to Naiad and the story is re-titled to “Dax the Damned”, which suggests that Dax has somehow been transferred from the battlefield to some form of Hell. Or, it is honing in on the message from the last panel. It's not completely clear based on this story.

If you love 1970s sword-and-sorcery, then Dax should probably be on your radar. You can enjoy this series by purchasing Eerie trade paperback volumes, searching your comic store for back issues, or by reading the issues for free on Internet Archive. I've featured the “Dax the Warrior” story for you below:

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Coffin #01 - Death Wish

Budd Lewis (1948-2014) began his entertainment career by directing television commercials between 1970 to 1974. Beginning in 1974, Lewis wrote for Warren Publishing, contributing his dark imagination to stories in Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. Lewis also co-created The Rook. Later, he would write for Hollywood, including Terminator and Dark Angel, as well as animated shows like The Smurfs and The Real Ghostbusters. The focus here at Paperback Warrior is on his western hero Coffin, which first appeared in Eerie in 1974. The popularity of the hero resulted in multiple appearances in the comic magazine. The vivid, violent artwork of these stories was created by Spanish artist Jose Ortiz (1932-2013; Rogue Trooper, Judge Dredd).

If you enjoy the vicious nature of the Piccadilly Cowboys of the 1970s, including their savage titles like Edge, Adam Steele, and Apache, then Coffin is a darn-near must-read title from that same era. The character's first appearance proves to be a true origin tale called “Death Wish”, which features 12 gruesome pages of western storytelling with an obvious horror overtone (obligatory for Eerie). 

In this story, readers are introduced to Coffin, an unnamed protagonist traveling by stagecoach through the Arizona desert in 1889. In flashbacks, Coffin is a smiling polished sales representative for Sharps Rifles, with his contract being the U.S. Army. Abruptly, the stagecoach is attacked by what appears to be Native American warriors on horseback. The drivers are both killed and the coach tips over, spilling Coffin onto the hot sand. Grabbing his belongings, including a rifle, Coffin scurries to safety. From the nearby rocks and foliage, Coffin sees the other travelers, all women, savagely murdered by the warriors.

Coffin, an average guy thrust into a nightmarish scenario, mistakenly takes the path of vengeance. He tracks through the desert and finds a tribe of Native Americans. From several yards away, Coffin shoots the men with his rifle. Before disposing of the whole tribe, Coffin is ambushed by a trio of braves and is brutally beaten. But, beyond the physical abuse, Coffin is cursed by the tribe. His curse is that he can never die. He can experience horrific pain – being shot, burned, skinned, and tortured beyond recognition - but he can never die. The tribe placed this curse on him because...get this...Coffin killed the wrong tribe to avenge the death of the stagecoach travelers! Further, on the last pages of the story, readers learn the real identify of the men who attacked the coach. This surprise ending was brilliant. Coffin totally screwed up, but that's what makes the story so entertaining. He wasn't born a hero, he isn't a hero. Instead, he's an average guy who just made a mistake and it cost him dearly.

The Coffin character would re-appear in Eerie issues #67 (Aug 1975), #68 (Sep 1975), #70 (Nov 1975), #130 (Mar 1982), and #137 (Dec 1982). The concept is that Coffin will rally behind the Native American cause at a point in history when the various tribes are warring with the military and also being brutalized into accepting shitty government deals. He also becomes a lone-avenger fighting insane religious cults and other nefarious predators. The Eerie reprints are available by Dark Horse and feature the Coffin stories.