On release Marada the She-Wolf was a big deal. This wasn’t just another superhero graphic novel, but a step beyond, with fantastic photo-realist art and not a script by Chris Claremont responsible for the X-Men’s meteoric success, but a script by Christopher S. Claremont. It’s a pretentious touch inviting ridicule all these years later, but which must be considered in the context of the times. Oh how our eyes have opened.

Marada’s a variation on the warrior woman Red Sonja, given a firmer historical foundation by setting her adventures at a vague point during the Roman Empire of the first century. Having seen her father publicly executed as a child in Rome, she despises Romans, and she’s grown to become a successful thorn in the side. That, however, is not the Marada we first meet, the warrior admired and feared in equal doses. We eventually learn why, but suffice to say this is a fall and rise story, and the battling woman doesn’t emerge for some while.

Bolton’s work still looks tremendous. Raised on the painted historical strips of Don Lawrence and Ron Embleton, he brings his own talent to bear for classic figurative illustration. Claremont’s writing style, however, has fallen from favour. He was innovative in pushing standard superhero comics writing forward with regard to gender attitudes and introspective characterisation, but never one to let a picture tell a story. The pages are positively plastered with needless words, never more poorly advised than the 115 filling four caption boxes and a thought balloon over Bolton’s most iconic depiction of Marada. Compared with some other pages it’s positively restrained.

Once the hand-wringing is dispensed with, the story would be standard sword and sorcery, warrior against sorcerer and demons were it not for Bolton, who charges the ordinary with magic. The irony is that he was relatively unknown outside the UK at the time, but about to progress from the painted realism that made his name, and Marada the She-Wolf is a prime example of that approach.

There’s a second shorter and far more interesting tale of Marada and her companion trapped in Africa. This is now a woman in full possession of her skills, yet Claremont provides a viable challenge. Again, it’s over-written, but the plot has a greater aura of suspense about it, and Bolton is on equally good form. It’s down to him that this book retains a value of three stars overall. Pretty well every panel is fit to be enlarged and framed.