Review by Ian Keogh
The Bane of the Black Sword is set late in Elric’s continuity, five years after he’s brought down the corruption of Melinboné, with all the complications and enmity it’s brought. Among those keen for a bloody reunion are the sorcerer Theleb K’aarna and Elric’s spurned former lover Queen Yishana. As threatening as they may seem, Elric’s coming to realise that his mystical sword Stormbringer’s hunger for death is the far greater problem, and one he’s no longer capable of controlling. Did Michael Moorcock mean this as a fantastic allegory for addiction back in the day, or was it just a riff on Lord of the Rings?
This is the final Elric adaptation completed by Roy Thomas in the 1980s, following The Vanishing Tower, and never previously issued in book form. As ever, Thomas is attentively sympathetic to the nuances of Moorcock’s original stories. His adaptation style is always verbose, and has to be accepted as part of the package, but that’s not the real problem with this collection.
The paperback novel version of Bane of the Black Sword combines four loosely connected short stories, but even so the changing artistic styles are continually jarring. It’s not just that there are two pencil artists each drawing three chapters, but Mark Pacella begins strongly influenced by P. Craig Russell (sample art left), and then switches to Barry Windsor-Smith as his example. However, by his final chapter all that decorative work is missing, and while some individual illustrations still impress and the storytelling doesn’t suffer, it’s work produced at greater speed. Despite that it’s still several notches above Mary Mitchell’s pages on the quality ladder. All her effort goes into her first story (sample right), but working to a regular deadline seems to take a toll. People aren’t her artistic strength, and they become sloppier and distorted, and the layouts become more basic.
Elric’s encounters with a successful trader, a king and a warlord are all engrossing stories, involving the trickery and deception wanted from sword and sorcery, and the return of several popular supporting characters from earlier in the series. The final story is a solo Red Archer outing in all but name, reducing Elric to bit player, but nevertheless a treat. With improved art Bane of the Black Sword would number among the better Elric graphic novels, but Pacella’s uneven approach and Mitchell’s poor pages drag the experience down.