Saturday, January 23, 2010


I’ve been reading a lot of sword and sorcery comics recently, in particular titles like Dagar the Invincible, Claw the Unconquered, Deathdealer, Red Sonja and the various Conan titles written by the great Roy Thomas. But the one that has caught my attention most is a series that first appeared in the legendary Warren comic Eerie in the early 1970’s: Dax the Warrior a.k.a Dax the Damned.

Like many sword-swinging barbarians of the time, Dax is (or was) a distant relative of Conan (the template for virtually all the s & s fiction that followed in his wake - even Elric was a sort of reverse Conan, a cultured prince who loses an empire rather than an uncouth barbarian who seizes one) but what made Dax so very different from his comic book contemporaries was the brilliant artwork from Spanish writer/ creator Esteban Maroto and the strange, almost hallucinogenic, stories in which he appeared.

Whereas the Roy Thomas Conan stories were bright, colourful adventures where might and cunning were enough to overcome even the strongest adversary, the Dax stories were doom-laden, downbeat, borderline sadistic with a fascination for beautiful, often treacherous, women characters. While Dax frequently emerged victorious his victories were often pyrrhic at best and on occasions the stories would end with Dax mired in despair or hovering on the edge of death.

The very first Dax story, which appeared in Eerie # 39, set the tone for what was to come:

Returning home from service in a bloody war, Dax spies a beautiful young woman bathing in a pool. Smitten by her, Dax dives into the water and the two become lovers in a very short space of time (regardless of his doomed status, Dax remained ever the ladies man, something that would land him in trouble time and time again). The girl, Freya, tells him that she wishes to escape from this land since it is “not the land for a love such as ours.”

Almost immediately afterwards, Dax and Freya are attacked by a monstrous winged creature and Freya is taken away. Following them, Dax comes to a cavern filled with visions of terrifying creatures tearing at human women. Upon entering he is confronted by a cloaked figure who orders him to leave the cavern forever.

Since Dax is a hero, he does not heed the warning and presses on, finally finding Freya at the mercy of a lizard-like creature whom Dax promptly slays. As he carries Freya from the cavern, the cloaked figure appears again and as Dax is about to kiss Freya warns him that she has been infected by a severe and utterly infectious form of leprosy.

The story ends with a final image of Dax with Freya in his arms – triumphant yet defeated at the same time.

In a very short space of time (about eight pages) Maroto conjures some startling images and throws up enough questions to make the reader scratch his head in wonder. It is to Maroto’s credit that the questions are never answered since the stories are very much seen from Dax’s perspective and Dax is very much a ‘slay first, slay second and, if anyone is left after that slay them’ kind of guy (and indeed, in subsequent stories, more questions about Dax and his world would emerge, never to be answered).

This is not to say that the Dax stories were either badly written or just simple barbarian adventures but rather that the obscurity of the stories give them a quality all their own, their style deeply surreal and unmistakeably European rather than American.

Over the course of a dozen stories, running from Eerie 39 – 52, Dax would encounter mad gods, vampiric witches, sirens, snake-demons and a whole host of other strange creatures with the saga finally ending on a typical downbeat note.

For issue 59 of Eerie, ten of the original twelve Dax stories were extensively re-written by Budd Lewis and the character rechristened as Dax the Damned in an attempt to give the series a little more continuity and to explain a few of the more esoteric aspects of the character and his world. The re-written Dax tales were fine (as they still retained Maroto’s wonderful art) but were robbed of much of their mystery and surrealism.

A minor addition to the world of sword and sorcery, to be sure, but Dax deserves to be remembered, if only because he is/was a surreal oasis in a genre where experimentation can be rare.

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