"There was a time when gods and demons walked the earth as men…and certain men possessed the best and worst qualities of both." – Dagar the Invincible #1
With those words, Gold Key Comics readers were introduced to a new sword and sorcery hero, the vengeance driven lone survivor of an ancient civilization who earned his bread as a mercenary while he sought the powerful wizard who'd killed his people. Running for a respectable seventeen issues in his own book and an appearance in another, Dagar the Invincible premiered in 1972 under the auspices of writer Donald F. Glut and artist Jesse Santos, the team who chronicled Dagar's entire run.
Dagar is something of a "kitchen sink" book – as in "everything but the kitchen sink." In the nine issues collected in this volume, Dagar encounters wizards, dinosaurs, cave men, werewolves, vampires, dark gods, demons and pirates, along with assorted beautiful women. The post prehistoric/early urbanization setting allowed Glut to mix and match concepts with joyful abandon.
Dinosaurs and pirates. It's all in a day's work for Dagar.
Though each story is done-in-one and can be enjoyed on its own, Glut opened the series with the subplot of Dagar seeking the wizard Scorpio. This gives the story a direction, rather than just having it be the wanderings of a sword for hire. This subplot was resolved in Issue #4, but by that time readers who enjoyed Dagar as a character would be ready to follow his further adventures.
Dagar is a mix of the practical and romantic, the thoughtful and the impulsive. While yet a boy, his people are killed. Only he and his grandfather survive. From that moment, he devotes himself to his training and his quest for revenge. But while he's given to making vows renouncing his people's gods and drawing his sword at the drop of a sandal, he doesn't become so driven that he has no time to display kindness. In "The Sword of Dagar" he takes time to help an old man being beaten, though he claims to fight only when paid. "The Beast Within" shows his romantic side vying with his practical nature, as he considers returning a pretty young women's gold after she hires him to save her brother. Practicality wins out and he keeps the gold. This mix of characteristics grounds the character, making him believable.
The one time Dagar does let his attraction to a pretty face over-ride his good sense he ends up with a companion. By the end of issue three, "Wrath of the Vampires," the lovely Graylin has joined his quest.
The beautiful Graylin
Though often cast as the damsel in need of rescuing, Graylin displays intelligence and spirit. In issue eight, "The Red Ruby of Garloth," she's the one comes up with a plan to defeat the living deadmen and she doesn't hesitate to act to protect herself or Dagar. Glut's handling of the pair's relationship is refreshingly mature. Dagar and Graylin are two adults with their own strengths and weaknesses. While they worry about one another, they also trust each other to be able to take care of themselves.
Santos's drawing has a sketchy or loose feel. In some panels, many lines are used to render a face and its expression. It's similar to what an illustrator would do in pen-and-ink for a spot illustration. In others, the faces have a cleaner, classical look.
It almost feels like Santos is drawing illustrations for a prose story rather than a comic book. There are many panels that have that iconic quality to them. One is a half-page panel of Dagar overlooking a valley filled with dinosaurs and active volcanoes. It's a familiar scene to sci-fi/fantasy enthusiasts, but Santos does it as well as many and better than most.
Santos stays firmly within the grid format. There are no double page spreads and very few splashpages. Action doesn't break out of the frame. Yet within these strictures, Santos creates dynamic, action-filled pages. The characters move in very naturalistic ways. There are no extreme poses.
In action and at rest.
The backgrounds are rich, lush and organic.
In a panel showing the Blood plant in "Wrath of the Vampires," you can almost see the leaves undulating in the breeze. The animals, like the human, have a believable musculature that Santos shows at play.
The Dark Horse archive staff deserves a huge round of applause for their work. This book looks fantastic. The colors are vibrant and clean. The reproduced covers that divide the chapters have been restored to their movie poster-like richness. The introductory essay by Glut fills in bits of comic history and adds to the overall enjoyment of the stories. The binding, endpapers, covers, and dustjacket all bespeak a quality product. It's a book that's a joy to hold.
Dagar the Invincible: Tales of Sword and Sorcery: Volume 1 is a treat for fans of the sword and sorcery genre, as well as fans of well-told stories.
For the past 13 years, Penny Kenny has been an elementary library paraprofessional in a rural school district. For the seven years prior to that, she headed a reading-math program designed to help first grade students with learning difficulties. Her book reviews regularly appeared in Starlog from 1993 to the magazine's unfortunate demise in 2009 and she has published several e-novellas under a pen name. She has been a reviewer with Comics Bulletin since 2007.