There is something to be said about the value of oral tradition. It is a pass-time that has all but eluded our newer generations. Everything is available online. Gone are the days of the tall-tale or the urban myth. Every single thing we ever thought was true as a child can now be Googled, Wiki-ed, or verified on Snopes. In today’s world, the American Tall Tale would have never existed. Men like Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed would have never gotten their due. Even the little myths about celebrities or local legends seem to be a thing of the past. But it seemed like when I was a kid, every place had their version of a local legend. Be it the Mothman, The Jersey Devil, The Goatman, El Chupacabra; take your pick. Where I’m from in Virginia, we have the story of Bunny Man. According to tales passed down from the older folks in town, he was an escaped mental patient from an old asylum who murdered kids on Easter while dressed as a Bunny. Then hung the kids under a bridge, now known as Bunny Man’s Bridge. To the locals, anyway. Hey, I didn’t say it was a pleasant tale, but it is one that has been passed around for decades. We learn how to tell stories, how to add in our own little details to an already existing framework, and how to pass them along once we grow out of them. Also how to get really drunk and scream, “I AIN’T AFRAID A-YOU, BUNNY MAN!” at a bridge in the dark with your friends. It was like a Rite of Passage.
In comic books, you have things that resemble oral tradition, but, it is more in the canon or lore of a particular character. The exploits of certain heroes become legendary. We’ll tell our children about the adventures of Superman and how when we were kids, he died at the hands of a weird rock monster. But then came back and then seemingly everyone in the ’90s did it. In Ghost Wolf, writer and creator, El Torres has combined those two things to create an interesting and ambitious first issue of a four-part mini-series. For discerning readers, you might be thinking that you’ve heard of this book before. That would be due in part to the fact that it did exist previously as a one-shot on a now-defunct publisher.
According to the writer himself, the first two issues of his book were combined as a graphic novel. But the words were changed at the behest of the publisher to create a tone that in turn created an end result that was not to the creator’s liking. While I’m sure this isn’t the first instance of this happening, it certainly is the first time I have ever heard of such a thing. Now, El Torres also states in the Letters Section that English was and still is not his first language. That being the case, one could see an editor doing some punch-up on the work to sharpen and elevate it. But to change it altogether is downright criminal, if you ask me. Especially when you consider that, according to El Torres, the tone was changed to fit the publisher’s political beliefs instead of the goal of the book.
Flash forward about seven years and what we have is a completely re-tooled plot, with the art still in tact. As far as the story goes, things are very, very simple. Much like any good piece of Oral History, the story could be told by a five-year old but understood by all. Long, long ago, a man and a wolf are somehow joined at the spirit and merge together, creating a Warrior capable of defending the people of his land from the Darkness of the Old World. In times of great conflict, bearing the necessary blood sacrifice, he makes himself known and comes to the aid of those in need. From here, the rest of the story basically writes itself: invaders, native captives, and a need for vengeance. For such a task, who better than the ancient force of The Ghost Wolf? This is as primordial as it gets.
In terms of the art, things are a bit dicey in the first several pages. This isn’t to say that the art isn’t fun to look at. But the fact that the wolf, while standing upright, seems to be a good six inches taller than the man seems off. There is at least one instance of a leg that shouldn’t bend the way it does, and I even think the man changes in size a few times. However, once you move past the prologue, the art changes from what feels like a mid-’90s style comic book to a much more vividly colored and stylized, contemporary comic. I must say that the transition is a bit jarring, but not enough that it totally threw me. It simply feels like two different artists contributed work. Which, once you read the credits, you’ll see is exactly what happened. The prologue is drawn by Luis Czerniawski and the main portion of the story is done by Siku. Again, this isn’t a total deal-breaker, but it is definitely noticeable. Once the transition is complete, though, things start to get very impressive. The style that Siku uses in this book felt like equal parts animated show from MTV’s Liquid TV days and a comic strip. It works well with this kind of story. Lots of brightly colored open spaces, large weapons, and action.
On a whole, this book has a few problems, mainly in the early stages of the artwork and a few moments in the story-telling. If I’m being totally honest, I’ve never been a reader of the Warrior / Barbarian stories. Conan was a bit before my time and his appeal never rang true to me in the comics. Also, the writing in the prologue seemed to be much more effective than it was in the main story-line. There was a real weight to the telling of how the Ghost Wolf came to be. But it seemed like I had heard the other parts before. I hope that in the next three issues this new warrior is able to come into his own a little. Nevertheless, this is a fun book to read and it succeeds on many levels. It succeeds in bringing Oral Tradition to the pages of a comic book, it is a tremendously action-packed experience, and it is filled to the brim with head-lobbing violence that is sure to please fans of this genre. If you were a fan of Conan growing up, Ghost Wolf could be the fix you’ve been looking for.
“Ghost Wolf #1″ earns a 7/10 with room to grow.