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Elfquest: The Searcher and the Sword
posted January 28, 2005

Creators: Wendy Pini, Richard Pini
Publishing Info: DC Comics, 96 pages, $24.95
Ordering Numbers: 1401201830 (ISBN)

imageI lost track of Elfquest after the first magazine-sized series, which in the very early 1980s was, with Cerebus, one of the two independent comics with enough of a market push to make it as far as my cornfield-bordered hometown. My memory is of a fantasy that started promisingly, with a broader than usual perspective on community an atypical pre-historical setting, and then failed to deliver in terms of thematic development to parallel its lengthy quest narrative. Particularly disappointing was how little beyond a surface analysis was done with the notion of how the characters confront and adapt to change, which might have made the story unique in a largely small-c conservative genre. After issue #20, I have almost nothing. I do remember that at some point the time frame of the series as it continued on was fast forwarded to a more standard fantasy time period, with castles and knights, and recall vaguely that the line was expanded into a number of areas including science fiction to support a grander small press effort.

Elfquest: The Search and the Sword is a pretty typical fantasy with the well-known Elfquest characters settling into supporting roles. The story features a human outcast named Shuna who feels at home with the elf tribe; they adopt her. She and two of the younger elf characters -- no doubt better known by fans who have read the story for longer than I have -- leave the relative safety of the main tribe and go out into the world seeking to make contact with various human communities. The underlying motivations are sex and self-esteem; the former is dealt with by seeking it out in very straightforward fashion, and Shuna engages the latter by returning home, drawing on the strength of her elf community in a way that allows her to feel value within it, a sense of worth that gets rid of today's problems and will no doubt allow her to set out again one day. The Pinis provide a secondary storyline more tied into the overriding Elfquest saga, where one of the characters seeks to regain lost smithying skills and an underground tribe of some sort is discovered. I have to admit, those scenes really lost me.

I guess all in all this would do the trick if you really like fantasy books, and you can invest yourself in Wendy Pini's very specific version of an animated look. There's something about the design of the Elfquest characters that for some reason stopped working for me after a certain point, and I don't know why that is. Their vibrancy as pen and ink characters overwhelms the illustrations of setting, maybe? Pini has always been a respectable storyteller -- everything tracks in her action scenes, the figures remain consistent, and she's good at building mini-moments as a way of drawing connections between panels. Me, I found it kind of a dull go. There are opportunities to say things about the nature of the genre's fans that aren't really explored, and nothing about the assumed superiority of the elves' way of life is ever challenged. I imagine the comfort level that some readers have reached with these books is part of the fantasy now.