So... I've been rereading Elfquest recently.
As all of my friends know, I used to be a huge fan. Elfquest got me into comics, Elfquest got me into fandom, Elfquest is how I met many of my long-time friends and how I started attending conventions and how I became a fan ficiton writer.
The first four volumes are still as good as I remember them. The storytelling is excellent, the images are in many place purely cinematic, almost iconic. You can really tell that they worked hard on the original story over multiple years, and got it just right. I have the original Donning Starblaze editions, which are lovingly colored and very beautiful (more on that in a moment).
Like any good story, it leaves you wanting more.
And then, of course, they gave us more... the next two collected volumes are books 5 and 6, Siege at Blue Mountain and the Secret of Two-Edge. I like these stories quite a lot, but I've always felt there was something about them that was off -- parts of the story, anyway. To me it seemed obvious that they hadn't spent nearly as much time working out this second story.
In particular, I think it bothered me that they killed off all of the denizens of Blue Mountain except those few who they'd actually bothered to flesh out. And this is something about EQ that always kind of bothered me a bit. Every member of the Wolfriders was fleshed out and distinct, and you knew that from the artwork even before you'd learned their names and personalities. Then we came to the Sun Villagers, and most of them were background characters with no personality or distinguishing features. They kind of hand-waved this away with the notion that the Wolfriders lived life on the edge, were much more alive, and therefore stood out compared to many of the Sun Villagers. But really, they had such a large cast already that they never bothered to give most of the Sun Villagers names or distinct faces, and you could tell.
This continued with the Blue Mountain elves, and the the Go-Backs. The elves of the Blue Mountain were bored and jaded and not very interesting, the Go-Backs had been breeding for years without recognition "and it shows" as Rayek said, but all of this was pretty much an excuse for not giving names or faces to all of these extra elves. And I want to dwell on this just a bit, because, to point to a creative team that never
takes this approach, Matt Groenig's series The Simpsons
and Futurama always
seem to have names and personalities attached to every character that appears on screen for more than two seconds, and often you learn more about these characters in subsequent episodes, and they never
forget what's already been established about those characters. I'm pretty sure they've got a giant Bible of characters for each show that explains everything known about each character.
Why is that important? Because it brings the world to life. It's what made those early EQ stories so compelling, because every Wolfrider had a name and history that you could sense the first time you encountered them. Conversely, you never got that sense with the majority of the other elf tribes. And as I said, they were already juggling a very large cast of characters and didn't have time to includes even more
people int their stories... but you never had the sense that the authors themselves had any clue who all of these background Go-Backs and Blue Mountain elves and Sun Villagers even were. There were about a dozen Sun Villagers at most that you knew anything about, and the rest were background wallpaper.
Anyway, to get back to my point -- that's one of the things that really bothered me about books 5 and 6. We return to Blue Mountain, but the story feels rushed, and then we kill off virtually every Blue Mountain elf that doesn't already have a name. Apparently, because it was too much bother to keep them around or develop them into characters with personality. At least, that's how it felt
The good part was learning more about some of the Sun Villagers and Go-Backs that hadn't really been developed before, and seeing the growth of all the characters overall.
Next comes book 7 and 8, The Cry From Beyond and Kings of the Broken Wheel. These two volumes feel a lot like 5 and 6 to me -- mostly they're clearly Elfquest stories, continuing the adventures of the characters we've grown to love, written and drawn by Richard and Wendy Pini. But overall it again feels rushed and slightly off, compared to the original story. You have Rayek teleporting the castle about and then jumping into the future before you can even catch your breath. There's no time for the kind of character-driven interaction that was one of the hallmarks of the first four books.
And here's where my interest in the entire series wanes. I actually have two more collected volumes -- The Hidden Years, and Rogue's Challenge. I don't remember a single thing about them. By this point, Wendy was no longer drawing EQ. They had a collection of guest authors and artists writing various series. Everything becomes watered down -- the stories are less interesting, the artwork less dynamic (or in many cases, just not all that great at all), and the characters are less recognizable, less in-character. I lost interest in the entire series, and I don't even know which stories actually continue the tale of the characters I knew from before, and which actually contain any significant plot details about them. It's not that all of the new series were bad
per se, but they had little to nothing to do with the original series I loved.
Eventually they stopped writing these stories too, but I don't even remember when or where. The series just kind of faded into a jumbled mess.
And it's no wonder that it's a confusing mess. For one thing, it's hard to even find a listing of "Elfquest stories by Wendy and Richard Pini only". All of the other stuff gets listed with the original stuff as official Elfquest stories, both the stuff by the original authors and the stuff that came after. And they've reprinted things so many times, in different formats and with different names, that it's very
hard to know what you might be missing.
For example: There's Elfquest volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4, published by Donning / Starblaze. These are the volumes I have. But then WaRP Graphics/Fathertree Press reprinted these with new titles: "Fire and Flight", "The Forbidden Grove", "Captives of Blue Mountain" and "Quest's End". Worse, they had to recolor them for the new printing, and the colorization is not nearly as good as the originals. But then, later, they did black and white "Reader's Collections" published by Wolfrider Books, this time with the same names but with the "Reader's Collection" tag added at the beginning. Here's where you'll find the bulk of the other stuff they did -- the color Fathertree Press editions only got 4 volumes beyond the original 8, publishing Hidden Year's, Rogue's Challenge, New Blood, and Bedtime Stories. But the Reader's Choice versions of these change names or fail to reprint these stories entirely -- it's very confusing; they apparently skip from Kings of the Broken Wheel to "Dreamtime" which is something different than Hidden Years or Rogue's Challenge. If that weren't enough, the recolored the first four volumes again
and had them published by DC in 2003 through 2007, and then
republished most of the series through DC in black and white manga format with a brand new
naming scheme, where the first twelve manga volumes comprise the original 8 graphic novels, now rechristened "The Grand Quest" volumes 1 through 12. There's also a volume 13 (which seems to match RC volume 8a, "Dreamtime") and a volume 14 containing "Rites of Passage" and "Rogue's Challenge".
And the manga volumes end there. But basically... it's impossible
to assemble a complete collection of Elfquest stories all in one format. And let's not even get into the fact that the original series of Wave Dancers was never collected, but instead after a dispute they rewrote the series with a different writer/artist team, and that
is what you can buy in the black and white Reader's Choice series.
And then Wendy finally returned to do an EQ story -- Elfquest: Discovery, where the Wolfriders meet the Wavedancers. This came out in 2006 in color from DC comics. From what I've read, not a lot happens in it.
Bleah. No wonder I stopped collecting it... it not only stopped being interesting, but became too complicated to collect.
By the way, you can read virtually all of this online at their website
which is pretty cool except that I prefer reading the books. Also, they don't have the Starblaze colors but one of the recolored versions of the original stories, and the old Wavedancer stories aren't displayed here either.
Something else I ran across: Phil Foglio's series Buck Godot, Zap Gun For Hire is is also on the web
for you to read. It was also published by Donning / Starblaze at one point, and is one of my favorite things Foglio did, before he and he wife began Girl Genius anyway. ^_^ Well worth checking out.