Thursday, April 18, 2013

Conqueror Of The Barren Earth: Prologue

A few years ago DC made an attempt at reviving the tradition of the backup story, or as they called it in that iteration, the “second feature.”
Backup stories were a fixture of comics when I was a kid, appearing in a significant number of the monthly titles I read.  After reading the sixteen page main story featuring Superman, for example, you might be treated to eight pages focusing on “The Private Life of Clark Kent,” or “The Misadventures of Superbaby,” or something like “Dial ‘H’ for Hero,” or…well, anything, really.
The backup feature was a good place to run stories that didn’t really “fit” anywhere else.  They had characters who couldn’t really sustain a full-length monthly title, or were set outside the regular continuity of the larger comic book universe in which the main feature was set.
Sometimes the backup story served as something of a Launchpad for an ongoing series, as was the case with Arion, Lord of Atlantis, which first appeared as a backup story in the pages of The Warlord before eventually getting its own monthly series.
(I imagine the other advantage to the presence of backup stories was that it meant less work– and presumably less money – for the people who wrote and illustrated the main stories.)
In any case, it’s not by chance that I mention Arion, as the end of its run as a backup feature in The Warlord paved the way for its successor, a science fiction story set completely outside the regular continuity of the DC Universe entitled The Barren Earth.
Running as a backup story from issue #63 to #88, The Barren Earth was set far in the future, in a time after the sun had cooled and expanded, turning the entire world into a hot, inhospitable desert.
After completing its run as a backup story, it eventually spawned a mini-series, which will be the focus of my next set of Nostalgia Reviews, called Conqueror of the Barren Earth.
For a variety of reasons (Read:  Laziness), I’m not going to give the full review treatment to the backup stories, but I do want to touch on them briefly as something of an introduction to Conqueror in order to provide some background on the setting, the characters, and the main narrative.
As the Earth’s climate changed, humanity fled for the stars, leaving behind a small contingent to maintain Earth as something of an outpost.
However, over time, the spacefaring members of the human race lost touch with their distant relatives back on Earth, and scarcely gave them another thought.
At least, not until they met the Qlov, an inscrutable, hostile alien race, and found themselves locked in a seemingly endless interstellar war.
With the war not going well, the powers-that-be determined that a delegation must be sent back to their ancient homeworld to solicit aid and acquire the advanced planetary defense systems that were left behind in order to turn the tide of battle.
Unfortunately, said delegation encountered a Qlov scout ship along the way, and both ships crash-landed.  Few members of the human crew survived the crash, and of those survivors, only one managed to survive the harsh welcome that awaited them as they stepped out into the hot sands of their ancestral home, as the “welcome wagon” consisted of strange, mutated desert animals and plants, and bloodthirsty desert raiders.
That lone survivor, a young woman named Jinal Ne’ Commar, on first blush, is about the unlikeliest candidate for survival in such an environment that you could imagine.  She’s a slight young blonde, trained primarily in diplomacy, politics, and linguistics, who does not seem at all suited to life in this harsh world in which death eagerly awaits your ever misstep.  Jinal is far too civilized, intellectual, and, well, dainty, to be expected to last long.
Or is she?  As we soon learn, Jinal’s education in diplomacy included training in more than just the art of metaphorical swordplay.
Her first encounter with natives – beyond the giant mutated rabbits, carnivorous plants, and other nightmare creatures – is with the Harahashan, a race of reptilian humanoids who live as nomadic desert tribes.  The Harahashan abandon Jinal, declaring that either the desert will claim her, or she will somehow survive to become a great warrior.
Her first encounter with humans goes even less well.  She is assaulted by marauders, but makes short work of them with the aid of her energy sword, a special weapon that is keyed to her genetic code.
Eventually she meets a man named Skinner, who is considerably more welcoming than anyone else she’s encountered so far, and he offers to take her to the city of Arq, which had been her destination.  Along the way, while hiding in a cave from a giant badger, Jinal and Skinner discover a vast underground ocean.
While things initially seem to be looking up for Jinal, her hopes are dashed when she arrives in Arq and finds it in a total state of disrepair.  In the millennia that have passed since her people left the Earth behind, those who remained behind descended into near savagery, their cannibalized technology falling into disrepair, and their heritage as an advanced civilization all but forgotten.
She also comes to realize that the Harahashan are not actually lizards, but rather humans who have adapted to the environment, and in time learns that there is yet another branch of humanity, the strange, fungus-like race known as the Mulge.
While there appears to be no reasoning with the Mulge, Jinal at least manages to end the conflict between the humans and the Harahashan once she realizes that they both want the same thing:  water.  Bringing the respective leaders of the races, Chairman Mangle on the human side, and Barasha on the Harahashan side, to underground ocean, she manages to forge peace.
It’s Jinal’s hope that she can, in time, restore Earth to its former glory and fulfill her original mission to end the threat of the Qlov once and for all.
From there on she encounters and overcomes many obstacles, and makes many new friends, such as Renna, with whom she forges a kind of “frenemy” status, owing to a rivalry over the affections of Skinner (there will be much more said on the Jinal/Renna/Skinner triangle in the proper reviews), and Yisrah, a “shaman,” whose “magic” is actually ancient, advanced technology.
Throughout Jinal’s adventures, we learn that several members of the Qlov crew survived their crash, and they are in the process of building a beacon to call for help.
Eventually, Jinal learns of the strange floating city known as D’Roz, which is maintained by a group known as the Old Ones.  At first Jinal assumes that D’Roz is an example of surviving technology, but as she eventually encounters the Old Ones, she learns that it may very well be something even more advanced than the technology that had been a part of her everyday life.  She attempts to enlist the aid of the Old Ones in fighting the Qlov, but they decline, and eject Jinal and her friends from the city.
Having emerged from the desert as a great warrior, as Barasha predicted when he abandoned her to her fate after her arrival on Earth, and having achieved so much, Jinal is not about to accept defeat:
"They think they can dismiss me -- they're wrong! They think I'm harmless -- they're wrong! They think they can refuse me, deny me - wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Their ships will be mine! Their power will be mine! Their city, their secrets, their might -- mine! Even if I have to conquer this whole godforsaken world - I will not be denied!"
(Have I mentioned that Jinal is awesome?  Well, she is, and I’ll mention it again, many times, but you’ll actually see that for yourself once we get into the mini-series that follows that determined declaration.)
So that’s where we find ourselves as we prepare to dive into Conqueror of the Barren Earth.
It’s worth noting that both the backup stories and the mini-series were written by Gary Cohn, whose name should be familiar to anyone who read the previous series of Nostalgia Reviews, as he was one-half of the writing team behind Amethyst.
It’s funny that, while I remember his name, I don’t think back on Cohn (or Mishkin, his frequent collaborator) with the same sort of nostalgic appreciation that I do for, say, Marv Wolfman, or Roy Thomas, or even Chris Claremont, given how much of his work I enjoyed back in my youth.  And honestly, while I did read a lot of stuff by Cohn (Blue Devil was another favorite of mine as a kid), I don’t recall seeking out his work in the way that I sought out the work of Wolfman, and in later years, Moore, though I think that, as I got older and began paying attention to who wrote things that I would have viewed seeing his name as an indication that it would be something I’d likely enjoy.
Still, as is apparent, I do retain a great deal of affection for his work, but it’s just strange that the man himself sort of got lost in the shuffle.
But at least here and now, on this little-read blog, he’s getting some of his due.
So now you know the basics of The Barren Earth.  Now…prepare to be conquered!

1 comment:

Gary Cohn said...

Lost in the shuffle, eh? I don't have the extensive oevre' of those guys you mentioned. I was briefly a little bit famous in the obscure comics literary subculture, while Wolfman, Claremont, Roy Thomas and especially Alan Moore were and remain "big guns." Still, nice of you to think fondly of my work from way back when. There might be some new things showing up in the next couple of years, but you'll have to look for it... DC days are LONG over. Fare well. --GC