As I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous entries, illness Crisis on Infinite Earths maxiseries may have failed as a cohesive narrative but it succeeded where it mattered — streamlining the convoluted mess of DC’s continuity while jumpstarting readers’ enthusiasm for the various inhabitants of the publisher’s shared universe. The result was twelve issue love letter cum sales pamphlet which even managed to squeeze in a Sugar and Spike cameo appearance (sans graphic depictions of dismemberment or Satanic ritual abuse references) along the way.
Between Marv Wolfman’s committment to keeping a wide ensemble focus and George Perez’s slick artwork, store Crisis did a bang-up job of generating interest in properties which readers had either never bothered to check out or hadn’t heard of in the first place. Though this was in keeping with DC’s objectives for the event, view it failed to account for the many cases where the source material failed to live up to the quality (and production values) of the feeder work. There’s a big difference between “I’d read that” and “I’d read that if those two guys were helming it.”
My disappointment over Crisis-heightened expectations hit very early in the process…
…when Arion, Lord of Atlantis was tapped as an early member of the mysterious Monitor’s multiverse-saving ground team.
Foisted on funnybook fandom by a 1982 series of Warlord back-up strips and granted his own title as part of the “New DC” line expansion of that year, Arion was the sorcerous defender of the Lost Continent during its pre-submerged Ice Age era. As a thinking man’s mage and the product of a newer generation of fantasy heroes, Arion eschewed the longsword and loincloth machismo of the old school barbarian crowd in favor of the cross-gender appeal associated with a metrosexualized Lou Gramm or Kevin Cronin.
Arion’s appearance in Crisis conveniently coincided with my first forays into the realm of fantasy roleplaying games, thus ensuring that I was open and receptive to the mage’s surly demanor, rocking threads (woven from strands of PURE MAGIC), and the funky pointy circle thingees which surrounded his hands when he worked his arcane mojo. (It also sharpened my pangs of disgust upon discovering the mechanics of D&D spellcasting. “Two spells and I’m done for the day? What is this weak cheese bullshit?”)
Hepped up by what I saw in the first issue of Crisis, I rushed out and bought a bunch of recent issues of Arion’s ongoing series only to discover an unevenly illustrated bundle of predictable fantasy tropes set in a high concept culture jam where vikings with laserguns battled dino-riding psuedo-samurai. Evil albino siblings, unpronouncable names, a calculatedly diverse supporting cast of predicable stereotypes…
…including a love interest who attempted to push the boundaries by being sexy, Asian and a martial artist at the same time (shockingly unprecedented, I know) — Arion was funnybook fantasy boilerplate tempered by a few half-assed nods to the genre’s evolution outside the comics medium. If you’re going to crib from the likes of Moorcock, Zelazny and Le Guin, then at least have the temerity to go all out with that inspirational riffage and sacrifice the best stuff in favor of some dumbed down, sanitized drek.
My youthful pro-superhero bias was main reason I didn’t check out Arion prior to Crisis, which is kind of funny considering how much superheroics inform the narrative of the series and the abilities of its titular protagonist. The arcane elements used to distinguish the character from his genre peers ended up becoming just another stock set of spandex powers married to the deus ex machina chicanery typically associated with funnybook spellcasting. (The waxing and waning of Arion’s sorcerous powers was played up to a greater extent as the series progressed, but rarely beyond serving to set up the foregone resolution of some gut-check melodrama.)
Arion’s series went under in 1985, a victim of the lagging sales and lack of audience which killed off DC’s last handful of non-superhero genre holdouts. Though a woefully dire attempt was made in 1992 to resurrect Arion as a contemporary “dark fantasy” hero…
…the addition of a laminated hightop fade and crash infusion of uncut raditude failed to win over audiences, and the character was instead used as a nexus for hasty and inevitably contradicted continuity fixes involving Atlantis, Power Girl’s invalidated pre-Crisis origin, and a way to tie together bits of Legion of Super-Heroes, Amethyst, and Justice Society trivia into a bitter slurry of “Who The Fuck Really Cares.” Arion most recently appeared as a doomsaying magical antagonist for Superman, predicting all sorts of doom if the hero and his pals kept coddling humanity.
It just goes to show that you can take the mage out of Atlantis, but you can’t take the tired cliches of a certain Atlantean mage…and that’s there no sorcery powerful enough to rescue Arion’s misfired attempt to revive the funnybook fantasy genre from the enternal perdition of Nobody’s Favorites.