Go ahead and judge this book by its cover: Gray Morrow’s Orion is exactly as enchanting as the image to the right suggests. Originally serialized (in color, at least) in Heavy Metal magazine in the late 1970s, Orion follows the swashbuckling titular hero through a fantasy land filled with high adventure. Published late last year, the oversized Orion is a book to behold—with forgiveness for its pulpy prose. For example, the opening narrative box announces:
Orion’s world is not our world but one of which the stuff of fantasies and legends are made. His enemies and conflicts are wrought of demons and sorceries, more palpable here than competitors or tension and frustration. Here powerful dark gods command men’s obeisance and magic their beliefs. The secrets of science are privy to but a few…and everyone knows they are quite mad.
The text could only be more purple if it were colored as such, and the fun part of it all is that it works when coupled with Morrow’s attention to, well, everything. Outfits vary by character—Orion is clad in bandanas, buckles, tassels, and cummerbunds; he is a pirate, after all—and the men sport impeccable facial hair, while the women are shapely and usually topless (in tune with Heavy Metal’s sensibilities). Plus, the hair! Morrow excels at flowing locks, gently tousled by an ever-present wind. The male characters are men’s men—hairy chests and bulk without any sculpted preening. Orion is the antithesis to contemporary superhero comics, and I loved the outlandish settings and ships, including an airborne armada resembling a school of giant minnows.
As for the plot, the eight chapters revolve around Orion’s magical and “terrible” sword, Thorbolt, which is the envy of just about everyone. Orion alternates between keeping it and various women safe from the clutches of arch-nemesis Lamonthos. But again, stay for the visuals and enjoy the compressed narrative for its exclamation points and unabashed chest-beating.
In the bibliographic page, publisher Hermes Press notes that the initial four chapters were scanned from comics, while the last four were sourced from the late Morrow’s original artwork. Sure, there is a noticeable shift in quality between the two, but that’s part of the charm. Orion is an anachronistic artifact, a story out of time that exists thanks to the genuine love of its curators. Plus, there is a bonus story from Gray Morrow, "Edge of Chaos," that features a similarly bearded protagonist in a more science fiction setting. The overall package is a commemorative unsheathing of a lost narrative, where imagination and skill run rampant (that purple prose is infectious), and where a cover is a sure sign of the contents within.