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The Magic Crystal 1. By Jean "Moebius" Giraud and Marc Bati. Translated by Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier and Jean-Jacques Surbeck. New York: Catalan Communications, 1986, 1989. 48p. (Sword & Sorcery Collection). $6.95. ISBN 0-87416-067-7.

Fantasy; science fantasy

Adults, teens, kids; very, very mild nudity

On the planet New Terra, the jovial wizard Alpidus entertains a group of elves with funny stories about magic. When the elves leave to attend a gathering, young Altor stays behind to do some chores for Alpidus--gathering ingredients for a major spell the wizard is planning to cast. Altor also stays to watch the spell be cast. He finds himself on the point of a star-shaped force "vehicle" carrying Alpidus into the Realm of the Star Princesses. His goal: to bring back the star soul of the beautiful Estrella, Star of Enlightenment, thus bringing her to Earth. Although he captures the star soul, the evil intelligence behind the Dark Star substitutes her soul for that of Estrella (who wasn't going to come along anyway). Altor is unable to warn Alpidus of this change, and they carry the Dark Star soul back to Earth.

Elsewhere, Altor's friends wait patiently for him to join them. They then hear an explosion. Racing back to Alpidus's forest home, they find the area laid waste and no sign of the wizard. However, they find Altor, alive but unconscious. They take him to a healer, where Altor, regaining consciousness, babbles about how the Dark Star burrowed into the ground. Months later, healed, he returns to the site of Alpidus's home, now overgrown and barely revealing that anyone had lived there. Altor has brought rope; he plans to climb into the Dark Star hole. But he is stopped by a mysterious man, Lorcan, who hauls him out of the hole just before fire explodes out of it. As they huddle behind a rock, the man gets a signal from his vehicle, a SF type of shuttle; it's been damaged by shrapnel from the explosion. Refusing to leave the vehicle for "her," he has it self-destruct. Lorcan warns Altor that "evil forces are trying to invade this world and enslave it!" He asks Altor for his help in getting Lorcan through the Elven forest to the border of the Middle Kingdom.

In the Elven Forest, the queen of the elves speaks with Lorcan about the obvious coming of the Time of Darkness. She warns him that the borders to the Middle Kingdom have been closed, but she pledges all the help her people can offer. As a result, Altor takes Lorcan to the Middle Kingdom, specifically the port city of Ulwin, via a river. The two separate, and Lorcan attempts to find a ship that will take him to the Sword of Orion. The ticker seller is horrified, as the Sword of Orion is in pirate-infested waters, and orders Lorcan to leave the port. However, a merchant, Istrim, overhears their exchange and offers his ship. Evil fellows overhear, and in Istrim's ship Lorcan is ambushed by ninja-like assassions. Displaying superhuman abilities, Lorcan defeats the assassins, and they sail off peacefully. However, Istrim's stores of meat are bad, and when they attempt to take on new supplies at a port in the Smaller Kingdoms, they are pursued by guards. Istrim's men want to poison Lorcan, who seems to be the source of all their troubles, but before they have a chance, the ship is attacked by another ship firing guided missiles--something that Lorcan has seen but that the sailors haven't. Lorcan gets Istrim and his crew into the lifeboats, but he senses another presence on the ship and remains aboard. The presence turns out to be Altor, who stowed away to follow Lorcan. Although a missile hits the ship, it doesn't explode; still, the ship is holed in the hull. But Lorcan and Altor are rescued by a flying shuttle and taken to the Sword of Orion, in which is tucked away a futuristic command center of some kind.

The Sword is being attacked by dragons bearing armed trolls, and by trolls carrying lasers and driving tanks. Also, their communications and surveillance systems have been deactivated. The shuttle fights its way in, and Lorcan rushes to the Great Crystal, source of the command center's power. The crystal is gone! Altor finds a mysterious woman in the crystal's chamber--a woman suffering from amnesia. Then Lorcan is contacted by Galactic Control and given information that will help him defuse the crisis. Then everyone in the command center evacuates via space ship except Lorcan, Altor, and the mysterious woman.

The book includes afterwords by Bati and Moebius about how they came to work together. The story is continued and concluded in The Unicorn Isle and Aurelys' Secret.

This is a pleasant but highly derivative and unfocused story whose greatest asset by far is the art. The settings are rich and lush, highly detailed, and wonderfully colored. The various panoramas--the milky pink clouds of the Realm of the Star Princesses, the burning wreck of Alpidus's house in the middle of the forest, the elf queen's chambers, the aerial view of the city Ulwin--are visual treats. The lines are clear, and nothing is ever confused or muddy. The treatment of people varies, however. With the exception of the evil Star Princess, the women are as stiff as Barbie dolls. They seem to have been drawn to put on posters rather than to be characters in a graphic novel. Uglier men are much more animated than the pretty ones--they have a wider range of poses and facial expressions, more lines on their faces that convey more emotion, more motion in general. When the focus of the story switched away from Alpidus, a certain amount of visual energy went with it.

Speaking of the story, it's a patchwork of familiar elements: elves, doddering wizards, assassins, high-tech guardians of low-tech worlds, trolls, dragons, power crystals. (Moebius has a thing about crystals, as witnessed in his superior-but-flawed Incal.) There are a few nice, reasonably fresh ideas in here, such as the Realm of the Star Princess and trolls with lasers, but they're visually interesting throwaways rather than integral parts of the world.

The plot moves in fits and starts. The entire scene when Altor takes Lorcan through the Forest of the Elves up to Ulwin (six pages, a full eighth of the book) is almost entirely devoid of significant action; even the exposition delivered in this section is mostly pointless. By contrast, the entire attack on/battle around/crisis within the Sword of Orion takes seven-and-a-half pages and deals with important elements in far too cursory a fashion. The role of the Great Crystal is not detailed in the slightest; what does it do that it's so critical when it's stolen? Is it a power source? Weapon? Scrying device? Bits of the dialogue suggest all these. Though I assume this issue is addressed in subsequent volumes, it isn't handled well in this one.

The main characters are not exactly standout personalities; nor is it clear who the focus is supposed to be. Altor? Lorcan? (The mistake was probably starting with Altor and giving him a lot of screen time; the appearance of Lorcan 18 pages into the book, and his subsequent domination of the book, threw off my expectations.) Lorcan is slightly more than bland (his dialogue is less bland than his appearance) and is an adequate handsome hero, though one would like more than that. Altor is almost a nonentity. Alpidus and Istrim are by far the most interesting people in the story, though it's hard to imagine them in more than the supporting roles they occupy--they're more comic relief than anything else.

Moebius completists would probably be interested in this series. If it's easily available, it's a marginal addition to a fantasy or science fantasy collection. If, as I suspect, it's out of print, it's not something to pursue unless there is very strong interest in either of the author/illustrators.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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