Warriors of the Shadow Realm portfolio was a six plate full-colour print collection released in 1979 that featured characters from Marvel Comics’ short-lived fantasy series Weirdworld.
Weirdworld was created by writer Doug Moench and artist Mike Ploog and ran for only five instalments published between 1976 and 1986. It first appeared as a nine page black and white back-up story in the first (and only) issue of Marvel Super Action (January 1976). Weirdworld chronicled the adventures of two banished elves, Tyndall and Velanna, who try to build a home for themselves on a forbidding and dangerous world. As the story progressed Moench’s tale would encompass all of Fantasy’s major tropes: dwarves; dragons; goblins; magic swords; wizards and witches.
A second Weirdworld story appeared in issue #38 of Marvel Premiere in October 1977. Both Moench and Ploog returned for a story that saw Tyndall travel back to his home of Klarn in an attempt to help rescue Velanna. This time the story was in colour and, once again, Ploog’s artwork really shined. Moench also took advantage of the longer page count to tell a more well-rounded, character-driven story. A third Weirdworld story (The Were-Men of Lord Raven) was written around this time with Ploog once again commissioned to provide the art. But a disagreement over Marvel’s controversial new work-for-hire contracts saw the artist leave the publisher after completing only 31 pages. (The story would eventually see print in Marvel Fanfare issue #24 from January 1986, with Pat Broderick completing the art on the three part story).
Moench began work on a fourth Weirdworld story, Warriors of the Shadow Realm, which was scheduled to appear in three issues of the quarterly Marvel Super Special, beginning with #11 (June 1979). However for this story Marvel decided to push the boat out and try something new. Instead of printing the story using standard comic book colouring techniques, the entire story would feature painted artwork, something Marvel had never attempted on this scale before. Marvel legend John Buscema was hired to pencil the story, which was inked by Rudy Nebres. The pages were then handed over to Australian airbrush artist Peter Ledger who coloured the artwork, giving it a painterly feel that was perfectly in keeping with the story’s grand fantasy elements. The three issues of Marvel Super Special also featured fold-out pages, a commentary on how the artwork was produced and essays on the Fantasy genre.
One more Weirdworld story, The Dragonmaster of Klarn, appeared in issues #9, #11, #12 and #13 of Marvel’s adult fantasy magazine, Epic Illustrated (December 1981 — August 1982). Moench and Buscema once again returned but this time the story was inked by Marie Severin and painted by Steve Oliff. Fans of Weirdworld would have to wait over 30 years for the title to be revived — it eventually returned as part of Marvel’s Secret Wars event of 2015. Unfortunately only the name remained and the new six-issue series did not feature any of the original characters.
To help promote and celebrate the Weirdworld story from 1979 a Warriors of the Shadow Realm portfolio was released. Published by Pacific Comics and priced at $12 the collection featured six full colour plates reprinting artwork from the three Marvel Super Specials. The plates measured a generous 16 x 11 inches and were printed on high quality linen paper stock. The prints shipped in a fold-out cardboard wallet adorned with sketches by Buscema. Apparently three such portfolios were planned but the second two were abandoned.
Warriors of the Shadow Realm portfolio is a praiseworthy collection. The reproduction of each plate is high and I like that they was printed on linen paper — clearly an attempt to make the plates look as if they were reproduced on canvas. Buscema and Nebres’ artwork holds together very well here and Ledger’s painted colour work shines. These days computer-coloured, high quality comics are the norm but 35 years ago Marvel really did try to do something new, and this collection is a fitting testament to the publisher’s endeavour to push the comic book medium forward.
Here are all six plates from Warriors of the Shadow Realm portfolio, click for larger versions.