I've been rather taken with the Black Moon Chronicles, the French dark fantasy comic from François Marcela-Froideval, Olivier Ledroit, and Cyril Pontet that uses humor to disarm the horrors of a decadent Melniboné-style empire falling to the apocalypse. At turns aiding the fall and resisting is the half-elf Wismerhill, the unwitting pawn of the evil Black Moon. But how did fate draw Wismerhill's companions to him? And who better to start with than the jovial giant, the fearsome half-ogre warlord now know as Ghorghor Bey?
The first of The Black Moon Arcana serves as a direct prequel to The Black Moon Chronicles: The Sign of Darkness, detailing the rise of Ghorghor Bey from outcast to the scourge of the Empire as he is in the days before he meets Wismerhill. While the prequel sheds little new light into the twists and turns of the Black Moon's world-dooming invasion or Ghorghor's revolving door relationship with death, it is a welcome insight into a beloved character who tends to get only a panel to two to mug in each new volume.
However, this prequel checks the boxes on the standard villain's back story. A half-ogre child born from rape and unwanted pregnancy cruelly shunned by his adopted father and the rest of the village. When his mother dies, the half-ogre is expelled from the village and forced to live on his own--
Yes, I thought so too.
The boy, Ogur, falls in with the circus, where he finds acceptance and love among the freaks and performers. He learns the strongman routine and finds the loves of his life in a pair of Siamese twins. Here, he has the family he was denied.
Until a lord double-crosses the circus. The lord enslaves most of the circus, and drives Ogur and the rest of the freaks into the swamp. While there, a Divorak swamp kraken attacks, devouring Ogur's loves. Ogur slays the monster, and swears a blood oath to avenge his friends and lovers. And when he slays the leader of a band of highwaymen, Ogur has the opportunity he has sought. Now calling himself Ghorghor Bey, the half-ogre raises his standards, and rogues, orcs, and ogres rally to him. The new warlord scourges the local nobles, returning the brutality that the lords had visited upon him. Yet he never loses the whimsy that surrounds him, a whimsy that never turns to cruelty.
Finally, the warlord returns to the lands of the lord who wronged him. Ghorghor Bey single-handedly breaches the castle and, one by one, pitches the defenders over the walls. No quarter will be given until he frees his friends. After the lord is slain and the chains on the circus performers broken, Ghorghor Bey turns his fury against the nobility, scourging the Empire in the first of many apocalyptic invasions that will tear it apart. And, along the way, he runs into two bandits, the mad elf Heads-or-Tails and magic-touched Wismerhill...
As I said, standard villainy fare. But the Black Moon Chronicles tries to make a distinction between being bad and being evil, between falling and fallen. Ghorghor Bey is undoubtedly bad, driven to his own cruelty by the cruelty of others, but he never crosses into the demonically evil. That terror is saved for Wismerhill. And for unrepentant, soul-devouring evil? Wait until we meet Haazel Thorn.
There is a rough honor to the brutal and cunning Ghorghor Bey, who later becomes Wismerhill's trusted lieutenant. There's also the bit of the clown, of intelligence, whimsy, and the subversion of expectations, including a surprising gentleness. The performer never left the warlord, as he can be found mugging in the background of many a panel. But the one thing he is not is the dullard brute that many ogres are portrayed as in fantasy. That Ghorghor Bey is given a chance to shine once more outside Wismerhill's shadow is welcome. I just wish there was more meat to these formulaic old bones.
So, at the start, The Black Moon Arcana is for the fans already invested in the signs and portents of the Black Moon. But maybe when we get to the true holy knight Parsifal, the story will pick up. In the meantime, please check out the more palatable Elric-type story that is the Black Moon Chronicles.