I grew up when VCRs were just becoming common in people’s homes and video rental stores were springing up in every neighborhood. Popular movies still circulated in theaters multiple times over the years. It was a time when it was not common to see movies more than once. Novel and comic adaptations of movies we prevalent as they were a way for people to enjoy the stories long after the movie had moved on from the local cinema.
Marvel comics published many movie adaptations. The adaptations were published in the Marvel Comics Super Specials either in magazine sized comics or over sized tabloids. They were also printed in regular sized comics. More often than not these comics were released after the movie and were faithful adaptations meant to capitalize on a movies popularity. This was not always the case though.
In some cases the comics were released before the movie as away to build hype and excitement. Occasionally scenes that were part of an early script would make there way into the adaptation only to have the scene from the movie end up on the cutting room floor. One famous example of this was in the first issue of Star Wars. There was a page that contained a scene between Luke and Biggs on Tatooine that did not appear in the movie.
Script – Dennis O’Neil
Pencils & Colors – Marie Severin
Inks – John Tartaglione
Editor – Jim Shooter
The Marvel comics official movie adaption of the Paramount / Disney movie was published in two formats. It was released as issue #20 of Marvel Comics Super Special magazine as well as a two issue series in a regular comic format. It is a very faithful adaptation as it follows the movie very closely and contains a good amount of dialog right from the script.
The story begins with several travelers approaching a Wizard’s keep seeking an audience with Ulrich the sorcerer. The want him to slay a dragon (not just fix a wagon). After the wizard agrees and they are getting on their way they are interrupted by several newcomers, Tyrian of Urland, a knight in the king’s guard. He demands a test of the sorcerer in order to prove he is the man for the job. Ulrich sends Galen, his apprentice, to get a dagger. The dagger is given to Tyrian who is commanded to stab the wizard, who states that he cannot be hurt. Tyrian drives the dagger home and Ulrich appears to be killed.
After Ulrich’s funeral Galen is cleaning up when an amulet he had put in a box suddenly appears in a glass flask. Galen believes that this an omen, that he is to complete the work that Ulrich had agreed to, and that he is to slay the dragon. He takes the amulet and decides to find the travelers who came seeking the wizard. Once he catches up with them he appears in smoke filled flash and tells them he will do what they had wanted his master to do.
Elsewhere you join a group of men with torches leading a horse drawn cart with a young woman, all in white, chained to two large posts in it. Apparently there is a lottery where young, virgin women are chosen to be sacrifices to the dragon in exchange for not destroying the kingdom. As the young woman tries to free herself from the bonds the dragon appears and after a little drama eventually consumes her.
We rejoin our travels as they are breaking camp in the morning. Galen is sent to get the leader of the group, Valerian. He finds him bathing in a small lake. Galen says that he’ll join him for a swim but Valerian refuses saying he’d rather swim alone. Amazingly enough Galen figures out that Valerian is “not A BOY”! In the movie this was a fairly amazing scene because Galen figures out that Valerian is a woman when he dives into the water and sees her naked body. In the movie we see both actors naked bottoms as well the actresses exposed breasts. This was significant because the movie was rated PG and was a joint release with Disney. This type of nudity would not been seen even in a PG-13 movie today.
Eventually the band of travelers make it back to their kingdom and have to pass by the dragon’s lair in order to get home. Galen decides to impress everyone and he uses his magic to cause a landslide to bury the entrance of the dragon’s cave and imprison the beast. Much to his own surprise he does it. Back in the village Galen shows off his magic some more, this time while chastising a monk performing a baptism. One of the things I found interesting about this comic is that the early Christian elements are featured multiple times and they come off as a little overt. The same scenes are in the movie, but because of the nature of it being a comic they are more apparent and definitely stand out. One of the major themes of the story is that the old ways of wizards and dragons are disappearing, being replaced by new beliefs.
All of Galen’s magical boasting gets the attention of the authorities and the king’s guard, including Tyrain, who killed the old wizard. They take Galen from the village to be brought before the king. The King makes Galen perform several tricks while also questioning him about what he did to the dragon. Throughout the scene the king is very unimpressed but he does deduce that Galen’s magic comes from the amulet he wears around his neck. The amulet is taken by the king and Galen is thrown into a dungeon cell.
While Galen is imprisoned he is visited by the princess Filia Regis. She tries to convenience Galen that the King is not so bad that he is only trying to protect the kingdom. Galen fires back that he is not protecting the kingdom while the lottery exists and that is not not even fair because the rich men’s daughters names never go into the pool of names. The princess does not believe this and goes to ask her father about it. She finds him trying to use the stolen amulet to turn lead into gold. He dismisses her questions but she persists and eventually learns the truth. Suddenly the kingdom is overcome with tremors. We don’t see what causes them but they do make Galen’s cell door open. As he tries to find his way out of the castle Tyrian finds him and chases him. Galen makes his way to the stables, steals a horse, and rides it into the castle. After wrecking some havoc Galen finds a hole in the castle’s wall, caused from the earlier tremors, and rides to freedom.
In the meantime the monk, the one Galen made fun of earlier, leads a small crowd of people up to the dragon’s lair. He is taking them there so that they can pray and send the demon monster to hell. The dragon seems to have different ideas. The ground shakes and opens up as the dragon emerges. The monk still believes he can defeat the monster. The dragon seems curious about the monk at first but decides that enough is enough. He kills him with a blast of fire and then flies off.
Galen is back at the village and after being hidden from the king’s guard by Valerian and her father, the blacksmith, he says he has to slay the dragon. Valerian’s father gives Galen a spear that he has been saving for just such an occasion. Back at the castle a new lottery is being done to try and appease the now super pissed off dragon. When the name is drawn the king is shocked to hear the princesses name being read. He calls for another name to be chosen and again it is the princess. The princess comes forth saying all the names are hers because of the injustice of having been left out all these years.
As this is going on Galen has gone back into the castle to find his amulet. The distraught king discovers Galen and gives him back to the amulet so that he can go kill the dragon and save his daughter. Galen gets ready for his task by sharpening the blade of the spear with the blacksmith. While this is happening Valerian sneaks off to gather dragon scales from the ground in the dragon’s cave. She is going to make a shield for Galen. When she is in the cave she is set upon by large green lizards, baby dragons. She gets away and finds Galen. When they meet they profess their love to each other.
Finally Galen goes to the cave where the princess is being chained up to be sacrificed. Galen demands that she be set free. Everyone runs off except Tyrian who is sick of Galen and decides to end this nonsense. The princess is set free in the battle and sneaks off to the dragon’s cave anyway. Galen eventually kills Tyrian. By the time Galen gets to the cave he is too late. The baby dragons are feasting on the princess. In a rage befitting of a young jedi attacking sand people, Galen slaughters the dragon babies.
Galen finds the dragon and they battle. The shield that Valerian gave him earlier withstands the fire blast from the dragon. Galen gets the upper ground on the dragon and and drives the spear into its neck but it is not enough to kill it. The dragon shakes Galen from its neck and he is able to get away. Valerian finds him and cleans him up. Valerian’s father tells Galen and his daughter that they should leave this kingdom, there is nothing else to be done.
While Valerian and Galen are canoodling in the woods the sky begins to darken. When Valerian asks what is happening Galen explains that it is an eclipse. Looking at how the eclipse changes the reflection on the water Galen suddenly realizes what needs to be done and rushes off with Valerian to the dragon’s cave. In the cave, standing at the edge of the fire lake, Galen holds the amulet and say some magic words. His long dead master, Ulrich, appears before him, all in white, alive again.
The wizard leads them out of the cave, where he will battle the dragon. He tells Galen to destroy the amulet when it is time and that he’ll know when it is right. The wizard fights the dragon and is eventually grabbed by the dragon’s giant claws. As the dragon flies off clutching the wizard, Galen smashes the amulet causing the wizard and dragon to explode in the air. As the dragon’s corpse lies smoldering on the ground the king comes up to it and ceremoniously stabs it while declaring that he has slayed the dragon.
Our heroes Valerian and Galen wander off on foot. Valerian wishes for a horse and suddenly one appears. As a final nod to note that maybe the age of magic and sorcery isn’t dead Valerian asks if Galen made the horse appear. He responds that it is easier to believe the horse was just wandering nearby than in magic, isn’t it?
Dragonslayer is a very good fantasy movie with one of the best Dragons ever created for film. The story is a fairly standard hero’s journey, but also deals subtly with the conflict between organized religion and magic. The comic adaptation is very well done and extremely faithful to the movie. The art is excellent and just like the movie the dragon steals the show. I never knew this comics existed when I was a kid and am super glad to have found it as an adult.
I want to wrap up with several of the ads from this comics, because they feature some of the greatest comic book ads of all time, ads for toy soldiers and sales offers where the reader can earn fabulous prizes. These are ads that my brother and I poured over, when we were kids, dreaming about the amazing offers. These advertisements are instantly recognizable and if you would like to learn more about them I would suggest heading over to the Cosmic Treadmill and download their Weird comics history podcast episodes #19 and #26 where they discuss the history and specifics of these ads. They are really excellent and worth your time.