Book Review

Book Review:  ElfQuest Issues 1-5, by Wendy and Richard Pini

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Title: ElfQuest
Author: Wendy and Richard Pini
Publication Info: The Donning Co. 1981
Genre: Comic

ElfQuest 1 - illustration of a dude on a wolf holding a swordElfquest is a comic book series by Richard and Wendy Pini.  This series ran in one form or another from 1978 – 2007, and picked up again in 2012.  For our purposes, this review focuses on the perfect “romance novel” comic – the story arc told in Issues 1 – 5.

The story is this:  A tribe of elves called The Wolfriders (because they ride wolves, duh) lives on a planet inhabited by humans, trolls, and the Wolfriders.  When humans set fire to the forest, the Wolfriders have to flee across the desert.  To their astonishment, they are not the only elves on the planet.  Another tribe, The Sunfolk, live in the desert.  The Wolfriders are hunter-gatherers, who are at constant war with humans and trolls.  The Sunfolk are an agrarian culture with no enemies.  Culture clash ensues.  This is all complicated by the fact that the leader of the Wolfriders, Cutter, and the Healer of the Sunfolk, Leetah, immediately experience Recognition.  Elves live for hundreds of years, but they have a difficult time conceiving babies (this probably is an evolutionary trait to prevent over-population, but it’s a disaster for the Wolfriders, who die often due to accidents or due to violent confrontations with trolls and with humans).  When couples experience Recognition, it means that they are biologically compatible and have a high likelihood of conceiving.

Issues 1 – 5 are pretty straightforward about this – Leetah wants to choose a mate, Cutter can’t understand why she’s ignoring Recognition, sparks fly between them – you know the drill.  I’m going to cheat a little and draw on further issues of ElfQuest to explain a little more about Recognition.  As far as I know, none of the elves chooses to terminate a pregnancy, but it’s not because of political or religious or spiritual reasons – there just aren’t enough pregnancies to waste any if the species is to survive.  But it is completely socially acceptable amongst the elves for a biological couple to give a baby up for adoption.  There are also a lot of gender role twists – many female elves aren’t maternal at all, while many male elves are marvelously nurturing parents.  Recognition is a pragmatic thing, not a “babies ever after because all women want babies” thing.

The reason I’m harping on this is that I don’t want the “recognition” thing to give readers an idea that this is a comic about women being forced to make babies.  Women are healers, teachers, warriors, hunters, and chieftains.  This is an incredibly, wonderfully, feminist comic.  Seriously – it changed my life.  I’m not kidding, although if I look at Issues 1-5 with brutally honest eyes, I’d have to say that the real feminist stuff doesn’t kick in until later.  In this first, romance-oriented arc, the women are strong and varied and interesting and intelligent, but the gender roles aren’t shaken up as much as they are in later issues.

Getting back to the romance in Issues 1-5, the question isn’t really whether or not Leetah and Cutter will make a baby.  Wolfriders often have powerfully loving relationships that don’t involve Recognition, and they also sometimes experience Recognition and make babies but never fall in love, in which case they can move on to other partners.  The question is whether Cutter and Leetah fall in love – and of course, they do, and go one to form one of the most satisfying and healthy marriages in all of fiction.

Issues 1-5 will leave you wanting to read more because you’ll like it so much, not because of a cliffhanger (there isn’t one).  These issues tell one, complete story, and it’s basically a classic romance novel with amazing art.  Cutter and Leetah fight and have moments of closeness and understanding, and fight some more.  They have amazing chemistry and real problems and they actually talk to each other.  Those wacky kids have a lot of growing up to do, and it’s fun to watch them do it.

These are not cutesy elves.  OK, some of them are, especially the kids (yes, little baby badass Dart – even you).  But mostly, the elves are beautiful in a variety of ways.  All the elves are confident in their bodies, whether they are round and soft (like Rainsong), voluptuous (like Leetah), or thin and curve-less (like Dewshine).  No one wears a lot of clothes and there’s a lot of happy, consensual sex in the Elves’ world, both casual and committed.  Even trolls, who the elves regard as ugly (and frankly, they are gross) are seen as beautiful by other trolls.  I found this series in junior high and I’m sure glad I did – it was a lifeline of positive messages about healthy sexuality and body acceptance during a difficult time.  I also enjoy the fact that half the cast has coppery brown skin, which makes sense given their environment (the desert).

The only element of diversity that is conspicuously absent in Issues 1-5 is that of an unambiguously gay relationship.  Wendy Pini has claimed that all elves are bi-sexual, but every relationship in the first five issues is male/female.  Later storylines featured group marriages including sexually and emotionally intimate relationships between same sex couples.  For a series that started in the 1970’s, I’d say that with regard to gay relationships ElfQuest is problematic, but “fair for its day” and fairer than most today.

You can read all the ElfQuest comics ever written here for free:  http://www.elfquest.com/gallery/OnlineComics3.html

Beware; this site has EVERY ELFQUEST EVER PUBLISHED.  It will eat your life.  If you want to start at the beginning, and follow the arc I’ve been writing about here, click on “ElfQuest:  The Original Quest” (not to be confused with “The Final Quest”) and read Issues 1-5 (although you’ll want to keep going at least as far as Issue 20, because it’s awesome, and the characters all get much more interesting as the series goes on). To those of who are long-time ElfQuest fans, for heaven’s sake, click on anything you want!  It’s like every major holiday combined into one!  To those of you new to ElfQuest:  I’m jealous.  I wish I could read this for the first time again.  You are so lucky!  I'm so excited for you.  You are going to love the art and the world-building and the adventure and the romance and the pathos and the humor – but above all, you will love the characters.  Have fun!


You can read the series online, or you can find used copies for sale at Amazon, Alibris, and perhaps copies to borrow at your local library (US).

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    hapax says:

    Oh, ELFQUEST.  I remember grabbing the issues as they were released in real time, and think I followed it all the way through Siege at Blue Mountain.

    I should go to the site you mentioned, and see if the stories still hold up.  I bet they will, for all the reasons you mention.  And the art is just lovely.

    ETA:  Oh dear.  That site has the colored version.  I know that WaRP says that this was the original intention, scrapped because of cost, but honestly I prefer the gorgeous clean black & white art.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve got those original floppies tucked away somewhere.

  2. 2
    Lostshadows says:

    :D :D :D I have a bunch of the collections, somewhere.

    I’m going have to try and avoid that site until December or my NaNo attempt is truly doomed.

  3. 3
    Gry says:

    I remember when Elfquest first was issued – I loved the comic then, and I love it now. It is a wonderful example of what comics can be.

    As has been indicated, the EQ site is a black hole. It sucks you in, and doesn’t let you go.

    As for other comics with absolutely gorgeous art, there is also A Distant Soil. I loved that one too when it was issued, and this comic is also online now, here: http://www.adistantsoil.com/
    This story is still ongoing, but the art is just sooo gorgeous! (Yes, I know, as if any of you needed another time suck ;) )

  4. 4
    Michelle says:

    I also read these in middle school, and just fell in love with the art, the characters, and just the entire concept.  I feel we should warn people: there are some harsh realities and real evil in Elfquest as well.  Elves and others do suffer, but the overall concept of this series is focused on the closeness of the elves, the importance of family (whether genetic or chosen) and the incredible amount of learning and growth that occurs throughout the series.

    Thank you for reviewing this and providing the link—I can’t wait to reread all of Elfquest!

  5. 5
    Marque Guilbeault says:

    I have been reading these since it was first re-released by Marvel, and have been a collector and promoter ever since.  Love the series! It is what got me into the world of art to begin with.  I now share it with my three girls, and they love it too.  Wendy is an inspiration to all!

  6. 6
    Mistfox says:

    We subscribed to the first issues (through the Blue Mountain arc).  It was torture waiting for them when they were delayed!  I later bought the bound versions and put my poor, well read, first edition copies in comic protector sleeves.  My kids grew up with us reading them to them.  I’ll have to check out the website when I have some time to kill.

  7. 7
    Matt says:

    Still love this after all this time. I used to take a bus from Ft. Carson to a small shop downtown Colorado Springs every few months to grab the next copy. I sometimes use Google Maps to trace my steps right to the shop. Such magical times for an 18 year old boy, in the army, and a long way from home. I look forward to showing my little girl this magic when she’s old enough.

  8. 8
    Diana says:

    There is new ElfQuest being produced! The FinalQuest prologue is out now, and monthly comics start in January.

  9. 9

    ELFQUEST! /

    This right here is THE biggest influence on me as a writer, hands down. And a HUGE influence on me as a reader, as well. The lack of gender politics among the elves of Abode set me a REAL high bar for how I want to see women treated in a storyline.

    Plus, I was a big enough Elfquest fangirl that I played for 13 straight years on an online Elfquest-themed roleplaying game. And was one of the admins. MASSIVE Elfquest fangirl here. Especially for Strongbow. Mmmmmmmm Strongbow. <3

    And oh god yes I loved the original Recognition story between Cutter and Leetah. Recognition _does not give a flying damn_ about whether the involved parties love or even like each other. But when the involved parties can get past that and still fall in love anyway—oh the conflict. Oh the angst. I loved it. :D

  10. 10

    P.S. Anybody who’s seen the cover art for my book Faerie Blood will understand what I mean when I told artist Kiri Moth to draw me a character who looked like the daughter that Leetah and Rayek never had. :D

  11. 11
    Amanda C. says:

    I also read these in high school and, Angela, online EQ RPs consumed my teenage years!  I owed a few ‘holts’ as well!  Hands down, my favorite series ever and I can’t wait until my girls are a bit older so I can introduce them to Abode!  :D

  12. 12
    CarrieS says:

    @Angela – grey cover – I see the resemblance! Makes me happy to picture Rayak, who was always so miserable, and Leetah having a happy kid!

  13. 13
    cardinalzen says:

    OMG. I have loved ElfQuest ever since the owner of my favorite bookstore gave me a collection of the Kings of the Broken Wheel. Did anyone read the Blood of Ten Chiefs anthologies of short stories?

  14. 14

    Amanda@11: I was one of the admin players on Two Moons MUSH, and not only ran one of the tribes there, the Willowholt, but also played two of the characters from the books—Mender and Rayek. I still have all my roleplay logs. :D

    Carrie@12: Thanks! SO very happy with that cover, Kiri did me a _fabulous_ job on it. She’s not cheap but OH she makes such pretty art. HIGHLY recommend her for anyone else looking to commission good cover art for self-pub work.

    cardinalzen@13: Oh god yes. I have all the anthos on my shelf, too. Some of them were some of my very favorite bits of Elfquest semi-canon, especially the backstory with Bearclaw and Strongbow!

    So very, VERY happy that Elfquest is firing up again and looking VERY forward to handing Dark Horse Comics more of my money starting in January.

  15. 15
    LaineyT says:

    Back in the day I snuck out my older brother’s compilation of the Original Quest from his room and fell in love with the story and all the characters.  I’m only a little ashamed to admit that somehow those books never did make it back to his bookshelf.  It’s been a long time since I read these so this review was a fun bit of nostalgia and an excuse to dig into some boxes for a re-read.  (Asterix & Obelix may soon follow!)

    I’m not sure why I never picked up the more of these comics since I was a bit of a collector in my teens/early twenties but it’s great to know that now I can get them all online.  Thank you sooo much for providing this Elfquest website link!  I’m thrilled, and a bit terrified (LOL).  Where am I going to find the time for all this reading?!?

    PS…As a general comment, I love that you are including the occasional comic and film review along with the SBTB romance novel critique.  I’d been away from comics for a long time when I picked up the Bone series last year thanks to Costco having hardcopy compilations on sale, and following your recent review, “Saga” has been added to my Christmas wishlist ;)

  16. 16
    CarrieS says:

    @LaineyT:  re your general comment:  so glad you are liking the comics and film reviews!  I love writing them!

  17. 17
    Bianca says:

    I love Elfquest, and YES cardinalzen the anthologies that I read we’re amazing, I actually enjoyed them more than the comics.

  18. 18
    EQFan1993 says:

    I’ve read the entire series (accept rebel and jink) thousands of times since i first discovered it, my first elfquest book was the hardback graphic novel called hidden years when i was 10 years old. and after that, i was hooked! even today i still re-read the series, and every time i do, its always like i am reading it for the first time…Wendy Pini has a way with words and very good at character development, she knows how to catch the attention of the audience. i eagerly await for the final quest official release….and i will continue to read and love elfquest til my dying day.

  19. 19
    Raven says:

    I nagged my Mum into reading these to me when I was nine, and we sat and read through all her original issues together. It’s still one of my favorite memories, and I’m SO glad she did the reading because her troll voices were awesome.

    One thing though, I wish you’d talked about the ‘sex scene’ in issue 5, because my Mum skipped over that, the one in issue 10, and the really awesome group one in issue 17 (you’re welcome, everyone who’s looking for the sexy stuff). Anyway, after we read all the clean stuff together, I got a chair, a bunch of pillows, and a dictionary, stood on top of everything, and pulled down all the comics off her secret shelf, and I remember feeling disappointed when I found the pages she’d skipped in issue 5 because…rocks. That’s it. That’s the payoff. You get to see the rocks that they’re having sex behind, and see the thought balloon that says “Yes.” Pretty darn steamy. It gets way better with later sex scenes (number 17!), but I was wondering how you felt about it when reading the first five as their own arc.

  20. 20
    CarrieS says:

    Re the sex scene in issue #5:  As a 12 yr old, I wasn’t disappointed that it was more graphic because I wasn’t expecting anything explicit.  As an adult, my personal taste is actually more fade to black – I don’t see an explicit sex scene as a payoff.  That’s not a judgement on people who prefer more explicit sex, just a purely personal preference.  So I’m fine with the rocks.  As a mom, I didn’t make my daughter, who is also nine, skip that scene because, as you say, all you see is rocks.

    As far as Issue 17, as an adult I think that scene is both erotic and interesting – a great example of how to use sex to both give enjoyment to the reader and to further character development – that scene gets a lot of work done in terms of conveying character, place, and culture!  But I haven’t let my nine year old read past Issue 5 because I feel like Issue 5 is a natural stopping point and I don’t want to make her stop between Issue 6 – 20, which is another natural stopping point, because that would be torture.  And I still haven’t decided if I’m ready for her to read Issue 17 – it’s very sex positive, but do I really want to explain an orgy to a nine year old?  Am on the fence!

  21. 21
    Diana says:

    I read the original 20 issues when I was 8 or 9—my parents didn’t really supervise my reading! There was a lot I didn’t get at that age, and I would probably wait a bit longer for my hypothetical offspring, but I made it through well enough. (Really, the end of vol. 3—not sure of the issue number—was far more traumatizing.)

  22. 22
    TJ Pax says:

    OMG Elfquest!  Many were the days I spent reading on the floor of Waldenbooks, hidden from the prying eyes of the clerk who would have surely shooed me out of the store if he’d spotted me. Those were the days. Would Leetah choose Cutter or would she choose her childhood sweetheart? That was my first taste of a love triangle in fiction. I also vividly remember the pre-battle orgy scenes. I had never seen anything like that in a comic book before.

  23. 23
    Raven says:

    Honestly, when I was nine I didn’t really know enough to get what was going on, but I knew it had to be something worthwhile if I wasn’t allowed to see it. I thought it was a bunch of naked hugging, which was more interesting than rocks! I don’t know how I’d treat the situation with my own imaginary daughter, but I learned so much from Elfquest that influences me today that I personally think it’s worth the risk of seeing something a bit sexy to learn those awesome life lessons. Seriously, I think it’s the reason I stuck it out and became an artist. I wanted to be able to create something that beautiful one day. There’s also friendship, loyalty, the dangers of blind hate, self sacrifice, and great examples of what a loving relationship should look like, with some very sex positive messages.

  24. 24
    A. says:

    Wow, ElfQuest is definitively something that made a deep impression on me in my childhood. My sister had some of them, including the beginning of the series which is reviewed here. I do not know how old I was when I found them and read them, but I do know that I found some aspects of it quite traumatic to read. I loved the drawings, the elfs were unbelievably beautiful, but I found the harsh world with them dying very painful. There were also parts that were so scary that I still remember them. An image that sticks in my mind is a scene from some caves with magical doors where a magic opening closes while a troll is trying to go through so that he ends up stuck in the mountain, lower half sticking out with blood round the edges of his waist. Almost gave me nightmares, but even though it was scary they were also so fascinating that I couldn’t stay away. (All without my sister knowing anything about my sneaking around to read her comics.)  Perhaps I would have found them less scary if I had had the opportunity to read the whole thing in sequence and understand the story better. I still loved them though.

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