Reading XENA: The Dark Horse Series (#8-14)

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday and the latest installment in our bi-monthly series on the best syndicated action show of the ’90s, Xena: Warrior Princess! We’ve examined Xena at length years ago (along with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), and while I’m not one to ever regard anything that wasn’t officially produced by the show itself to be worthy of much consideration, I thought it would nevertheless be interesting to examine ancillary Xena stories — not fan fiction (although some of this stuff may read like it), but comic books, novels, and even unproduced scripts. Again, I don’t ever consider this material when I think of the show or these characters. However, as someone who’s always been drawn to Xena for its storytelling, I want to examine these additional tales and see, despite different authors and a weakened understanding of the leads, if they could play on the actual show.

We kicked off this new series with the comic books (note: I won’t be doing the Evil Dead crossovers — they obviously wouldn’t work on Xena), and while I’d usually go chronologically, for the sheer fact that I picked them up first, we’re starting with the 14 installments that comprise the Dark Horse Comics run, released between 1999 and 2000, during the show’s final two seasons. I’m nerdy enough to have purchased them all contemporaneously, but for those who are late to the game, you can actually pick up an Omnibus (released by Dynamite Comics) that contains all 14 offerings. This month, I’m sharing my thoughts on the final seven — again, with an emphasis on examining how or even if the story/idea could have been utilized by Tapert and his crew on the television show. (See the “Timeline,” which pinpoints when I think a certain story, no matter how usable, could have potentially fit.)

*PARDON THE LOPSIDED SCANS!

 

08) “Duel Of Chariots” (Released: April 2000)

Xena and Gabrielle free the Elijans and get a bloodless revenge on Domitian during his champion’s circus chariot race.

Chakrams: 5/10      Timeline: Between “When Fates Collide” and “A Friend In Need (I)”

As with the prior half of this two-part story, which we first discussed in January’s entry on the first seven offerings in the Dark Horse series, this installment utilizes a plot that resembles several things that we’ve seen on the actual show — Gabrielle’s rage, chariot races, persecuted Elijans, etc. You can tell it’s clearly inspired by the events of Season Five, but because there’s no mention of Xena’s daughter and because the leader is Domitian (who came after Caligula, seen in  “The God You Know,” and Claudius, alluded to in “Path Of Vengeance”), the only place this story would make sense is near the end of Season Six. (See January’s post for more.)

In terms of the visuals, Gabrielle’s outfit belongs to Season Five, which is the most limiting factor to placing it in the final year. But that’s not a story/dialogue concern, and so I don’t consider it prohibitive to the narrative potentially being adapted and added to the series’ “canon” (which is our frame of analysis, here). The story itself, if not the telling exactly, hits many of the right notes for the series and these characters — even if it may be redundant based on what the show both had already, and later went on to, offer. (Perhaps a sign of its suitability.)

 

09) “If You Go Down To The Woods…” (Released: May 2000)

Xena, Gabrielle, and Amarice rescue a young girl who’s gone missing in the woods, and discover an evil god who lives off fear.

Chakrams: 4/10      Timeline: Between “Chakram” and “Succession”

While every Dark Horse episode thus far seemed to illustrate a logical progression (even if they unintentionally wrote the above two-parter in a way that suggested it as more suitable for Season Six than Five), these last several seem to exist in an odd limbo. First, there’s no more mentioning of Xena’s pregnancy or eventual kid (or the 25 year jump), which is something that I wish the series could have sidestepped all together… But because Tapert and company didn’t, it’s odd to find a premise on the show during this period that doesn’t discuss the big series-altering development. Keep this in mind. Also, this excursion features Amarice, whose last appearance was in “Them Bones, Them Bones” and whom we learned was dead by “Lifeblood.”

Thus, when trying to find a place to put this story — which engages in mystic mumbo jumbo that has nothing to do with the characters, therefore making it among the weaker Dark Horse outings — it has to go in early Season Five, but before the pregnancy. I say before “Succession” because the show could have used another episode after “Chakram” to show Gabrielle’s developmental return to fighting alongside Xena (after her pacifist arc).

 

10) “The Magnificent Sven” (Released: June 2000)

Xena and Gabrielle encounter an abandoned Viking whose skills at raping and pillaging leave much to be desired.

Chakrams: 6/10  Timeline: Between “Return Of The Valkyrie” & “Old Ares Had A Farm”

It took Dark Horse until its tenth installment, first released in the summer of 2000 when the fifth season had already concluded, to produce a comedic episode, which was a regular occurrence on Xena: Warrior Princess. For this reason, I think this story has an enhanced, more series-specific value. Also, because of its lighthearted tone, the script actually comes the closest to replicating the voices of the characters — it’s the best written in this regard — which means that it has the most potential for straightforward adaptability. The story isn’t exciting — it’s predicated on a guest star — but the tone and the text enliven its telling.

As for placement, I think the fact that there’s no references to the baby means that it belongs after the 25-year-jump (and during a time when Eve was no longer expected to be seen every week), and since we’re dealing with Vikings, it might make sense to place this on Xena and Gabrielle’s way back from Norway — following “Return Of The Valkyrie” and another year jump (not really mentioned in the episodes thereafter). Those, again, hadn’t been written by this release, but that’s where it best fits.

 

11) “Darkness Falls (I)” (Released: July 2000)

Xena and Gabrielle prepare for an epic battle when their seer friend reveals that the Gods have fled, the Lamia are free, and demons from Hell are coming.

Chakrams: 2.5/10      Timeline: Between “Succession” and “Animal Attraction”

An “end of the world” rag that combines elements of Greek mythology, Norse mythology, and Christian doctrine, this is more an excuse for flashy visuals and some intense unmotivated drama than anything related to the characters. This trilogy of stories constitutes the worst material of the Dark Horse run, emphasizing the company’s brand more than Xena’s. Also, Hercules already did this “end of the world” type of story several times, most notably in its fifth season finale, “Revelations” (which wasn’t great, but at least was born of the show and some of the arcs it had been crafting).

If I had to give it a place, I’d say that because Xena’s not pregnant and doesn’t mention the baby, it can’t be set during the majority of Season Five. However, for reasons discussed below, it can’t be set in Season Six either. Therefore, if one tried to place it within the show’s narrative, it would come in early Season Five — perhaps after “Succession” and before the baby reveal.

 

12) “Darkness Falls (II)” (Released: August 2000)

Xena and Gabrielle battle the undead in what could be the end of the world.

Chakrams: 2/10      Timeline: Between “Succession” and “Animal Attraction”

As with the above, there’s nothing of value for the characters here, although the story does give Dark Horse an excuse to use its other invented stories and characters — Sven from #10, the monster from #9 — to make the heavy action feel more climactic. Obviously, there’s no real way to get out of this narrative dead end, so the plot resorts to a deus ex machina…

It’s in the form of Zeus, the Olympian God (I’m glad they stayed with the Greek myths, at least), whom Hercules killed in Xena‘s “God Fearing Child.” Therefore, if this troubled story — that the show would have NEVER used, simply because there’s no room for character — was to be placed, it’d have to come in early Season Five. And, again, before the baby announcement.

 

13) “Legion” (Released: September 2000)

Xena and Gabrielle rescue a girl who claims she’s being persecuted by a wraith – but that’s clearly not the full story.

Chakrams: 3.5/10      Timeline: Between “Succession” and “Animal Attraction”

Although this isn’t initially a continuation of the previous narrative, which is otherwise a self-contained two-parter, the story ends up tying into that “end of the world” bizarre alternate universe set up by Zeus in the latter two offerings. For this reason, it stinks by association and doesn’t work for these characters. However, there’s a kernel of an idea that works — Xena and Gabrielle being fooled by a girl who seeks protection, but is actually far more sinister. Interestingly, this was the concept that Tapert had long intended to use for Xena with Medea, who ended up on Hercules when Kevin Sorbo was injured and the crew needed stories fast.

Where could this entry be placed, should Xena have ever tried to use it? Well, like we noted, probably right after the above two-parter, meaning around the time of “Succession” (before “Animal Attraction” and the pregnancy reveal).

 

14) “This Year’s Model” (Released: October 2000)

Xena and Gabrielle learn that Salmoneus and Autolycus are using Pygmalion’s magic to make doubles of famous heroes.

Chakrams: 5/10      Timeline: Between “Succession” and “Animal Attraction”

Dark Horse’s final excursion is another comedic entry and establishes a nice sense of closure, ending the series on a wistful, uplifting note (on which most Xenites, though maybe not myself, had wished the show had truly concluded). The premise is a bit goofy, and would have been costly and time-consuming to produce — lots of computer work to make all these duplicates of the main characters — but it plays especially well in this comic book form. Also, it features Dark Horse’s only appearances from Autolycus and Salmoneus, neither of whom guested on Xena beyond the show’s fourth season. They’re always welcome additions to a lighter-leaning story, and while the King of Thieves is shortchanged, Salmoneus is very in-character here.

Placement-wise, I’m resolved to believing it belongs best within the final two years (not just because of Gabby’s outfit and short hair, which nevertheless is a non-story concern that I’ve already deemed inessential to this adjudication) and before the 25-year-jump, because Auto and Sal are not aged. Also, no baby or pregnancy means that it’s early in the season — once again, I think it would occur around the very busy time of “Succession”… before the big reveal.

 

 

Ultimately, the Dark Horse series begins well by engaging directly with the show’s timeline. But some believability issues and problems with the characterizations hinder the storytelling. While these latter issues improve as the run progresses, the ideas get let specific to the characters, become less connected to the television series, and develop an over-reliance on non Xena-related gimmicks. As for the art? Each edition is a little bit different — it’s clearly meant to emulate the show, and as a result, is a logical addition to any dedicated Xenite’s collection.

 

 

Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post — and look for our next Xena post in May! Tune in on Tuesday for more of the best episodes from The John Larroquette Show!

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