Book #39. Sable, by Mike Grell. Hardcover.
I discovered by accident that this book even existed.
Mike Grell is my favorite comic book creator, and two of his creations (Warlord and Jon Sable) are well inside my top 10 list. There is a black-and-white collection of the earliest Warlord stories that is now out-of-print, and therefore more expensive than I’d like to pay for it. So every few months I poke around Amazon and see if a reasonably-priced version of that volume shows up. But one time one that I searched, Amazon suggested this book, instead. And it was one I had never heard of. But it was a novel featuring one of my favorite characters ever, so of course I had to buy it.
The novel was published in 2000, and covers the basic material from issues 1-6 of the original comic book series. That original comic book series ran from 1983 to 1988. A criminally short-lived television series aired in 1987, and is where the image below comes from. Those first issues serve as the “origin story” for the series, but the plot also works as the complete arc for the novel.
Jon Sable is a former Olympian who moved from the US to his wife’s home of South Africa. When his safari tourism business slows, he takes a job as a game warden and makes himself a serious impediment to the illegal ivory trade. Poachers kill his wife and children in retaliation.
This could easily have turned into a standard revenge piece, but Mike Grell does not tell standard stories. He layers in a second career for Sable, turning the bedtime stories he used to tell his children into a line of successful children’s books. Moving the action back to the US allows Grell to explore Sable’s childhood and his attempts to move on with his life. But when someone from his past comes out of the shadows, he travels back to Africa to finally settle the score with the man who ordered the hit on his family.
Grell does a fine job weaving in South African politics and history into the book, as well as demonstrating his knowledge of hunting and weaponry. There were a few odd changes in point-of-view, which might be a holdover from writing for comics. But this was a thoroughly entertaining read, and a great reminder of why I like this character so much.