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Comic Book / Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard-Boiled Shaman

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Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard-Boiled Shaman originally appeared in short stories in comics created by Terry LaBan (artist of the newspaper comic, Edge City), and then received a longer treatment in a limited-run comic book , published by Vertigo Comics in 1998. Some years after the print comic's run ended due to weak sales, LaBan published another Muktuk story (actually a prequel to the earlier comic), Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard-Boiled Shaman: The Spirit of Boo, as a Webcomic. This has since disappeared from the Web, but the Webcomic material and the earliest strips have been collected into a book which is still available in print and PDF forms. So Muktuk Wolfsbreath is best treated as a set of comic books that were once a Webcomic for a while.

These comics are notable for recycling Film Noir tropes in the context of Siberian tribal life. As LaBan put it, "the realization that shamans were kind of like detectives, in that they brought about change by discovering the source of problems, clicked with that classic hard-boiled voice, and, suddenly, there was an idea for a character." The title character and provider of the monologue is a jaded but very capable shaman who takes on supernatural cases, solving them successfully but taking a battering in the process.

The comics contain examples of:

  • A God Am I: Shamans can make deals with gods to be able to take of their persona and use their power, but shamans who do so run the risk of dissolving in said persona and/or pissing their god off by using it incorrectly.
  • All for Nothing: In the past, Muktuk took on Umiak Birdbutt in order to keep from being kicked out of his village. One ass-whupping later, the black shaman had humiliated him in combat, nearly tore his soul to shreds, and stole the souls of Muktuk's wife and child. To top it all off, Muktuk left the village anyway, since there was nothing left for him.
  • Animal Eye Spy: With a ritual, Muktuk can do this with Weasel—though it's not as useful when the little guy's boozed up.
  • Anti-Hero: Muktuk is a cynical, pragmatic character who generally works for payment, but he does what’s needed to keep the world turning.
  • Arch-Enemy: Umiak Birdbutt, who killed Muktuk's wife and child, and is happy to make life bad for Muktuk yet again.
  • Art Evolution: LaBan freely acknowledges that "Even the casual reader will no doubt note the difference in drawing styles between older and newer pieces. The fact is, when I drew the original stories, particularly the first two, I was still working out my drawing style."
  • Astral Projection: As a skilled shaman, Muktuk can enter the astral realm more or less at will — and does.
  • Back from the Dead: Apparently this is a pretty normal thing for Muktuk to do—just matter of finding the right soul, repairing it if necessary, and a small ceremony to reunite it with their body. Judging from what he says during the Vertigo storyline, sometimes people come back insane, but otherwise there seem to be no ill-effects.
  • Based on a True Story: Well, actually, based on a whole lot of anthropological accounts of shamanic practices.
  • Berserk Button: Sedna hates sins. And she REALLY hates being tricked into helping someone cover a sin up.
  • Broad Strokes: The first couple of stories, published in Cud have story elements which are elaborated upon and altered for The Spirit of Boo and the Vertigo series, Umiak Birdbutt is implied to have been killed in the first story, but shows up alive in Boo, and the backstory of the Vertigo series is based loosely off of the second story, "Three Kinds of Fox".
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Weasel, who drinks like a fish but proves to be amazing spirit guide.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Muktuk's first tussle with Umiak Birdbutt was short, nasty, and ended with Birdbutt killing Muktuk's wife and child and stealing their souls.
  • Death of Personality: Muktuk mentions that the inevitable result of taking on a god's persona is eventually getting dissolved in it. Implicitly, this may have been one of the reasons why Nusqua thought she could get away with using Sedna's power the way she did.
  • Demonic Possession: The story "The Body Snatcher" involves the ghost of an evil shaman who deliberately makes a girl sick so another shaman (in this case Muktuk) will show up to heal her and he can steal the body. Fortunately, the possessing spirit is so occupied with boozing it up and boinking the aforementioned girl in his new body that he doesn't get the chance to damage more than Muktuk's reputation.
  • Deliberate Injury Gambit: Muktuk riles up Nusqua so she'll start blasting him with the power she borrowed from Sedna alerting the demon Sedna sent to drag her to hell to Nusqua's exact location.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: Sedna's hair is a filthy, heavy, matted mess thanks to collecting the sins of mankind, thus the best way for a shaman to get on her good side is to comb it out for her.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: It's possible to deceive the gods, but Muktuk notes that shamans skilled enough to do so generally know better than to try. Nusqua shows exactly what can go wrong with one of these deals when she misuses Sedna's power to conceal a grievous sin (sin being Sedna's Berserk Button) and gets dragged to hell when the betrayed goddess sends a demon after her.
  • Distracted by My Own Sexy: Ghosts are powerfully drawn to their own remains. This is useful for distracting the hostile ones, or finding the one you want.
  • Did You Just Romance Cthulhu?: In The Spirit of Boo Bai Ulgan proves unreceptive to Muktuk's plea for help...but his wife...
  • The Dog Bites Back: The one who sent a dream of Nusqua to Muktuk, wasn't Nusqua herself, but her spirit guide, who was so upset about her actions that it turned on her and sent the dream and further clues to Muktuk so he'd stop her.
  • Drunk with Power: Muktuk speculates that Nusqua would never have tried to deceive Sedna, the goddess she was channeling, if this hadn't happened to her.
  • Evil Sorcerer: "Black shamans" of whom Birdbutt is one.
  • Femme Fatale: A necessary feature of this sort of neo-Noir, even in a context of duelling spirit-magics. They tend to be sexy, very dangerous, and also dangerously overconfident.
  • Flight: Shamans can levitate, but apparently for a fairly limited amount of time. Still, it saves Muktuk's bacon quite a few times.
  • Functional Addict: Muktuk notes that Weasel is the only spirit guide he knows with a drinking problem. The good news is that Weasel works better drunk than most guides do sober.
  • Functional Magic: For those who know how to use it, magic here is quite functional indeed. Muktuk even has an enchanted cat skull that works like a GPS in the spirit world.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Prior to the Vertigo Story, Nusqua's flawed spells killed her and ripped apart her soul. Muktuk descended into the lower world to find it, then put together the pieces and brought her back to life. They then had a whole bunch of Glad To Be Back from the Dead Sex.
  • God Is Displeased: Sedna spends all day spewing prey animals forth from her womb, and how do we humans thank her for it? We go and commit sins that float down into the sea and get all tangled up in her hair, and the worse they are, the nastier it gets! So when someone breaks a particularly powerful taboo, it's only natural for her to cut off their food supply.
  • Grand Theft Me: One story has Muktuk trying to get his body back after the ghost of an evil shaman hijacks it. Muktuk himself has to snatch the body of a mouse until he gets it back.
  • Grim Up North: The story uses the Siberian taiga as a setting much in the way that Film Noir uses rain-soaked, gritty cities.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Reimagined as a Hardboiled Shaman.
  • The Hidden Hour: Muktuk mentions that the time just before dawn is the visiting hour, when spirits can appear in dreams as they wish without being called.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Muktuk knocks back the occasional hallucinogenic mushroom in the course of his work — though for essential practical reasons, rather than for abstract insight.
  • Hope Spot: Rooka and the Vengeful Ghost-animated body of his son recognize each other. They embrace. Rooka gets his throat torn out.
  • Human Resources: Muktuk used the bones and skin of the first shaman he defeated to make a suitable canoe for traveling the Lake of the Dead.
  • Impersonation Gambit:Muktuk uses Nusqua's amulets and hair decorations to pass himself off as her to Sedna. The goddess can't see faces, but recognizes "Nusqua" by the power of her amulets. This allows him to reveal the truth behind Nusqua's actions.
  • Jerkass God: Deities in this setting aren't really friendly to mortals. Both Bai Ulgan and Sedna are specific examples — although as Muktuk explains, Sedna has reasons for her hatred of humanity.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: The taiga is a tough place, and a lot of people behave badly, as Muktuk is fully aware — but he still does the right thing.
  • Magic Misfire: Prior to the Vertigo comic, Nusqua, who had The Gift, but no training, attempted to strike at Muktuk for deceiving her village. Unfortunately, her crude spells ended up giving her "shaman sickness", resulting in her being torn to pieces and sent to the Lower World. Muktuk saved her, though.
  • Moment of Weakness: After easily beating Muktuk in combat, Umiak Birdbutt gave him the choice of giving up his soul or those of his wife and son. Muktuk refused both offers, so Birdbutt summoned a chewing demon who began to literally tear apart the very structure of Muktuk's soul, and would do so for an indescribably agonizing eternity unless Birdbutt called him off. Mad from pain, Muktuk gave in.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Rooka's very upset when he learns that Nusqua mind-controlled him into trying to kill Muktuk.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: The demons from the spirit world are intentionally drawn as vague, hastily scribbled shapes.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Trapped in a cave by a snowstorm, Rooka was forced to eat his deceased teenage son and told the village a tiger killed him.
  • No-Sell: Apparently spirits can't possess someone who'd been brought Back from the Dead., Weasel says as much after he fails to do so when Rooka runs the risk of ruining Muktuk's and his plan for dealing with Nusqua.
  • The Omniscient: Sedna, at least when it comes to sins, thanks to all of them ending up in her hair.
  • Parental Incest: In his debut story, Muktuk discovers that Sedna's cut off a village's supply of prey because of a case of this.
  • Past Experience Nightmare: Muktuk has recurring nightmares about his wife and son having their souls eaten by a demon.
  • Placebo Effect: Muktuk mentions that his job often entails making people think he did something magical, such as curing a disease someone doesn't actually have.
  • Private Detective: Shamans are the setting equivalent — just with a focus on spirit problems rather than crime.
  • Private Eye Monologue: Muktuk narrates his own stories in best noir style.
  • Puberty Superpower: Muktuk mentions that is a person has the gift for being a shaman, it doesn't show up 'til puberty. A short story implies that a sufficient amount of stress and/or the intervention of a spirit can being it on once a person hits marrying age.
  • Recycled In Space: Well, Film Noir recycled in tribal Siberia.
  • Rescue Romance: Prior to the Vertigo story, Muktuk rescuing Nusqua from Hell and bringing her to life improved her opinion of him considerably...for a while.
  • Scylla and Charybdis: Years ago, Muktuk was forced to choose between facing the incredibly powerful shaman Umiak Birdbutt so the chief's son wouldn't have to pay for services rendered, or being kicked out of his clan. If Muktuk'd chosen to leave, his wife and son would still be alive.
  • Sizeshifter: Since physical space means nothing to spirits, Muktuk can shrink and ride Weasel when he's astrally projecting.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: As a shaman, Muktuk is able to communicate verbally with animals.
  • Spirit Advisor: In rather grittier form than usual — Muktuk treats spirits the way a PI treats street contacts.
  • Super-Strength: One of the benefits Nusqua gains from her connection to Sedna.
  • The Power of Blood: Ghosts who've gone mad can be temporarily restored with a drink of blood.
  • Training the Gift of Magic: One of the reasons Muktuk rescued Nusqua from the Lower World was that he could tell she'd make an excellent shaman with training, just from the spells she came up with on her own.
  • Vengeful Ghost: Rooka the hunter's cannibalized son has a bone to pick with his father, but since Nusqua's been misusing Sedna's power to make a shield which keeps him out of the village, he has to pick the bones of anyone who passes through it instead.
  • Vision Quest: As a shaman, Muktuk can enter the dream realm to move the plot along. The trope is played with in that he knows that realm well, and treats it as a place of work rather than a place of mystery.
  • Weasel Mascot: Muktuk's spirit guide is a weasel.
  • Woman Scorned: At least a part of Nusqua's actions are due to the bitter way her relationship with Muktuk ended.

Alternative Title(s): Muktuk Wolfsbreath Hard Boiled Shaman