Saturday, February 16, 2019

Savage Sword of Conan #1 (2019) Review by SE

Savage Sword Of Conan (2019-) #1 by Gerry Duggan
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is part one of three separate reboots for Marvel's Conan. I am also reading the Conan the Barbarian yarns (CtB, now on #3), and will likely try out the Age of Conan series (AoC, due out next month, March 2019).

Like the CtB series, this comic also has a novelette attached; this one also appears unrelated to the story in the comic. This one is penned by Scott Oden. For me, this story is less an add-on and more of the real feature. It is presented as a sequel to Robert E. Howard's 1934 The Devil in Iron, a short story that presents Conan as a leader of a kozak group who annoys a corrupt governor from Turan. I was instantly inspired to re-read it. That is a testimony to Oden's pastiche which deftly continues the tale without explicitly presenting the barbarian.

The comic part had some highs and lows. Here Conan is ostensibly twenty years old, living as a pirate. In a disjointed tale, he is captured in the high seas from wreckage, imprisoned, then must fight for freedom from a Stygian galley. I was most impressed with Conan when he... hmmm.. "procures" some bones to unlock his manacles. That was a savage and witty scene, true to Conan. I was less impressed with a kick-to-the-groin and an anachronistic depiction of a gun on a pirate (noted by several Facebook groups). Monsters and sorcery sneak their way in, but not smoothly. As cool as the cover is, it only tangentially reflects the story.

Beware Marvel's ADHD: I was concerned about the frenetic coverage of location and times within CtB, and that concern is amplified here with SSoC. This introduces two new story yarns in parallel. Let us assume that the AoC has a story too... that would mean that Marvel is giving readers ~6 separate Conan yarns nearly simultaneously; within the comics, Conan seems to be flitting about new geographies every issue.

Review of CtB No.3,
Review of CtB No. 2,
Review of CtB No.1

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Conan the Barbarian #3 - Review By SE

Conan The Barbarian (2019-) #3 by Jason Aaron
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Conan The Barbarian (2019-) #3: In this third installment, we have Conan at a third location and adventure. We also have a third installment of John C. Hocking's "Black Starlight" novelette, itself an entirely different story taking place somewhere near Stygia. More on Marvel's ADHD issue below.

No.3 pays homage to Conan being crucified on a giant tree. Previous classic scenes include:
1) The "Tree of Death", in the second chapter in A Witch Shall Be Born (Weird Tales, 1934)… in Khauran (Koth, Zamora, Shem surround this small country)
2) The "Tree of Woe" from the Conan the Barbarian 1982 movie) occurring in … Eastern Lands, sentenced by Thulsa Doom

Here in Conan #3 2019, he is in Nemedia, in then mining town region, hung up to die on the giant, ancient Red Tree (on Red Tree Hill), sentenced for thieving

Most of the story emphasizes Conan's unique abilities (huge size, quick thinking) to work his way out of a terrible fate; a chance, and unnecessary, lightning strike detracted from Conan’s ability to solve his own problems. The primary antagonist introduced in #1 was the Crimson Witch and her minion children; they appear again, this time for 2 pages (in No.2 it was ~1page). I'm hoping No.4 allots them more emphasis.

On the Black Starlight front, John C. Hocking dishes out another chunk of Conan and his mysterious travels to Stygia with the emerald lotus. This story starts to take shape now, so I am interested in seeing what his mission/goal is really about.

Marvel's ADHD: Marvel's Conan the Barbarian is done well, but with the frenetic coverage of location and times in just three installments, plus a disconnected story attached, the apparent lack of focus is a concern.

But wait there is more! Marvel is releasing two more Conan comics, very soon to overlap with this series:
2) The Savage Sword of Conan
3) AND... The Age of Conan
- AND there is another pastiche novelette to be placed in The Savage Sword (penned by Scott Oden).
- Let us assume that The Age of Conan has a story too... that would mean that Marvel is giving readers ~6 separate Conan yarns nearly simultaneously, the first two of which is jumping across geographies and time. I only hope that there is some sort of coherent theme across these.

Review of No. 2,
Review of No.1

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Twilight Echoes #1 Review by S.E.

S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

With Carnelian Press ‘s Twilight Echoes #1 Steve Dilks brings together three 2013 tales (by Charles Allen Gramlich, Davide Mana, Steve Lines) anchored by a relatively obscure Robert E. Howard adventure. It’s a sixty-seven page pamphlet nicely illustrated; the cover is drawn by veteran Jim Pitts, with interior illustrations by Regis Moulun, Kurt Brugel, Tony Gleeson, and Yanis Rubus Rubulias. Editor Steve Dilks pens the opening foreword. It is an interesting selection of authors who stand in contrast to the style of the father of Sword & Sorcery, Robert E Howard. They cover a variety of milieus: Nordic, Egyptian, Arabian, and African. All vary in writing style but are common in that they lean heavily toward poetic, weird pulp (like a blend of REH and Clark Ashton Smith).

1) “Whisper in Ashes” I interviewed Charles Gramlich on Black in 2018. This follows his warrior Krieg (war); this was published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #17 (2013), and I had read Unsheathed which is a disconnected episode for the mysterious warrior (having read that led me to this anthology). This time Krieg is in a Nordic milieu facing a lycanthrope in a remote castle with a jarl called Tovar; it is unique and wonderful, and it evoked a Kane story by KEW in has many parallels: “Reflections for the winter of my Soul.”

2) “Bride of the Swamp God”: Davide Mana published this as an eBook in 2013. Several converging parties find themselves near Alexandria Egypt: firstly, an Egyptian sorceress Amunet and Greek vizier go into the swamp to all upon the Ancient One for support (in part against her own family); secondly, Aculeo, the hero, follows his deserting, Romanesque “moronic soldiers who had wandered off for treasure; and lastly, there are locals who worship the Lovecraftian swamp god. No more spoilers, save what is said in the introduction: Amunet and Aculeo have more tales together.

3) “The Eyes of the Scorpion”: Steve Lines first published this in FUNGI #21 (2013). The beginning of this Arabian inspired tale is overly verbose and heavy on narrative, but the necromancer-saturated tale eventually takes off and is very satisfying. Shamal is a warrior serving protection over the Sultan’s necromancer. The later sends him on a mission to retrieve the titular “eyes.” The protagonist embarks into the den of the Lord of Ghuls and Scorpion God controlled by his master’s mind.

4) “The Vale of lost women” by the Robert E. Howard wrote this drug-inspired, African trip. The very white Livia (and very druggable) is saved by Conan twice; once from black warriors and once from brown women. As Steve Dilks mentions, this is racially charged and was not published in REH’s life (published posthumously in The Magazine of Horror #15, 1967). In fact, the racial aspect is cringe worthy by today’s sensibilities. However, the story is a splendid mix of weird horror and action.

Carnelian Press: To order (as of 2019) you communicate via Private Message on Carnelian Press’s Facebook Page. Here is their pinned post:
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At present we only accept payment via PayPal. If you have an account, please follow these 4 easy steps-
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Conan #2 - Review by SE

Conan The Barbarian (2019-) #2
by Jason Aaron
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Conan is back, but is he just wandering?

This is a decent sequel, a frontier story pitting Conan against the civilized soldiers at Fort Velitrium, a tribe of savage Picts, and a horde of monstrous giant serpents. It’s a representative Conan tale with good art; it demonstrates his ability to lead, and to be conflicted (as much as a barbarian is) about what it means to be a barbarian vs. a civilized being.

However, this tale is a deviation from the horror story presented in #1 ; for a series pitched as worthy as being a 6-episode book (available July 2019) I expected that story to continue (or at least have elements that crossed over). Well, an element of story 1 did sneak in at the end, but was simply a way to call out “the authors remember the real story & acknowledge this was just filler.”

The Hocking Story is similarly decent but disjointed. Certainly, it is cool to have a short story as part of the comic, but it is not associated with the illustrations; "Black Starlight" continues with three more pages of prose with Conan and his crew checking out the ghost town they stumbled on previously. On the one hand, it was neat to see a call-out to the emerald lotus (Hocking's pastiche), but... motivations of the band were murky before and this episode did not clarify much, nor did require anything mentioned in the first episode.

Enjoyable but less promising. I bought #3 since I have hope for this and the art is well done. I hope it stays on track and builds on these.

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