Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Belit 2019 #2 - review by SE

Age Of Conan: Belit, Queen Of The Black Coast (2019) #2 by Tini Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Catapults, really? Age of Conan: Belit, Queen of the Black Coast launched the third of Marvel's near-simultaneous Conan comics. Belit-issue one was marred with a nonsensical mercy killing. Issue 2 did little to steer the wreckage.

Some pieces of appealing design were thrown in, but the execution was lacking. Belit demonstrates a love of her father's ships, and a desire to be a pirate queen. The details are missing. We are not shown her attachment to the ship, nor are we really given any hint of how she plans to become a queen of the seas. Also, there are hints of her having a connection to sea-creatures, perhaps even summoning them, which would have been welcome, but was squashed.

The best part of this issue is Stackpole's 3-page, novelette serial: "Bone Whispers." It's a great extension from the introduction and is a great companion piece regarding Belit.

But the comic is main draw, and we are treated to another meandering story of teen-aged brat and a "WTF moment" during a key conflict: catapults on pirate ship. Yep. You might be thinking "hey, aren't catapults siege engines used on land?" and you would be correct. Some historians might say "they were on used ships, but usually war barges, since sails would interfere with the ammunition."

Here, Belit has catapults attack her friend?/nemesis sea-creature, a leviathan (a kraken with tentacles). You would hope that the artist or writer would realize how dumb this is. Would have rather seen Belit dive in the sea and wrestle the giant squid. Instead, I gazed a panel that literally has a catapult shooting rocks through a sail. For a series that strives to make connections with pirate-loving, seafaring adventurers, you'd hope they would have applied a ballista, or a Greek-fire spewing canon.

Then we have a glint of hope: Belit and her pirate buddies decide to use the carcass to exploit a random port, to convince them that protection is needed and they require money for that. Turns out the port (one of many) happens to be the one that can controls/summon more of the sea creatures. WTH. There is no foreshadowing of the importance of this port, or that a sorceress may be controlling the sea creatures... in fact, this shift takes away from Belit having a special connection to the rare creatures. It would have made more sense if Belit had summoned more (even accidentally).

This is pitched as a 5 part series, and there is no clear conflict/story-arc guiding episode #3 (in the comic anyway, the "Bone Whispers" story on the other hand is building tension and hope just fine). What can we expect? Well, at least one absurd panel.

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Groupread Poll - GR Sword and Sorcery Group

The Head Hunter movie review

The Head Hunter is well done. It's an 1hr 20min conflict between a monster hunter and the creature who killed his daughter.

It's a slow burn horror with Sword 'n Sorcery milieu. Photography, setting, and story rule here. Little dialogue (mainly one actor). Most action off screen.

Reminded me of the pacing/tone/setting of "Valhalla Rising" (Mads Mikkelseon, 2009), but The Head Hunter has a simpler story and is less grim (still grim...just less grim than Valhalla Rising).

The Head Hunter (2019) Trailer  

Valhalla Rising (2009) Trailer

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Savage Sword of Conan #4

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

A betrayal of sorts (ambiguous to avoid spoilers) disrupts the party of Suty, Menes, and Conan while rooting through the sewers/ruins. They follow Conan's mind-map... being chased by Koga Thun's henchman.

Satisfying growth and application of character motivations demonstrated here. The story develops at a nice pace with loads of skeleton smashing. The conflict is much more clearly a Conan vs Koga Thun match rather than many previous, shallow/random battles. It ends on a decent cliff hanger that will compel readers to grab #5.

On the novelette front: Scott Oden's "The Shadow of Vengeance" focuses on Conan's meeting with bunch of pirates and mercenaries as he tries to unite/motivate the Brotherhood to create a harbor for all Free Peoples. Cimmerians lack political moxy, so this war council transpires as smoothly as a bunch of testosterone charged men resolving a controversial sports call at a pub. The hypnotized Octavia from the previous episode did not appear, and will likely confront Conan in the next episode.

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Friday, April 5, 2019

Conan The Barbarian 5 - Review by SE

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

"In his prime, Conan encountered the Crimson Witch, and later, her child servants--all worshippers of the death god Razazel. The more a great warrior cheats death, the more imbued his blood becomes with the power of Death Magic that the Crimson Witch needs to resurrect her death god. From the hills of Cimmeria to the kingdom of Aquilonia, Conan travled, survived, and thrived by cutting a bloody swath through the Hyborian Age, and with the amount of times he's escaped death, he's become very powerful indeed..." -- inside flap blurb

This is a solid issue, that could stand alone. The inside flap blurb covers the progress and summarizes the approach to the series so far: each issue captures Conan defying death in a different part of his life across the globe. The art is great, the story consistent, battles fun, creatures weird, and it even has some a few, subtle call-outs to the Belit and Savage Sword series content. Great stuff.

But, it is part #5, and we hardly need another episode showing how much Conan defies death. I am glad that it crystallized that the idea that Conan has to enrich his sacred/cursed blood, but bring on more of the Crimson witch! She deserved more than half a page.

John C Hocking's novelette "Black Starlight" continues on a good trajectory, with Conan and Zelandra (and friends) defending the Emerald Lotus from nightmarish, eldritch creatures conjured by some sorcerer.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Savage Sword #3 - Review by SE

Savage Sword Of Conan (2019-) #3 by Gerry Duggan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For me, Scott Oden's story entry carried the issue. "Shadow of Vengeance" Ch III focuses on Octavia's perspective, ramping up the tension nicely in detailed, fluid prose. Ends with some hypnotic sorcery. Great stuff.

The comic portion had some nice elements. Conan and Suty actually try to save Menes from the cultist guards. Then a silly scene occurs [some beasts of burden are roped to a building, and Conan hijacks them and pulls the building over on top of the bad guys; but it is unclear why the ropes were tied to the building's top, so the "clever escape sequence" just seemed unnecessarily contrived.]

Anyway, after those wasted pages, the comic introduces Koga Thun and his dark sorcery, a bit of Conan's past, emphasizes role of the mind-map, and it leads Conan and the team into catacombs full of undead. Super fast paced, almost too fast, but fun & with nice art.

If not for the dumb escape-trap scene, I may have given this five stars.

SE Review of #2
SE Review of #1

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Age of Conan: Belit #1 - Review by SE

Age Of Conan: Belit, Queen Of The Black Coast (2019) #1 by Tini Howard
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Age Of Conan: Belit, Queen Of The Black Coast (2019) #1 is the first of the third-2019 Marvel series released in 2019 (the others being "Conan the Barbarian" and "Savage Sword of Conan"). Like the others, it is graced with a serialized novella, this time by Michael A. Stackpole.

"Age of Conan" has a great premise: this series focuses on non-Conan characters, this one from Robert E Howard's story "Queen of the Black Coast"(1934 Weird tales). Unlike the other two Marvel Conan series, the novella and comic are both focused on the same characters and time. The cover is gorgeous. Belit is obviously the focus, and the series promises to track her adventures from being a young girl, a daughter of a pirate king, onward.

The Cover and Stackpole's story "Bone Whispers" are worth the cover price. N'Yaga, a shaman of sorts, meets up with Belit. As an introductory three pages, it works splendid. It fills in the backstory, develops characters, and sets up a fun adventure.

The Comic's first installment is on shaky ground.

Detracting from the decent premise, I laughed out loud at a key moment that was too contrived to be dramatic. Some obscured spoilers here, but consider this: What would you do if you have a beloved mentor marooned on an island, tied to a post, and you were able to sneak to them on a boat with a knife?
(a) simply cut the rope and rescue the mentor?
(b) mercy kill them in an instant?

We are treated to the latter choice, which is inconsistent with the character relationship and the art (which shows the knife, boat, and rope together on the same page; the mentor did not appear near death).

Belit is then held captive and rescued fortuitously; then fate brings her a rare sea-creature at a random, but opportune time--merely to serve as a shallow cliff hanger. I anticipated that she would have freed herself (with less help from others), and given how scarce sea-creatures are, the encounter made me roll my eyes.

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