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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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Scott Oden and John C Hocking - Accessible Authors

Reviewing books accomplishes many tasks, from documenting the experience for myself, informing potential readers whether or not to purchase, to establishing a dialogue with authors. The last one I learned as an unexpected, pleasant, outcome over the years. This blog captures interactions with Scott Oden and John C. Hocking.

Recently, I was excited to learn that Marvel partnered with Perilous Worlds  to serialize new, pastiche novellas to accompany their reboot of the Conan franchise (reclaimed from  Dark Horse comics). For reasons unknown to me, Marvel chose to blitz fans with three parallel comics in early 2019, with unrelated stories, and with bonus novellas too: making >5 near simultaneously-released serials regarding a character who is expected to jump geographies and careers (barbarian, pirate, king). 

With all this, fans will be glad to know that some of the tour guides (authors) are more than focused--in fact, some are compulsive about continuing Howard's Conan milieu.

"Shadow of Vengeance"

The Savage Sword of Conan series features the story "Shadow of Vengeance" by veteran historical fantasy author Scott Oden. Having read his Gathering of Ravens novel, I was excited to see what he was going to produce. 

As noted in my reviews of the first two Savage Swords (Savage Sword #1 &  Savage Sword #2), Scott Oden's meticulous craft is self-evident and stands in contrast to the frenetic plotting of the comic beside it. The first installment does not even explicitly show Conan, since its purpose was to create a sequel for REH's "The Devil in Iron" tale and Oden's transition called for a different perspective. The second installment does show Conan; I was excited to see more action, despite my appreciation for controlled pacing which I noted.

To my delight, Scott Oden read my review and explained some of his intents and methods. Check out his Scott Oden website; notes on Chapter #2.  Select snippets are below regarding (a) content delivery and (b) crafting genuine dialogue:

"The technique I’m using is one known in film and TV as the Establishing Shot. You start at a wide angle, the landscape, and narrow your focus until you’re centered on a single character — or, in this case, a pair of characters, Conan and Octavia. It’s a technique Howard used quite often (he was a surprisingly cinematic storyteller for the early 20’s and 30’s), though I’ve never been able to match his economy of words..."
"... I opened a text file and imported the text of my favorite Conan stories from Project Gutenberg. Then, I excised everything but Conan’s dialogue. This became my guide, my bible, to replicate Howard’s syntax, style, word choice, even punctuation. I think I pulled it off, but ultimately you’re the judge of that, Gentle Reader." -- Scott Oden
In short, I encourage others to review literature, and to reach out to authors too. SSoC #3 is coming out shortly, and it's set up to deliver "Vengeance".

"Black Starlight"

Similarly, John C. Hocking is writing the serial "Black Starlight" accompanying the Conan the Barbarian comic (review No.1No. 2No. 3No. 4.) In this novella, Conan and his mysterious group travels to Stygia with the emerald lotus. 

This extends the Conan and the Emerald Lotus pastiche written by Hocking himself in 1995, and also features the sorceress Zelandra. Perilous Worlds in reprinting that in early 2019, along with another pastiche novel by Hocking called Conan and the he Living Plague (excerpt on Perlious World website, and blurb below).

As part of the Sword & Sorcery group on goodreads, we are having a group read on all things Emerald Lotus( direct thread link). 

To our surprise, John C. Hocking has joined in! Feel welcome to participate. He explained that the reprint and Living Plague should be printed in Spring... so we will likely extend the groupread (currently Mar-Apr, will likely extend. May-June).
Conan and the Emerald Lotus blurb ($16 ISBN : 978-1-7328301-1-0)Lured into the addictive thrall of the Emerald Lotus, the lovely sorceress Zelandra turns to Conan for aid. They must contend with bandits, undead revenants, monsters, and the desert deeps to defeat the lotus’s Stygian master in his lair, never guessing the Emerald Lotus itself may be the greater threat. 
Conan and the Living Plague blurb ($16 ISBN : 978-1-7328301-0-3): Sent to recover treasure from a plague-wracked city, not only must Conan avoid its deranged survivors, but battle a deadly disease given humanoid shape. To save himself – and perhaps the world — he allies with a scheming sorcerer to traverse a demon-haunted abyss in a desperate bid to destroy the Living Plague.