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Cross-Hatchings for Friday, April 8

By the time you read this, Julie and I will be on the road again, for a long weekend of bookscouting and goofing off in and around The Dalles, Oregon. (Apparently, just in time for the Cherry Groove Festival. No, really.)

So here’s a bunch of little bits and pieces that have been accumulating in my “Maybe there’s a column there” files to tide you over. For some reason, this time it all seems to fall loosely under the ‘sword-and-sorcery’ banner.

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As far as I know, the only official stateside screening of this movie was at Comic-Con in 2009; if there was a follow-up theatrical release, we missed it. But not too long ago we acquired the DVD of Solomon Kane. Finally!

Really wanted to LOVE this, but in truth only sorta liked it.

I love Solomon Kane, and as I’ve said in this space before, he is actually my favorite of Robert E. Howard’s characters. But the movie left me with mixed feelings.

Now, I’m not one of those fans that goes into a movie adaptation ready to hate everything that deviates from the original text. I thought James Purefoy was inspired casting and everything I’d heard about this movie suggested that these guys were really going to try and do right by the dour Puritan. I was rooting for them and I was prepared to forgive a great deal if I saw a recognizable Kane up there on the screen.

Purefoy was great. Sadly, the script was not.

And, well, I kinda did… and so I kinda liked it.

The big issue I had with it is that writer and director Michael Bassett has fallen into the trap that so many of these adaptations do– he decided to tell the origin story first.

So to begin with, he’s starting from way behind because Howard never did an ‘origin’ for Solomon Kane; Bassett has to invent one. It’s not a bad origin, exactly, but it strikes me as being a little over-complicated.

I just don't buy Kane as being a sappy romantic.

But my real beef with it is that it starts out with Solomon Kane as a looter and renegade soldier who only turns to the Puritan faith as a sort of last-ditch attempt at a Get-out-of-Hell-FREE card, because he gets on a demon’s bad side. Eventually, of course, Solomon must find the courage to dare the demon again, take the chance of sacrificing his soul to save the life of an innocent girl– and it turns out that there’s been a family connection to the demon ALL ALONG and it’s actually Kane’s DESTINY to fight the Evil of… etc.

My instinctive reaction to this backstory was “No, that’s not right.” Howard wrote Solomon Kane as being so sure, so scary certain of the moral rightness of what he was doing, that it just feels off to see Kane plagued with fear and self-doubt.

The big payoff at the end WAS pretty good.

Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good story and it moves at a good clip — almost too quickly at times, some of the fights are hard to follow, especially with such dark costumes and sets. But the mood and the cinematography are amazing, and Purefoy really sells it.

It’s not bad. I didn’t hate it. I mostly just wasn’t in love with the idea of Solomon Kane as a guy who starts as a jerk that has to fight his way through to redemption, especially since that story is apparently the only origin modern movie people know how to tell any more. (See Daredevil, Iron Man, Batman Begins, Elektra, and so on and so on.)

But apart from my minor quibbles with the story itself, the trouble with doing this kind of an origin is that it takes forever to get to the part with the guy you paid to see. I was all set for a movie about Solomon Kane, the Puritan avenger of evil. Instead, we get Solomon the vicious renegade with daddy issues; Solomon the scared guy trying to be a monk; Solomon the pacifist pilgrim wayfarer who develops a soft spot for the Crowthorn family… it’s not until we’re three-quarters of the way through the movie that we really get a good look at Solomon Kane, Puritan badass. The payoff’s not quite worth the wait.

On the other hand, as I said above, it’s a great-LOOKING movie, and James Purefoy is brilliant. The supporting cast is good too, especially the late Pete Postlethwaite as Crowthorn. It’s certainly worth a rental.

According to Bassett this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy, but I suspect that probably won’t be happening considering we’re still waiting around for a U.S. release. Maybe this upcoming Conan movie with Jason Momoa will kick someone into gear. (After all, it was Solomon Kane coat-tailing on that selfsame barbarian’s Marvel success that got me interested in the original stories, decades ago.)

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Speaking of Conan and other things Robert E. Howard related, I was very, very pleased to see this in the comics shop last week. Of all the sword-and-sorcery comics from the 1970s, the original Savage Sword was my favorite. So I picked up Dark Horse’s new iteration of it, Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword, with great interest, completely predisposed to love it.

NOW we're talkin!

And… well, again, I just kinda liked it.

It’s a nice format, and one that I wish Marvel and DC would look into — 80 pages, squarebound, of various comics all based around a loose theme, retailing for $7.99. Think of it as a sort of baby trade paperback. The lead story is a Conan adventure, naturally, but we also get tales of Bran Mak Morn, Dark Agnes from Sword Woman, and Solomon Kane’s pal John Silent (this one seems like an odd choice.)

The Conan story is just okay, and it’s part one of three so it was mostly setup.

Kind of generic Conan, but that's still fair-to-middlin' good if you happen to like Conan.

I’m hoping things pick up in parts two and three, but the opening chapter was kind of ‘meh.’

The backup stories were much more interesting, at least to me. According to Mike Richardson’s editorial, Savage Sword will lead off with a Conan story and everything else will star various other Howard characters done by rotating talents, with an emphasis on the lesser-known Howard heroes like El Borak and Sailor Steve Costigan.

Works for me. Especially if we’re going to get cool stuff like Marc Andreyko on Dark Agnes. That was absolutely my favorite even though, again, this is part one of two and essentially all introduction and setup. But I forgave this much faster than I did the Conan story simply because I always dug Dark Agnes, who as far as I’m concerned has it all over Red Sonja. (There’s a lovely new edition of Sword Woman out now as a matter of fact and I heartily recommend it to all of you that like a little edge in your swashbuckling.) I just love that she’s included in the rotation.

I was especially pleased to see DARK AGNES by Andreyko and Atkins. She was a favorite of mine from the 70s paperback days.

The other entries… well, the John Silent story is all right, but I would much rather have had something else. Something off-genre to change it up… maybe a Howard Western, especially something humorous like Breckinridge Elkins. The grim sword-slinging, no matter which era we jump to, gets a little monotonous. There’s also a nice prose piece about El Borak by Mark Finn.

Then we round out the book with a “colorized” reprint from the original Savage Sword, “Worms of the Earth” by Roy Thomas, Tim Conrad, and Barry Windsor-Smith. So actually the longest piece in the book is a reprint, although I’m sure it’s new to the vast majority of readers out there. Nevertheless, we end up with two starts with no finishes, a prose piece, and a little 8-page short story for the new material, a total that makes up barely half of the book. That made me raise an eyebrow.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see “Worms of the Earth” included. I like that even the oddball Howard adaptations from the 70s Marvel books are finding a reprint home at Dark Horse. And I can understand the reasoning behind presenting it in color for modern readers, although I don’t agree with that choice.

But it’s an awful lot of real estate to take up with a reprint in your first issue. Moreover, the color job essentially buries the linework and turns the whole thing to mud. (That original linework, even on crappy 1970s newsprint, was so gorgeous that it was more than enough to carry the story in black-and-white. I mean, it’s Barry Smith and Tim Conrad for crying out loud.)

Really, this one's WAY more about the art than the story... so why cover up the gorgeous art with this dark muddy coloring?

So, call it a B-plus overall. I loved the idea but only kinda liked the execution. But that’s enough for me to stick around for a while and give them a chance to get the book into a groove. If you are a Howard fan you’ll probably want to check it out.

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Speaking of the upcoming Conan movie (and by the way, can we please stop calling it a ‘remake’, lazy Hollywood press writers? Was Batman Begins a ‘remake’ of the 1966 Adam West movie?) all I know about it is that it stars Jason Momoa, they’re shooting, and images are starting to trickle out. Like this one.

I never was a STARGATE guy at all so I have no idea if Momoa can act. Almost anyone would be better than AH-Nuld though.

And this one.

Don't love the one-sleeve chainmail thing or the kilt, but the pose and the blood are certainly Conan-esque enough to suit me.

So there you go. Now you know as much as I do. (More, if you’ve actually seen Mr. Momoa doing his Stargate thing; I have not.)

I do have a comment about the poster though.

I like the look... but...

On the one hand, I like the Frazetta look of the thing. On the other, I am absolutely convinced that obsessing over the Frazetta/Boris/etc. paintings of Conan in the 1970s was what drove the studio to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first movies, decades ago… a bad decision that led to a host of others, I suspect. In the first John Milius Conan movie, especially, you get the sense that no one involved had ever actually read a Howard story. The dialogue is terrible and the pace is all off.

Robert E. Howard stories– I mean the ones he actually published, not the fragments or rejects or whatever else people have been pulling out of the estate files for years– whether it was Conan or Kull or Bran Mak Morn, westerns or boxing stories or horror, they all had one thing in common. The headlong breakneck pace. They all have incredible narrative drive… about on a level with John D. MacDonald or Mickey Spillane, or Ian Fleming when he was cooking. They were pulp stories for a pulp market. The filmmakers completely missed that. The two 1980s Conan movies, particularly the first one, just sort of plod along. Trying to look Important but mostly coming off as pompous and bloated.

The movies to look at, if you really want to do something in the spirit of Robert E. Howard, aren’t the first two Conan films. They’re things like The Sword and the Sorcerer or Swashbuckler or Captain Blood. Something with a clear through-line and a little zest. Even the Kull movie with Kevin Sorbo got closer to what I think of as Conan than the Arnold version did. (Really, Sorbo’s Kull is just Conan with a name change — the movie essentially swipes the bits of Conan the Conqueror that The Sword and the Sorcerer passed on using.)

So seeing that poster and the clear Frazetta homage in its design, I can’t help but wonder if they are making the same mistake again, obsessing over the look and forgetting the pulpy essence of the thing.

I hope not. Like everything else I’ve talked about this week, I’m rooting for the new Conan film to do well and I’m absolutely predisposed to like the movie. I wish them the best.

*
And finally, here’s nothing to do with Robert E. Howard at all.

The old Savage Sword lit the fuse for me on this years ago, but really I loved all of Marvel’s black-and-white magazine line. I’m delighted that so much of it is back in print again, in one format or another.

I love that these are all showing up as trade paperback collections now.

However, several of my favorites have yet to hit the collection stage and probably never will. (Never say never, though. I’d have said that about Doc Savage, and DC is putting out a Showcase Presents edition of the eight Marvel black-and-white magazines in a couple of months, according to solicits.)

But series like Marvel Preview and Planet of the Apes seem like unlikely candidates for the paperback treatment, because of either licensing issues or just because the stuff is too offbeat to build any kind of collection out of at all. Marvel Preview, in particular, was an anthology title that probably will never get an Essential edition or anything like that. Although individual issues do show up in other themed collections.


The Blade issue was included in the BLADE paperback collection. The Legion of Monsters issue was in the LEGION OF MONSTERS hardcover. The Moon Knight issue was in ESSENTIAL MOON KNIGHT volume one. And so on.

But some of them are a little too odd ever to be included in anything.

About the only collection I can see finding room for these would be a trade paperback titled MARVEL'S WEIRD SHIT FROM THE 1970S. Which I would TOTALLY be first in line for, by the way.

All this is by way of saying that, even though I have pretty much switched to a trades-only lifestyle and am in the process of thinning out the back-issue collection, Marvel Preview is one of the titles I still keep an eye out for in back-issue bins. And I recently stumbled across an amazing hidden gem I hadn’t known about before.

Well, I knew it was MERLIN, but that was all.

This was apparently a dream project for John Buscema, who was a lifelong admirer of Hal Foster’s work on Prince Valiant. In this tale of Camelot, Buscema finally got a chance to get his historical-comics Hal Foster geek on.

And it’s really gorgeous.

I wish I'd had time to do scans, but these should at least give you a sense of the thing. Got them off an auction site.

The plot is also by Buscema, with the script (and a couple of minor tweaks) by Doug Moench. But the art’s really what it’s all about in this book, with John Buscema obviously having the time of his life penciling and Tom Palmer doing his usual magnificent job on the finishes. It was always a treat to see Palmer in the black-and-white books, because he really brought his A-game to those and the larger size shows the work to its best advantage.

The story itself…. well, it’s Merlin and Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, up against An Ancient Supernatural Evil. It’s good without being particularly innovative or anything. The fun of the book is seeing a comic-book master getting to geek out over one of his enthusiasms for a change. It’s infectious.

Anyway, it’s worth picking up if you see it around, and chances are, being the oddball one-off that it is, it won’t set you back a whole lot.

*

And that’s all I’ve got. Time to hit the road. Back next week… I imagine with another road-trip report. See you then.

16 Comments

…and I’d be second in line for that Marvel’s Weird Shit from the 1970s volume – I’d love to have all that awesome stuff from Marvel Preview and Bizarre Adventures in one or two books.
By the way, I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting those Vampire Tales reprints, but I’m still trying to figure if there’s any good reason – besides milking us fans for every last cent – for releasing them as three undersized TPBs instead of a single Essentials volume (a la Tales of the Zombie).

That Marvel Preview: The UFO Connection? WANT.

Don’t forget to include Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction (where I first encountered Reprint Harlequin, Said The Tick-Tock Man) in the Weird Shit volume.

“The big issue I had with it is that writer and director Michael Bassett has fallen into the trap that so many of these adaptations do– he decided to tell the origin story first”.

In 1994, in Comics Scene, someone listed films which he felt spent too much time on the origin. The list has only grown this then.

Jason Momoa on Stargate Atlantis always came across to me as bland and wooden. Really gave off the impression that he was just there for his physique and intimidating looks, and not much else… which doesn’t bode well for Conan. Sorry. :(

Look forward to the book-buying trip report.

You remind me of how surprised I was when I saw The Sword and the Sorcerer in the theaters when it first came out, and they swiped one of the most famous scenes of all in the Conan saga!

Travis Pelkie

April 8, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I’m not big on the REH stuff, so this wasn’t my most favoritest column ever, but it was interesting enough.

What I like is that you’re going to a place called “The” Dalles. I think any place with “the” at the start of its name has got to be interesting.

Hi, I’m from The Poughkeepsie.

F’r example.

Travis: The Dalles is a charming place, but it’s not all that interesting. It is a huge place for windsurfing, though.

As a fellow REH fanatic, I’m pretty much in agreement about the Solomon Kane film. I acquired a copy of it months ago, and had pretty much the same reactions to it. Still, it’s not a bad start to a trilogy if the second and third films can ever get made. Purefoy really makes the movie work, I’d love to see him get to explore that Kane character further.

The Marvel old school magazines are such a great treat, though the Savage Sword Of Conan and Dracula magazines rank as my favorites.

Veidt

I wish I could remember where I saw it, but around the time Sorbo’s Kull came out I read an article that claimed the script started out as the third Conan flick for Arnold. When he bailed, they retooled it for Sorbo.

Greg,
You should totally get some pro bono work for Marvel, “Weird Shit from the 70s”. You can add me to the list of people that would buy that book!
What I can’t understand is with the rise of stuff like Warner Archive where you can order and movie and then its made just for you why the same principle couldn’t be adapted to these older materials. Like a make your own Essentials with the option of either physical copy or electronic.
Hope you and Julie enjoy your trip.

“Reprint, Harlequin… ” love the slip, intentional pun or otherwise!

I saw Solomon Kane at the cinema, my wife and myself were the only people present which was fantastic. I loved the film, I was really wary about going, I have have all the REH stories and most of the comic versions and terible memories of the Conan films. I was knocked out by it, later on DVD I was knocked out again. I thought the set up worked a treat, James Purefoy was superb. When he became the Solomon Kane of the stories, I thought they nailed the moment with flair, I jumped from my chair shouting with joy. It will be a shame if there are no more.

“Now, I’m not one of those fans that goes into a movie adaptation ready to hate everything that deviates from the original text.”

I’d like to think there’s a middle-ground between “ready to hate any deviation whatsoever” and “perfectly open to anything remotely faithful,” and that I’m in it, but to each their own, of course. That said, I have mostly the same complaints about SK that I had with the 1982 Conan: a good film, just not Howard’s character, and directly contradictory in many respects.

“In the first John Milius Conan movie, especially, you get the sense that no one involved had ever actually read a Howard story.”

And yet, as the commentary and other sources like Paul Sammon reveal, Milius and Stone did read the stories. As far as they were concerned, Conan the Barbarian was a perfectly faithful adaptation of Howard’s stories. That’s actually worse, in a way.

“Really, Sorbo’s Kull is just Conan with a name change”

Hah! Well, if you mean the Conan from the cartoon or live-action series, certainly…

“I mostly just wasn’t in love with the idea of Solomon Kane as a guy who starts as a jerk that has to fight his way through to redemption, especially since that story is apparently the only origin modern movie people know how to tell any more. (See Daredevil, Iron Man, Batman Begins, Elektra, and so on and so on.)”

Did this trend start with the Alec Baldwin version of the Shadow?

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