Robert E. Howard’s stoic Puritan demon-hunter returns for a third miniseries in November, the Dark Horse announced at Comic-Con International in San Diego. “Solomon Kane: Skulls in the Stars” will be written by former “Conan the Barbarian” and “Incredible Hulk” scribe Bruce Jones and illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal, with painted covers by Gregory Manchess and variants by Guy Davis. CBR News spoke with Bruce Jones about the new series and adapting Howard’s work.
Dark Horse’s first two volumes of “Solomon Kane” expanded upon Howard’s unfinished story fragments “The Castle of the Devil” and “Death’s Black Riders,” and both series were written by editor Scott Allie. Jones’s first four-issue miniseries, though, adapts a published REH story, “Skulls in the Stars,” in which Kane chooses a path he has been warned against in order to confront and vanquish a terrible evil. Chronologically, the story is set after “Red Shadows” (1579-80) and before “Blades of the Brotherhood.” (1588-90). “Most of the Kane stories first appeared in ‘Weird Tales,’ but the order of publication doesn’t match the order they were written in. In terms of real life historical chronology, we’re beginning around 1587 which is where the Wandering Star/Ballantine Books began,” Jones said.
On the practice of shifting Howard’s story into a new medium, Jones said there is a balance to be struck. “Adapting any medium to another is like translating French to English; you’re always going to lose something and gain something else, but you can also lose by gaining things undesirable,” the writer explained. “The trick is knowing when not to let the source material work against you. It’s interesting; one tends to think of Howard as a very visual, action-oriented writer. But even though comics is a visual medium, some of Howard’s most descriptive, almost poetic prose can actually make for some rather slow, protracted comic scenes. The challenge for me was retaining as much Howard flavor within the strengths and limitations of the graphic format.
“I elected to use captions sparingly and tried whenever possible to let the narrative be visually driven,” Jones continued. “At the beginning of ‘Skulls,’ for instance, there’s a scene on a desolate, brooding moor where a young lad has just warned Kane he’s walking toward his possible death on the lonely grasslands. Howard describes this in about a sentence because he’s that good with words. I chose to do it in a series of four across-the-page panels with Kane in the immediate foreground moving toward us as he walks away from the pleading lad. The boy is shown growing gradually smaller as he recedes behind Kane, becoming ever more isolated in the darkness and distance of the background. The idea was to echo visually Kane’s inherent solitude and vulnerability on the empty moors. It’s a cinematic Kurtzman effect– placing the visual emphasis on a supporting player while keeping the hero looking like a hero even though he’s the one in jeopardy. I also used the boy’s correspondingly diminishing word balloons to heighten the tension. This is all ‘directing’ the artist, of course and Rahsan may have a better idea of his own, which is fine with me.”
Even with an understanding of how certain aspects might play better in one medium than another, the task of adapting another’s words can be daunting, especially when the original material comes from a famous pen. “My approach is probably less one of expanding than embellishing ‘footprints’ already laid by Howard. I mean, who’s going to beat the Pulp Bard? I grew up on his stuff so I may be more intimidated than some by the idea of extrapolating on his work; I wince at the thought of straying too far afield, though I suppose the boundaries have a degree of flexibility,” Jones told CBR. “I don’t know. I always wonder what older writers would think of later young Turks carrying on with their work unharnessed as it were. Lovecraft, of course, encouraged the continuation of his mythos, but then they were never strictly character-oriented. In any case, Howard was a well-read man, a manic researcher and wonderful stylist–simply the best at what he did. The tales wouldn’t hold up today had he not been. And all before the age of 30. Humbling, huh.”
Jones, though, is no stranger to working to with Robert E. Howard’s legendary characters. “This is my first chance to work with Solomon Kane, having done Conan, Kull and Red Sonja for Marvel. I was offered this at Dark Horse by the current series editor, Philip Simon. We’ve been meaning to get together on something for some time besides my penning Forwards to other works and this was an ideal chance,” Jones said. “If you give him his head, Howard transcends mediums wonderfully. The ‘Thriller’ TV adaptation of ‘Pigeons from Hell’ still stands, for me, as the all time best example of a broadcast horror anthology piece-which is saying a lot for a guy who loved the original ‘Outer Limits.'”
Of course, Solomon Kane is cut from different cloth than the other Howard heroes Jones has written. “I think Kane is distinct from Howard’s other characters in almost every way,” the writer said. “We may think of Conan as a high-spirited freebooter, but Kane was both a wanderer and seeker of the soul, both his Maker and his inner-self. When things got tight, for instance, Conan tended to cut to the chase with the point of his blade–I don’t think he paused long in self-reflection. Kane’s approach was often more analytical, at least when allowed. He was constantly surprised by the human condition even while judging it. I think of him as a religious paranoid. A good man in search of Meaning as much as adventure; driven as compared to restless, I guess.”
As to what might underlie the somber Puritan’s mission and what ultimately makes him tick, Jones said, “I think the same thing that makes most of us tick: the incidents and environments surrounding our formative years. Unfortunately, Howard didn’t leave us a lot of information about that period of Kane’s life. Someday, someone’s going to have to do something about that…”
Rahsan Ekedal, artist of Dark Horse’s “The Cleaners” and an issue of Top Cow’s recent “The Crazies,” will be illustrating “Skulls in the Stars.” “I haven’t seen all of Rahsan’s work but at first blush I was reminded of the kind of excitement Bernie Wrightson first generated,” Jones said. “I really do think the choice of Rahsan for artist was ideal for our project, I only hope my writing holds up to his visual skill!”