Dark Horse announced Sunday at Comic-Con International in San Diego that David Lapham, acclaimed creator of “Stray Bullets” and “Young Liars,” will be wielding his mighty pen on a miniseries starring the original Robert E. Howard barbarian, Kull. Also announced at the convention were two other Howard projects, a new “Solomon Kane” miniseries by Bruce Jones and Rahsan Ekedal and”Savage Sword,” an anthology series featuring many REH heroes. Lapham’s “Kull: The Hate Witch” launches in November with art by Gabriel Guzman of “Predators” fame and CBR News caught up with the writer to discuss his take on Kull’s world.
Although most of Dark Horse’s R.E. Howard titles are based at least partly on existing Howard stories and fragments, “The Hate Witch” originated wholly with Lapham. “‘The Hate Witch’ is my own invention. I definitely draw heavily on Howard’s stories (how can you not?!), but it was important to me to come up with something new,” Lapham said. “The fans know the Howard stories. The challenge is to create something that feels like those beloved stories, that is firmly set in that world, but adds to it.
“As I said, though, I do draw on all of Howard’s mythology to make the world, the same as you have to draw on Lee and Kirby if you were doing ‘Fantastic Four,’ for instance. Specifically, I draw on the very first Kull story ‘Exile of Atlantis’ because it’s the only story that deals with Kull in Atlantis and in my story Kull must return to his homeland to save his empire.”
Lapham said that he will be picking up some time after the events of the previous Dark Horse “Kull” miniseries, which was written by Arvid Nelson. “It was important to me to set the story firmly in Kull’s reign as King of Valusia. Dark Horse has done one Kull book so far, which was an expansion of ‘The Shadow Kingdom.’ I wanted to pick up after that,” Lapham told CBR. “Not necessarily the day after , but following in line from that. My secret hope is to be able to do more Kull stories and I really would like to establish some sort of continuity base. Even if it’s not me [writing them], I think the fans would like to explore Kull’s world. There’re only about a dozen Kull stories and some of them are fragments, yet it’s easily as rich a world as Conan’s. It deserves and can support an expansion of that world.
“Having said that, Kull is king and relatively new, though not a ‘rookie’ anymore. He’s married to Igraine, who was an invention of the first Kull book and adds a lot, in my opinion,” the writer continued, explaining Kull’s status as the book opens. “The wolves are at the door from within and without and Kull has his hands full keeping the empire together. The Howard stories talk of a great cataclysm that ultimately ends Kull’s age-The Thurian Age. When the world rises again it becomes Conan’s world. Meanwhile, though, Kull is vaguely aware of prophecies concerning this eventual doom and it hangs over his reign.
“Now there’s nothing saying this cataclysm happens anywhere close to Kull’s time, but the great kingdom of Valusia is in decline and the fact that a barbarian even sits on the throne is in itself a disturbing sign that Kull has to overcome. It’s like the Goths ruling Rome. Anyway, I definitely want to turn up the pressure on that element and I’d love to see it as the thread that ties the ‘Kull library’ together.”
On top of the unrest throughout the kingdom that threatens to unseat Kull, the hero is also contending with the titular Hate Witch, Heka-La, who “comes to court and declares this cataclysm is going to be caused by Kull ‘The Doom King,'” Lapham said, “which as you can imagine, does wonders for his approval ratings.
“The Hate Witch we establish is from Atlantis. She was a creature of the Old Race and blames man for the downflall of her race,” the writer continued. “Through Kull she hopes to bring about the fall of man.”
Accomplishing her ends means throwing Kull up against still more deadly challenges and men who’d love to see him dead. “The witch forces Kull to return to the land of his exile, which is basically an entire continent of barbarians like Kull, each sworn to hate and kill him,” Lapham said. “Now it’s been many years since Kull left his homeland, but these are not people who change much. Or forget.”
While Kull reigns in Valusia, the struggle to retain power is a central theme in his stories, with the contradictions within the character adding further layers to his drama. “I think the most compelling thing about this situation is that Kull is a thinker. In fact the ambition of his thoughts and imagination are far ahead of even his intelligence,” Lapham said. “He can see the larger picture-not in an intrigue sense, but in a history sense and a practical sense. Kull knows Valusia is the mightiest empire in the world and for the world to remain strong and stable Valusia must, as well. At the same time, it’s what I said, he has to overcome the fact that he is a barbarian sitting on the throne.”
Lapham has been writing barbarians of a very different sort over in “Sparta USA,” his creator-owned miniseries illustrated by Johnny Timmons and published by Wildstorm. Asked what appeals to him about such warrior-like characters, Lapham said, “Everybody likes a guy who’s got the stones to stand up to the corrupt elements of society and back it up. A guy who’s honest and direct and can hack through the Gordian Knot. It’s like that commercial with the Firefighters running Congress. The quickest path from A to B is a straight line. It’s honest. No bull. Plus he just kicks ass. And Robert E. Howard kicks ass. Also let’s be honest, Kull is way cooler than Conan.”
Regarding his own creation Godfrey McLaine, the rebel voice at the heart of “Sparta USA,” Lapham added, “Godfrey is a little different in that he’s a more modern man. Godfrey’s more conflicted than a guy like Kull, though I guess Kull is too. The thinking barbarian. They’re both tough guys though. I’m biased toward Godfrey as my own creation, but I’d say Godfrey’s smart enough to not start s**t with Kull. Ha.
“I’ll say one thing Godfrey could learn from Kull is that women are t-r-o-u-b-l-e. Keep ’em at arms length.”