Robert E. Howard’s grim Puritan avenger returns in January in a new four-issue miniseries from Dark Horse. Written by Senior Editor Scott Allie and illustrated by Mario Guevara, “Solomon Kane: Death’s Black Riders” is the second comic series taking place in the early days of the 16th century hero’s adventures, once again finding Kane traveling through the Black Forest. CBR News spoke with Allie about the new series, the reasons for beginning Dark Horse’s Kane universe with the less complete of Howard’s stories featuring the character, and the finer points of monster-making.
Howard’s Solomon Kane is a Puritan and a fighter of evil, wearing a sombre countenance and black ensemble topped off with a slouch hat, who travels Europe and Africa extinguishing demons wherever he finds them. He first appeared in the pulp magazine “Weird Tales” in 1928 in a story called “Red Shadows,” and the author completed eight episodes’ worth of Kane adventures before his death in 1936. In addition to the published adventures, Howard left behind several unfinished stories, which have occasionally been expanded and completed by other writers, including Allie in the Dark Horse adaptations.
“Death’s Black Riders” opens with a monstrous attack on a gypsy caravan and on two men who had been speaking with the Roma, presumably moments before robbing them. Kane dispatches the Riders and, following the skirmish, finds a traveling partner in one of the survivors. “That guy, Gaston L’Armon, is borrowed from another REH story. He’s also preying on fellow travelers when his plans get foiled when Kane and the Death’s Black Riders arrive,” Allie told CBR. “The first issue of the mini starts off by introducing five new characters, but most of them die within the first half of the issue. The first issue is pretty much all action. I tried to set it up a lot like a Hellboy one-shot – that much compression of action and atmosphere and suspense to kick things off. The first issue reads as a standalone story – something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, with our One-Shot Wonders program – but it sets up the action for the rest of the miniseries.”
As to whether Kane’s strict moral code might lead him into conflict with this new associate, Allie said, “Well, Kane’s moral code is so strict that it leads him into conflict with everyone. And that will ultimately shape his mission.” There is one new character, though, with whom Kane might feel some kinship. “A priest is introduced in the middle of the arc, and he sort of understands Kane better than anyone else has so far,” Allie told CBR. “Understands him and accepts him for the weirdo he is, and actually imparts some insight on Kane. And does not turn into a monster of any kind.”
Allie’s plan for building Solomon Kane’s story begins with those aspects of the Puritan’s life that were begun but not completed by Robert E. Howard, fleshing out fragments such as “Castle of the Devil,” which became Dark Horse’s first miniseries, and now “Death’s Black Riders.” “Having read all the Kane stuff backwards and forwards, I have an idea for an overarching story that connects it all – something Howard himself never planned on, but something befitting the more serialized nature of a comics series,” the writer told CBR. “To get that story, my expanded version of the story, off the ground, there are things I want to establish about Kane and his world. So the stories are structured to get into those areas, to get the character moving, and to define his mission.
“None of those are things that Howard probably would have done had he finished those stories, so it’s convenient that there are fragments that I can use to get it rolling, because when I get to adaptations of stories Howard finished, I’m gonna have to just stick to his details. But these early bits are being tailored so that when you get to ‘Moon of Skulls,’ for instance, you’ll read it within a framework that I’ve set up.”
The writer added, “these first two miniseries, ‘Castle of the Devil’ and ‘Death’s Black Riders,’ involve Kane actively trying to find purpose in the world, to define his mission for God. He initially goes out there looking to help people, but he finds that he’s not that good at helping people, and maybe needs to focus on killing things.”
Kane will have ample opportunity to kill the monstrous Black Riders, which “B.P.R.D.” artist Guy Davis designed based on one of Howard’s descriptions. “The riders are these sort of demonic things that Robert E. Howard described in a fragment that was about a page long, called ‘Death’s Black Riders.’ As with ‘Castle of the Devil,’ I’m expanding on an unfinished story,” Allie explained. “Howard described them looking sort of like the Ringwraiths, but weirder. So it was nice to have Guy Davis on hand once more to design them for us. These guys are preying on travelers in the Black Forest, but all Kane really cares about is that they look demonic, and he wants to kill them. Simple man, simple needs.”
Allie had high praise for Davis, with whom he recently collaborated on a short Solomon Kane story for “MySpace Dark Horse Presents. “Guy is, in my opinion, simply the best monster designer in comics. And I work with Mignola, so I don’t give Guy that credit lightly,” Allie said. “I’m often disappointed with monster designs in comics, so before we’d hired Mario on the first series, I already had Guy helping with designs. He’s just so good, brings so much to the process. There’s a certain Lovecraftian thing to Howard, something bizarre about the monsters, especially in Kane, so I knew Guy could deliver that.
“The story we did on MDHP came about when one night I had to call him about a ‘B.P.R.D.’ schedule, told him I was kicking around ideas for a short story, and that I’d probably ask him to design the monster, once I came up with it,” Allie continued. “We started talking, and pretty soon we had the monster, and not too long after we had the story. That’s the best way to make comics, in my experience. So much fun, such great bonding, and you have that much more pride in the finished thing.”
As for series artist Mario Guevara, who also illustrated Allie first “Solomon Kane” miniseries, the writer said, “he really gets Kane right. It’s hard to make a hat look cool, and I think Mario does it. Hats are cool in real life, don’t get me wrong, but I saw a lot of samples where people could not figure out the hat. And the grim face, the attitude, the amount of texture bringing the forests to life. Mario creates the atmosphere we need, and he gets the character right, and your average comics guy would not be able to do either.”
As for what may be coming down the line after “Death’s Black Riders,” Allie said that Kane’s trajectory is likely to follow a straight path. Like Conan, R.E. Howard’s other famous creation, Solomon Kane has a few distinct periods in his life, but the writer wants to build to Kane’s most defining moments chronologically rather than just jumping around through time for short periods here and there. “‘Death’s Black Riders’ and ‘Castle of the Devil’ are very much a pair, two halves of his Black Forest career. Next, we’ll spend some more time in England and maybe other parts of Europe,” Allie said. “It’s possible he goes back to the Black Forest, but once he leaves Germany, it’s all about building up to his arrival in Africa. Africa dominates his career for a variety of reasons, and we’ll get there by Volume 4, I think.”