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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
And this one.
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.
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.
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.
But some of them are a little too odd ever to be included in anything.
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.
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.
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.
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