Thanks to his adventures in Avengers: No Road Home and Savage Avengers, Robert E Howard's legendary hero, Conan the Barbarian, is once again firmly entrenched in the Marvel Universe. This December, two more of the legendary pulp writers characters will follow Conan into the Marvel U -- The Puritan adventure Solomon Kane, who starred in some Marvel comics in the '70s and '80s, but did not interact with other Marvel heroes, and the16th century swordswoman Dark Agnes de Chastillon, who has never been adapted to comics.
Agnes' introduction and Kane's re-introduction come in Conan: Serpent War, a four issue miniseries by Jim Zub, Scot Eaton and Stephen Segovia. The time traveling tale finds Kane and Agnes joining forces with both the titular Barbarian and the modern day hero Moon Knight in to battle the evil Elder God, Set. CBR spoke with Zub about the process of adapting Kane and Agnes to comics, his take on Moon Knight, and which era the Conan of this series hails from.
CBR: In Serpent War, you're bringing two other Robert E. Howard creations into the Marvel Universe, Solomon Kane and Dark Agnes. I know you're a fan of Conan but what's your history with Kane and Agnes? Which aspects of their characters are you interested in focusing on?
Jim Zub: Conan was one of my favorite characters as I grew up reading sword & sorcery novels, but I did dip my toe into other Robert E. Howard stories as well, including both Agnes de Chastillon and Solomon Kane. They may not be as well known as the savage Cimmerian, but they're still classics of the genre in their own way.
Both characters have an intensity about them - Solomon Kane is obsessively devout in his desire to defend his faith by destroying the works of the devil, usually manifested through unnatural creatures and blasphemous rituals. Agnes is obsessed with her freedom, breaking the oppressive yoke of expectations for how a woman should act or their worthiness when measured against men. Their strong wills and focused purpose define them, and playing those elements off the other characters is where you get all kinds of entertaining interactions.
In addition to those two, James Allison also plays an important role in Serpent War. He's quite obscure, but has some fascinating traits that really bring the whole story together.
Kane is a very different character from Conan in that he has an almost uncompromising moral code, not unlike the Punisher. He's also a devoutly religious man from the late 1600s/Early 1700s. So what's it like writing him in a modern day Marvel comic and playing him off of contemporary characters like Moon Knight? How easy was it for you to find Kane's voice?
Kane really is the "Puritan Punisher," isn't he? Heh. Writing Kane has been one of the most enjoyable parts of this project. His steadfast certainty and the severity of his judgement drives a lot of drama. I love playing him off Moon Knight - the puritan with unwavering faith (despite never having interacted with God) set against an unhinged "heathen" (who speaks directly to his deity, yet doubts everything about himself and his place in the world). It's a study in contrast, and they both bring cool things out of each other.
Bringing Kane into the Marvel Universe has some interesting implications for Marvel history. Because the character traveled extensively through Africa and wields the mystical Staff of Solomon, which is topped with a cat head that is a representation of Bast, the Goddess who empowers Wakanda's Black Panthers. Will Kane have that Staff in Serpent War? And is it possible that Kane went through Wakanda in his journeys and met the Black Panther of his time?
We thought about how the staff could work within the confines of our story, and it was eventually decided that Serpent War would take place at an earlier point in his career, before he receives his fabled Staff of Solomon. It shows up on the covers and in a montage sequence, but is otherwise absent this time. I would love to explore that mystic artifact in future stories, but it doesn't play a role here.
Conan and Solomon Kane have a lot of original Howard source material that you can look to for inspiration, but Dark Agnes only had two complete stories. So what was it like adapting her for comics versus Kane and Conan? Were there any elements of her character you had to add to or create?
As you said, there's a lot less canon material for Agnes, but that also gives us room to build things out a bit more - how she reacts to these unusual situations and the friction created between her and Conan, in particular. I wanted to explore the rage she taps into, the killing desire that drives her in "Sword Woman," an instinctive understanding of violence that she finds within herself when she's faced with a fight or flight situation. It's touched upon in the canon material, and we show a bit more of that here in Serpent War.
Dark Agnes' original stories were adventure tales, but they didn't have any fantastic elements to them. What does that mean for her perspective in Serpent War?
The Agnes stories may not have supernatural elements in them, but the people of that time were suitably superstitious, believing in spirits, angels, demons, and the like. When presented with magic and monsters, she undergoes a quick shift into survival mode and carries that forward throughout the story.
I believe this is your first time writing Moon Knight, a character whose had a number of different takes over the years mostly revolving around his relationship with his deity Khonshu, his mental state, and his physical abilities. What can you tell us about your take on Marc Spector?
It is my first time writing Moon Knight and that makes this project extra-special. Marc Spector is such a great character with all kinds of facets to explore. This story is current and takes place after the recent Max Bemis run. Marc is trying to figure himself out and detach a bit from the traumatic events he's been through over the past few years, but obviously fate and Khonshu have other plans in mind. Marc's mind may be in a better place than it's been for quite some time, but that won't make this quest easier, especially when he's torn from the places and people he knows.
What's it like returning to Conan after he's had some adventures in the modern day Marvel Universe over in Savage Avengers?
Editor Mark Basso and I talked at length about “which” Conan we'd be using - the current one in Savage Avengers or the Cimmerian from a different time. Given the way the story builds and some of the specific imagery we use, I decided to pull Conan from an earlier point in his history. Serpent War takes place right after the "God in the Bowl" story. It's a fun throwback to a Conan that's a bit more impetuous and headstrong, confident in his abilities, but also not as experienced.
Serpent War is a time traveling tale being drawn by artists Scot Eaton and Stephen Segovia. Does that mean each artist will handle different time periods and characters?
Each artist draws a different issue, but there's a lot of synergy and symbolism that carries over from issue to issue so the art teams are all synced up over email as we bring this wild tale through each stage of development.
Finally, can you talk at all about what's in store for Solomon Kane and Dark Agnes after Serpent War? Are you interested in revisiting those characters in some of your other books like Agents of Wakanda?
Serpent War introduces Agnes and Solomon Kane to readers, and it's obviously built to stir interest in seeing them appear again, but not necessarily in the modern Marvel Universe. There's something special about the original places and times they're set in, and I'd love to explore them there rather than immediately dropping them into the here and now on any kind of permanent basis.
Savage Avengers is a fun mix of Hyborian Age adventure and modern Marvel magic, but that doesn't have to be reproduced immediately for these other Robert E. Howard characters in order for them to be effective or entertaining.
I feel an intense responsibility to bring out the best in Solomon Kane and Dark Agnes as we introduce them to a new generation of readers. Robert E. Howard's characters endure because of the core elements that define them and those are a blast to dig into, even while spinning them in new ways against unexpected adversaries. I hope new readers and old are inspired to track them back to the original prose and eager to see where things could evolve in the future.