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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Solomon Kane
Blood & Thunder: The Life & Art of Robert E. Howard
The Sword of Solomon Kane
Solomon Kane in Marvel Comics
The Saga of Solomon Kane
The Castle of the Devil
The SavageTales of Solomon Kane
Flight Volume Six
Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Asterios Polyp
Recent Books of Interest

Flight Volume Six Edited by Kazu Kibuishi (Villard)
Flight Volume Six My first introduction to this extraordinary anthology series, the 15 stories in Flight Volume Six offer creators from around world employing a variety of genres: fantasy, science fiction, westerns, and slice-of-life ranging from serious to whimsical. Every beautiful story in this impressive book delights, but several stand out. Michel Gagné's charming story "The Saga of Rex: Soulmates" tells the silent tale of two cat-like creatures and their interplanetary love. In "The Excitingly Mundane Life of Kenneth Shuri," J.P. Ahonen chronicles the challenges that confront an unemployed ninja. A seemingly incompetent Viking stars in Graham Annable's funny "Magnus the Misfit." Cory Godbey follows a man's dreams in the moving "Walters." Justin Ridge's "Dead Bunny" follows an undead rabbit looking for companionship. Now to find the previous five volumes.

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Written by Alan Moore, Art by Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons et al. (DC)
Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? In 1986 when DC decided to revitalize their moribund Superman franchise, Alan Moore, only given the assignment after threatening editor Julius Schwartz with death, scripted the ultimate tale that ended the nearly 50 years of Superman continuity. His classic story, penciled by legendary Superman artist Curt Swan, hit all the proper nostalgic notes complete with the final Lex Luthor-Brainiac team up, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Krypto, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, and of course Lois Lane. It evens ends with a wink. This deluxe hardcover edition collects two additional excellent Moore-written Superman tales: "The Jungle Line" with art by Rick Veitch and "For the Man Who Has Everything" with Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon Books)
Asterios Polyp Acclaimed artist David Mazzucchelli (City of Glass, Batman: Year One), who for the past 15 years produced shorter work for various publishers including The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Fantagraphics, and HarperCollins, returns to novel-length work with his first solo book endeavor Asterios Polyp. Mazzucchelli tracks the life of the titular character, a renowned "paper architect" and university professor. Beginning on his fiftieth birthday, this lush non-linear graphic novel follows his surreal life through a failed marriage, dashed hopes, and a bizarre road trip. Even through all this strangeness, the diverse characters of Asterios Polyp ground the book in a semblance of reality. Mazzucchelli masterfully and beautifully manipulates the comic book form to create the best graphic novel of the year.

The Sword of Righteousness: The Comics of Solomon Kane
   The girl sought to prop herself up on her elbow, and instantly he knelt and raised her to a sitting position, her head resting against his shoulder. His hand touched her breast and came away red and wet.
   "Tell me." His voice was soft, soothing, as one speaks to a babe.
   "Le Loup," she gasped, her voice swiftly growing weaker. "He and his men -- descended upon our village -- a mile up the valley. They robbed -- slew -- burned --"
   "That, then, was was the smoke I scented," muttered the man. "Go on, child."
   "I ran. He, the Wolf, pursued me -- and -- caught me --" The words died away in a shuddering silence.
   "I understand, child. Then --?"
   "Then -- he -- he -- stabbed me -- with his dagger -- oh, blessed saints! -- mercy --"
   Suddenly the slim form went limp. The man eased her to the earth, and touched her brow lightly.
   "Dead!" he muttered.
   Slowly he rose, mechanically wiping his hands upon his his cloak. A dark scowl had settled on his somber brow. Yet he made no wild, reckless vow, swore no oath by saints or devils.
   "Men shall die for this," he said coldly.
      --"Red Shadows," Robert E. Howard, Weird Tales (August 1928)
Of Robert E. Howard's many heroic creations, Solomon Kane ranks among my favorites. The fighting Puritan's single-minded purpose, conflicted spirit, and often delusional zealotry combined with poetic violence and sundry supernatural elements resonated to a childhood dominated by heroes, monsters, and sports.
The Sword of Solomon Kane
The Saga of Solomon Kane
The Castle of the Devil
The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane

When editor Farnsworth Wright published the first public appearance of Howard's Solomon Kane ("Red Shadows")1 in Weird Tales, a new type of genre story was born. In Kane, Howard successfully matched a dark character fueled by a religious ferocity with ancient European storytelling traditions involving monsters and witchcraft. In Blood & Thunder: The Life & Art of Robert E. Howard, Howard scholar and biographer Mark Finn summarized the uniqueness of this cross-pollination: "What had never been tried before, though, was the crystallization of the two worlds, authored in place by a single, heroic protagonist."

I didn't realize any of this when I first discovered Kane during my teen years. I don't recall where I first read "Red Shadows," but I definitely remember my first comic book exposure to the 16th century swordsman. Premiering in 1985, the six-issue full color limited series The Sword of Solomon Kane adapted the original REH tales: "Red Shadows" (Issue #1), "Blades of the Brotherhood" (#3; also known as "The Blue Flame of Vengeance"), "Hills of the Dead" (#5), "Wings in the Night" (#6), and the poem "Solomon Kane's Homecoming" (#6). Issues two and four featured original stories written by Ralph Macchio (not the actor), who also adapted the other stories. Artistic contributors included Brett Blevins, John Ridgeway, Al Williamson, Sandy Plunkett, Kevin Nowlan, Jon Bogdanove, and Mike Mignola. The never-collected series2 featured quality art by some up-and-coming artists (except for the grizzled veteran Williamson) and excellent scripts by Macchio.

A natural fit for comics with his iconic dress and his stark moral view of the universe, Howard's Solomon Kane tales, along with Walter B. Gibson's Shadow and Lester Dent's Doc Savage, provided some of the original inspiration for the super-heroes. The Spectre, Doctor Occult, and The Phantom Stranger were all derived, at least in part, from Howard's fertile and vivid stories.

Beyond The Sword of Solomon Kane, Marvel produced several stories for their black and white magazines. Beginning with the Roy Thomas/Ralph Reese adaptation of "Skulls in the Stars" in Monsters Unleashed #1 (August, 1973) and culminating with "Death's Dark Riders, Part Two" (The Savage Sword of Conan #220, April 1994), written by Thomas (inspired by a REH story fragment) and drawn by Colin MacNeill, Marvel published 26 stories plus two prose Solomon Kane biographies by Fred Blosser (Kull and the Barbarians #3, September 1975 and The Savage Sword of Conan #219) and a publishing history by Glenn Lord (The Savage Sword of Conan #220, April 1994). The overall quality of the stories varies greatly, and unlike the 1985 mini-series, the art for the most part is of inferior quality. Adaptation highlights include the Thomas and artist Howard Chaykin version of Howard's story "Rattle of Bones," the two-part "The Hills of the Dead" by Thomas and Alan Weiss, and Doug Moench, and Steve Gan's "The Right Hand of Doom." Several writers attempted new tales, mostly unmemorable except for the Thomas-Weiss chronicle of the first meeting between Kane and Dracula. "Castle of the Undead" (Dracula Lives! #3, October 1973), which surprisingly captures the essence of both iconic characters in an entertaining story. Dark Horse recently collected all of the Marvel magazine Solomon Kane appearances, the fascinating text pieces, and pin-ups from the likes of Berni Wrightson, Don Maitz, Gene Day, and Neal Adams in The Saga of Solomon Kane.

Following their success with the new Conan comics, Dark Horse recently tackled the avenging Puritan. Writer Scott Allie and artist Mario Guevara expanded a REH story fragment into the enjoyable graphic novel The Castle of the Devil. Allie successfully managed the subtle nuances of Kane's stoicism and world view. Guevara's art, while at first glance presenting a fresh approach to the character, actually hinders the tale with inferior storytelling and lack of character definition. Unlike the excellent Conan collections, this volume lacks a text piece introducing the far less famous Solomon Kane. Despite these flaws, The Castle of the Devil ranks among the finest Solomon Kane comics.

After nearly four decades of comic book versions, the original Robert E. Howard stories remain as the Solomon Kane high mark. Read Del Rey's complete collection The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane then when you are hooked, start in on the comics. It's a trip well worth experiencing.
   "Verily, Marylin," said Kane with a sigh, "with mine own eyes have I seen the prophecies of Isaiah come to pass. They were drunken but not with wine! Nay, blood was their drink and in that red flood they dipped deep and terribly."
   The taking the girl by the hand he started toward the edge of the cliff. At this very point had he ascended, in the night -- how long it seemed.
   Kane's clothing hung in tatters about him. He was torn, scratched and bruised. But in the eyes shone the clear calm light of serenity as the sun came up, flooding cliffs and jungle with a golden light that was like a promise of joy and happiness.
      --"The Moon of Skulls," Robert E. Howard, Weird Tales (June-July 1930)

1 Howard had written two previous Kane tales. The first "Skulls in the Stars" was the second published adventure (Weird Tales January 1929). The other "The Right Hand of Doom" finally appeared in the 1968 collection Red Shadows (Donald M. Grant).

1 A set of all six issues now sells for the outrageous price of $100!

Copyright © 2009 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century. He can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.

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