Monday, June 29, 2009

Review | Conan The Cimmerian #0 Dark Horse Comics

The first issue, which is #0, of Conan The Cimmerian by Dark Horse Commics, is a special issue. It is written by Timothy Truman, the artist is Tomas Giorello (who also did the cover), colorist Jose? Villarrubia, letterer Richard Starkings and Comicraft, and Dave Stewart as the cover colorist.

I must say I really enjoyed this first special issue. Here come the spoilers, I?m going to tell you how the comic is set up and just about everything about, so if you just want to pick it up and read it, then stop reading this review. Otherwise read on.

The comic shows Conan returning to Cimmeria some years after he had left and traveled the south lands. He is attacked by a group of Vanir, and easily kills them. This would be an incredibly short story if not for one thing; the battle is played out with the back drop of Cimmeria being explained by the poem written by Robert E. Howard, ?Cimmeria.? Each page has a few words from the poem or large sections in entirety, the backdrop is somberly depicted to be harsh and cold, and a feeling of despair lurks on these pages. The artist changes style and color brightens when the poem tells of Conan?s travels, thereby changing the mood. I am very pleased that the authors and Dark Horse, preferred to bring Conan?s world to light by using the full text of his poem ?Cimmeria?, thereby rooting the series on Howards? model instead of just their own interpretation,.

To further link this comic to Howard, the first page of the comic shows a small room with a desk an old manual typewriter and a few issues of Weird Tales sitting on it. A few other items lead the reader to enter not Conan?s world but the world of Robert E. Howard. Boxing gloves hang on the wall; a book on the crusades sits on the desk. These are pieces of Howard?s life that made him who he was and coalesced in his mind that which would become the most famous Barbarian of all times, Conan. Once again at the end of the comic, the author and artist transitions from the world of Conan back to that of Howards Texas with a depiction of him writing the poem ?Cimmeria? on a wind swept Texas hill about Frederisksburg.

Lastly on the letters page is a short piece called ?The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob; True Stories from the Life of Robert E. Howard.? Here is text taken from Howard?s correspondence with Clark Ashton Smith, regarding the writing of Conan.

As I said I am pleased with this comic and the background it provides on Conan?s creator Robert E. Howard. The art and color are very much in keeping with the mood one gets in reading the words of ?Cimmeria?. If there is one complaint it is with the artists rendering of Conan himself, which to me looks to be to much caveman like and not enough intelligent barbarian. When I read the description of Conan I see some of the noble savage, but more to the point I see a very intelligent brooding fighting machine, of supreme confidence, neither arrogant nor whimsical. All in all I would give this a 5.0 out of 5.0 on my comic rating scale.

Adding a new review topic - Conan the Cimmerian Comics

In addition to reviewing the Conan Stories written by Robert E. Howard, I will also be reviewing Conan The Cimmerian comics produced by Dark Horse Comics. Some Robert E. Howard purist may find the comics distasteful and not worth the paper they?re printed on. For all I know that thought may be an accurate accounting for the comics, but I will read through them and give you my opinion, biased in one way or another, on what I think of the comics.

I hope you enjoy my reviews of the Conan The Cimmerian comics. Please feel free to leave comics, and let me know what you think, whether good or bad, or if you would like to like to add your two cents ? two dollars when corrected for inflation ? that is fine with me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review: Robert E. Howard's "The Frost-Giants Daughter (Gods of theNorth)"

This is a short tale, which takes up at the end of a battle between the wolves of Bragi and the Vanir on icy plains in the frozen Nordheim. After Conan kills the last enemy a woman, Atali, appears before him. She is nearly naked, covered only by a gossamer veil. She taunts him, whereby Conan chases after her. Conan is led into an ambush where Atali?s frost-giant brothers attack him. Conan defeats the frost-giants, after which Atali fleas in fright. Conan chases after her and finally catches her; she pleads for her father the Frost-Giant god Ymir, to saver her. Atali disappears in a pillar of blue flame, and Conan is rendered unconscious. Conan is awakened by allies who arrived at the battle site after the battle was over and tracked him across the frozen waste. One old fighter tells the tale of how the daughter of the Ymir haunts battle fields in order to lure men, weak from battle to be slain by her brothers, and their victim?s hearts given to their father as a sacrifice. The men don?t believe the old fighter, and believe Conan is suffering the effects of a blow to the head received during battle. But the story ends with Conan still holding the gossamer veil; he tore from Atali?s body before her father spirited her away.

This story is short and easy to read, and is largely derived from Greek mythology. It is one of the first stories written by Howard to chronicle Conan?s life. The story was not published in Howard?s life, but has appeared in different versions and in some times with different heroes since 1976.

What is Howard telling us about Conan in this story? Within the first few paragraphs Howard shows that Conan is by far the best warrior. After this Howard brings in Atalia, and shows Conan captivated by her beauty and taken over with desire to have her, all of the sudden the powerful warrior is subject to the charms of a woman. At this point Conan is depicted as supremely confident and powerful when in battle, but in affairs of the heart he is lead by his libido. At this point Atali clearly has the upper hand and is in control of the situation. When Conan meets the frost-giant brothers and defeats them in battle, Howard once again shows how ultimately superior Conan is on the battle field, but this is quickly negated when he runs after Atali heading to his libido. It can be argued here that Conan is more animalistic and less of a thinking human, but I would disagree since at this point there is alos a subtle change in Conan?s reason for chasing after Atali, lust is still a primary factor, but now it is tinged with revenge and retribution for being led into an ambush. When Conan proves that his constitution is superior to Atali, but chasing her across the frozen land and capturing her, she is left with only one means of escape, she calls on her father, Yamir. At this point Conan has his prize taken from him by divine intervention and is left unconscious. Howard shows us that Conan is a worthy opponent to godlike beings; yet, what is interesting here is that Conan does not even know himself that he is a worthy opponent. Although Conan doesn?t defeat Yamir in physical combat he defeats his champions, which in and of itself is worthy of legend.

A lot can be said on what this alludes to and questions that arise. If Atali is the daughter of a God, how is it that she is captured by Conan? If the brothers are sons of a God, how is it that Conan is able to kill them so easily? What is Howard trying to say about Conan? It almost appears as if Howard is implying that Conan is similar to Hercules who was the offspring of the union between a human and a God. As the history of Conan goes he does not bear Godly blood, even though time and again he battles superhuman beings and wins. I believe Howard was merely using these super beings as justifiable threats against Conan, and as a way of giving the character a mythical foundation of which to write further tales. Conan is the classic hero, and this story is an excellent portrait of what a hero should be. He is strong in battle against his enemies, yet he can be overcome, and in this case it is his desire for Atali that gets him in trouble.

The Frost-Giants Daughter is told with a fine mix of dialogue and narrative, allowing Howard to paint a very visual and detailed landscape for the reader to enter.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Aliens: The New Dark Horse Comics

Review by Jeff Cochran

It’s been years since I’ve seen that dark and foreboding image of the tall, slender, biomechanical body with the extended, arch shaped, bug like head. Until last night, that is. After reading the newly released Aliens from Dark Horse Comics, I had to watch the movie again. Hollywood is scrambling to reboot everything under the sun. I guess it was just a matter of time before Dark Horse rebooted its Alien franchise, and I must say I like it.

A small group of archeologists enter a backwater star system to take possession of their claim; an ancient artifact of alien origin. When the team makes planet fall, they are met by a small group of miners, who are meant to escort them to the find. Instead, the miners kill the team; apparently directed by some other intelligence.

John Arcudi spends a good amount of time setting up the characters, just to kill them near the end of the first issue. However, there are indications on the last page that these characters will be back for more. I don’t know about you, but I like these kinds of mysteries. The set up for what’s to come has me hooked and I already have issue two ordered.

The artwork is incredible, each page laid out in a logical manner that keeps the story moving forward. It’s been my experience with comics that it’s easy to loose your place in the story because the panels just didn’t quite work, or the dialogue bubbles were out of place. That is not the case with Aliens. The story kept my interest from start to finish without any annoying interruptions to make me forget I was in a story.

The art combines the talents of Zach Howard (Pencils and Inks), Mark Irwin (Inks), Wes Dzioba (Colors), and Blambot!, A.K.A. Nate Piekos (Letterer). The art is amazing, utilizing a perfect balance between line work and color. The ink is used more heavily in the action sequences to add some edge to the work, but then gives way to the color during the more quite sequences of the story. The color is a combination of washes and airbrush, giving the work a superior, illustrated effect versus many comics you see. This team is obviously very experienced visual story tellers.

My only complaint is the cover. I would expect something more painterly than this. The work is nice, don’t get me wrong, but I would have expected something grander for the Aliens debut. Perhaps time or budget constraints kept the publishers from anything more.

The book is printed in full color on a heavy, high quality stock. The publishers did a very nice job producing this book. I highly recommend you dive back into the terror that is Aliens. Order your subscription here:

Chew, a very satisfying read

Comic review by Jeff Cochran

If you enjoy gross and humorous in the same sitting, you’re going to love Chew, the new comic series released this month by Image Comics.

Tony Chu is a Vice Cop with a unique gift; he gets psychic vibes from anything he eats. He bites into an apple, he knows where it was grown, a hamburger, how the cow was slaughtered.

The story opens with a chef preparing the ingredients for a pot of soup. During the slicing and dicing, he accidentally cuts his finger, adding a little of himself to the recipe.

Cut to Tony Chu’s and partner’s stake out of a black market chicken joint. That’s right, a chicken joint. In this world, the Federal Government has outlawed all poultry and fowl because of a Bird Flu epidemic.

As Tony and partner are preparing to close down the joint, they are approached by an F.D.A. Agent and asked to halt their activities; the chicken joint is under Federal protection. The two cops are even invited in for a meal.

As he samples the chicken soup, Tony suddenly receives information about a serial killer, who happens to be working as a chef in the kitchen.

Tony and partner raid the kitchen to catch the killer, who cuts his own throat to avoid the jail time. What happens next will be left to your own reading enjoyment.

The writing of John Layman is superb; well crafted and witty. Rob Guillory provides wonderful, very stylize art that looks similar to an old Saturday morning cartoon, but darker and edgier.

This is a fun comic! The ending sets Tony Chu up for many wild adventures to come and I loved the social commentary about the Bird Flu. I can’t wait to see what these guys come up next. I hope you’ll take the time to read Chew, visit Things From Another World to order your copy today.

Jeff Cochran is the publisher of Media Explorer, a blog offering reviews and essays on genre fiction, and Alternative Coordinates, an online Science Fiction magazine.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review of "The Phoenix on the Sword" by Robert E. Howard

For those that are fans of the original Conan stories written by Robert E. Howard, and those who may be interested in them, I will be writing reviews, critiques, editorials, and anything that happens to come into my mind based on the stories I?m reading.

This all came about when I picked up a new compilation of the classics, published in three books by Del Rey and titled ?The Coming of Conan?, ?The Conquering Sword of Conan? and ?The Bloody Crown of Conan?. The stories appear in order of publication and in some instances the synopsis or outline of the story written by Robert E. Howard is included. As a fan of the craft of writing this was of particular interest to me. So armed with the books I began re-reading the stories I enjoyed many years ago.

In becoming re-acquainted with these stories, and in some cases I am experiencing them for the first time, I am outfitted with a more aged outlook on life, perhaps a little less of the wonder I felt when I first read them years ago. But nonetheless as time passes by and one gets older, you can?t help but have a change in attitudes as life has a way of hardening your outlook on reality. However, if this first story is any indication, they still spark wonder and excitement; they cause you to hold your breath, and your heart to beat harder. This is the same exhilaration I felt when I first experienced these stories many years ago.

As you enter the Hyborian world for a brief escape of reality, it is a protected world, a world unlike the world of science fiction, it is a world that is not influenced by scientist saying ?it will never work?, it is a place where scientist are not allowed to tear down the place of dreams. It is a place where one can become Conan, and like Den said in the movie, Heavy Metal?
?On Earth I?m nobody, but here I?m Den.?
Through the words of Robert E. Howard we can all be more than what we are on Earth.

?The Phoenix on the Sword? by Robert E. Howard

I always wonder how it came to be that this was the first story Robert E. Howard published in the Conan saga, since it takes place in the later years of Conan?s life. Yet it has a depth such that it was the conclusion of a long career of writing and developing, the characters history through events written in the story of his life.

The setting of the story shows Conan as the king of Aquilonia, and attempting to settle into that role, instead of that of an adventurer. It is alluded to early on that Conan is much better suited to wielding a sword than politics, that he is more comfortable facing enemies, than the affairs of court, and that he is in essence a noble savage.

The story revolves around four conspirators who plan to kill Conan. However, two separate and unrelated events spell doom for the rebel gang, 1) Conan meets an ancient in a dream, and is warned of a serpent in the midst of his kingdom, the ancient aids Conan by placing a powerful symbol of a phoenix on his sword, 2) In another part of the city the enslaved wizard Thoth-Amon from stygia regains his ring of power and sends a conjured beast to kill his master, Ascalante, who is also one of the four conspirators.

The four conspirators along with a group of soldiers attack Conan. Conan is close to being defeated, when the conjured beast bursts into the room attacking Ascalante and killing him. The beast starts to attack Conan, but Conan uses the sword with the phoenix symbol on the beast and it dissolves into nothingness.

The story has an excellent mix of dialogue, narrative, and poetry. Everything goes to tell this story, to set the mood, place, and time. Although many aspects of Conan canon are missing from this story, nothing in this story requires the reader to know the history of Conan.

Very little is discussed of where Conan comes from, and it is only briefly mentioned of how he got to the position of king. For the most part this is the story about a group of rebels that try to kill him, Conan is still very much the main character, but this is not fully showcased until the end with the battle against the rebels and the conjured beast.

This is not one of the great stories from the Conan series but it is a very good one, and I enjoy it very much. It contains exciting, easy to read story telling and it gives only enough back story to move it along and make the reader want to know more.

In the story Conan appears to be almost super-human, but not quite. Physically he is superior to the men he encounters, but just barely, and with enough forces arrayed against him he can be, and is, brought down. It also implies that Conan is favored by godlike entities, as seen when Epemitreus a Sage who has been dead for fifteen hundred years appears to help Conan. But it doesn?t say that Conan is favored by the gods. All in all Conan appears to be an everyday guy that excels at what he does and asks nothing from anyone else.

After reading this story over again, and learning more about Robert E. Howard it amazes me that he wrote this when he was twenty-six, committed suicide four years later at age thirty, and in those four short years he produced twenty-one completed stories, four unfinished documents and a number of untitled synopses for Conan stories. In addition to this Howard wrote in numerous and diverse genres. Whatever demons haunted him, and kept him from finding peace in this world, he didn?t let that stop him from being a hugely prolific writer. The worlds he created are more alive today than when they first appeared within the pages of Weird Tales, and have given many people through out the world a place to escape.