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The Chronicles Of Solomon Kane Paperback – December 15, 2009
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Kane was a different figure than Conan. A stern man of the Lord who finds himself an outcast from English society for his Puritan faith, he wandered not for gold, glory, or women, but to assuage his need to "work the will of God...while weak things, human or animal, are mistreated." The fact he relies a good deal on a non-Christian fetish staff picked up from Africa is a source of troubling doubt for Solomon, as are the various weird menaces he must conquer in order to do good.
The first two issues here, "The Mark Of Kane," appeared in 1976 and were written by Conan comics scribe Roy Thomas from the Howard story "Red Shadows." Thomas never got the hang of Kane, and this two-part saga gets off on the wrong foot by having Kane fight a number of man-beasts who exist apparently to justify a lurid comic cover. After that, it's pretty much "Red Shadows" as written by Howard, marred by some awkwardly heavy pencils by Howard Chaykin that render Kane's face into a kind of scowling anvil.
From "Red Shadows," we move ahead nine years to a new Solomon Kane comic line, "The Sword Of Solomon Kane," with its premiere adventure..."Red Shadows." Yes, it's rinse and repeat, but this time the story is not so stretched out and the art, by Steve Carr and Bret Blevins, is rather crisp and effective. Writer Ralph Macchio would be "The Sword Of Solomon Kane's" one constant. His Kane is a bit one-note but grabs your attention. He might have blossomed in the same way Thomas's Conan did if only Macchio was given more than this six-issue run.
The remaining five issues of "Sword Of Solomon Kane," published in 1985 and 1986, employ three fresh Howard tales as well as two original Kane stories of Macchio's own invention. The best of all of them, "The Prophet!", is Macchio's vision of what would happen if Kane ran up against a Moslem as devout and formidable as himself. The end result is bloody, though not in ways you might expect. Backing up Macchio's spirited writing are the pencils of future "Hellboy" creator Mike Mignola and the inkwork of Al Williamson, who together do a superb job of capturing the culture clash inherent in the story, as well as some rather fine detail work for a monthly comic.
One of the major problems with this book is that none of the artists stuck around long. Kane is visualized as vividly dynamic in one issue, shadowy specter in the next.
Macchio's other original story is a rather weak wolfman tale that has Solomon sniffing about the home of a former comrade-in-arms. I love how Solomon just happens to have a couple hundred yards of silver wire on hand at one point to trap his beast, rather like a Nonconformist MacGyver. "And Faith, Undying" aims to shock, but falls well short.
The remaining three stories, "Blades Of The Brotherhood," "Hills Of The Dead," and "Wings In The Night," re-create three Howard stories, solidly presented if not adding much to the originals. "Blades" especially has a kind of frenetic, kitchen-sink plot that works better in Howard's fast-flowing prose. "Hills" is the best of these; Macchio and artists Williamson and Jon Bogdanove spotlight Kane's friendship with his strange African "blood-brother" N'Longa amid a throng of vampire attackers for both sturdy thrills and some comic effect.
I suspect Macchio would have made his Kane more substantial with more time. Yes, Marvel Comics let this one drop, but publisher Dark Horse give this book the same love and care they did for their fantastic Conan reprints. Fans of comic-book fantasy or Robert E. Howard will probably enjoy this, especially for "The Prophet" and "Hills Of The Dead."
Few have captured the somber nature of this restless wanderer, avenger and walking contradiction of his Puritan faith as well as these tales have done. Kane is a strange man quite unlike Howard's Cimmerian adventurer Conan from the Hyborian age. With Solomon there is no lust for the ladies, looting, thievery or fun. solomon Kane is on a mission. It's one that tests him, his faith and his sanity as he battles the known avarice, and savage inhumanity of men and the unknown horrors shambling in the outer dark.
Most of the line art reproduced here is beautiful, crisp and uncluttered. And while color is not as varied as I would like it goes to the service of the stories in a muted but effective way. Writers Roy Thomas and Ralph Macchio (who adapts or writes all the tales but the first version of Red Shadows) and pure Robert Howard (by way of the poem Solomon Kane's Homecoming) are very good. Ralph Macchio was surprisingly good and this second helping of his scripts reminds me of why I liked his work on this character even after 2 decades have passed since I first read them in the original comic series.
All the artists deliver some of the best work in their careers. Howard Chaykin was becoming very stylized at this time in his career and this book reminds me of why he was such a talent. Steven Carr's artwork is a rare treat and here it is a powerful argument for me to see even more. Brett Blevins as inker and penciller is almost perfect in this early part of his career. Mike "Hellboy" Mignola is also featured in this coincidentally timely tale about the meeting of two faiths on an adventure, one Christian, and one Muslim, and both bordering on zealotry. Jon Bagdanove is also along, and his illustrative and comic designs are enviable. My favorite John Ridgeway artwork is also featured in this book as is the always stellar Sandy Plunkett , who masterfully illustrates the poem Solomon Kane's Homecoming. Another artist featured is the inking of the legendary Al Williamson on several of the tales.
I wish all the Chronicles series collecting Marvels efforts to adapt and expand on the characters created by Robert E. Howard were as tight and beautiful as this volume.
If truth be told, most of these lesser known series failed because of lack of interest. Reprinting them allows us a peek into why they failed.
I think that REH's Solomon Kane is an interesting character. Quite why the stories seem so stilted escapes me. The single-minded altruism of Solomon Kane is mirrored in the later Pilgrim character by Garth Ennis (an obvious copycat). Neither works for me as the stories are rather episodic and uninteresting.
Still, its not that expensive to take a peek to satisfy one's curiosity.