Tuesday, 21 January 2014

‘Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword’ #7 – Various (Dark Horse Comics)

I seem to have found myself in a position where I’m reading three books at once and not really making a lot of progress on any of them, even though they are all good ones (‘Traitor’s Blade’, ‘He drank, and saw the spider’ and ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’, just in case you were wondering). With this in mind then, I’m taking this week to work through some of the backlog of comic books that are on my shelf and really should have been blogged about way before now; they’re all good so don’t feel like you have to go away and come back later (or anything like that) Before I do that though... I just want to have a little blog about the latest issue of ‘Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword’, a collection of stories either based on or inspired by the man himself. I am by no means a Robert E. Howard scholar so don’t think for one second that I will be able to tell you which ones are which; I’m just going on what I enjoyed and what didn’t quite work for me. There are five tales here and the ones that worked for me just edged out the ones that didn’t…

I’ve never read any of the earlier ‘Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword’ issues but they seem to be about introducing readers to the wide range of other stuff that Howard wrote, and he wrote a lot of other stories (apart from Conan and Solomon Kane etc, although there is the one almost obligatory Conan tale here ). The man was prolific to say the least. I wanted to see some of Howard’s tales of oil riggers, boxers and stuff like that, but that wasn’t to be this time round with this issue concentrating on tales of swordplay in the main. I can’t complain at that approach really, I love a bit of swordplay.

Thomas and Buscema’s ‘Island of Pirate’s Doom’ dragged a slight story almost a little too far to be truly effective (I don’t care what anyone else says, this could have been done in twenty pages instead of forty one) but was a great example of old school storytelling meeting up with old school artwork to produce something that’s ‘pulp’ in all the right ways. If it wasn’t for the ‘Dark Agnes’ tale, ‘Island of Pirate’s Doom’ would have been the highlight of the book but, as it was, had to settle for joint first place.

Tobin and McConnell’s ‘Dark Agnes: Sword Woman’ is actually the concluding part of a three part tale but Tobin keeps things simple enough for that not to matter. I was really grateful for that approach as I was able to jump straight into quite an exciting tale that was over before I’d even realised that it had properly begun. McConnell’s slightly rougher looking artwork complemented the story well, somehow lending a sense of authenticity to the historical setting.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though with this book as a couple of the stories didn’t work for me. I’ll give the Bran Mak Morn story, ‘Men of the Shadows’, the benefit of the doubt here as it is the concluding part of a three part tale and clearly expects the reader to have paid their dues in following the plot. Having said that though, I wasn’t so keen on Pace’s artwork which appeared to settle for atmosphere rather than actually showing us what was happening. The ‘Breckinridge Elkins’ tale didn’t work for me either and, to be totally honest, I couldn’t really tell you why. I’d love to be able to go into more detail but sometimes that’s all there is to it. I’ll definitely pick up the next collection so maybe things will become a little clearer then.

A Robert E. Howard collection wouldn’t be a Robert E.Howard collection without at least the merest mention of Conan and ‘The Bargain’ does that job pretty darn admirably indeed with a tale of thievery and betrayal in the dark land of Shem. Once again in this collection, the target is well and truly hit by Jai Nitz keeping things very simple and to the point (as well as showing us that Conan can be just as crafty as his ‘civilised’ conspirators.

All in all then ‘Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword’ #7 was a lot of fun to settle down with for an afternoon albeit with a couple of small reservations. I reckon you’ll see more of these collections featured here in the future. Whether inspired by or created by the man himself, Robert E. Howard can take some kind of credit for some amazing tales and I want to read as many as I can.

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