Conan: The Shadow of Vengeance (Titan Books, January 30, 2024)
Octavia tore her gaze from the grisly noose. Hope fluttered in her breast, for through the guttering smoke from scores of torches she saw the Cimmerian astride his mighty stallion. He stood motionless, a statue hewn from whalebone and gristle — save for his eyes. Even with the breadth of the Red Brotherhood between them, Octavia recognized the death fires kindled in those cold blue orbs.
There is a magic to some writer’s prose; it pulses and pounds, like Robert E. Howard writing about Conan, or has a clever, articulate subliminity in which a bright man finds himself feeling the fool in a genius’s shadow (Doyle’s Watson writing about Holmes), that infuses a character and their canon.
This is part of what makes pastiche such a tricky business to evaluate and review. Some hate the idea of pastiche, in which case, any review is pointless. On the other hand, pastiche — the continuation of an author’s characters in new adventures is a long-established tradition that reaches back to the tales of the pre-Classical world and continues on the reams of unlicensed fan-fic. So, let’s leave that debate for elsewhere, and just assume that you are this far because you love Robert E. Howard, you love Conan, and you want that pulse-pounding, blood-and-thunder sense of adventure you experienced long ago.
Michael Moorcock’s Elric Vol. 4: The Dreaming City
(Titan Comics, April 5, 2022). Art by Julien Telo
Elric of Melniboné, the White Wolf, is exiled from his home and cursed to walk the land under the influence of Arioch, the Lord of Chaos. With his soul-eating sword, Stormbringer, Elric must find his way to the Dreaming City – the mysterious ancient birthplace of his ancestors. Hoping to unlock the secrets of his destiny, Elric is unaware he is being hunted by his long-lost love, Cymoril, who has only one sinister agenda: vengeance.
I must admit, when I first saw Titan Comics advertising this hardcover graphic novel, Elric: The Dreaming City, I was skeptical.
How could this be worth my shelf space when I already have the same Michael Moorcock story adapted in 1982 by the great Roy Thomas, with art by the legendary P. Craig Russell? That is what I asked myself. The bar was set rather high.
But after picking this up and more recently perusing it, I’ve concluded that this adaptation by Blondel and Cano, with art by Telo, is indeed a worthy addition to any Elric fan’s collection. It is brutal, evocative, sad, and violent – all the hallmarks of a tragically epic Elric story.
Conan: Black Starlight (Titan Books, October 17, 2023)
The name John C. Hocking is well known to long-time Black Gate readers. He published several terrific stories in the print version of the magazine, including two tales in his Brand the Viking series, and the opening stories in his popular Archivistseries, “A River Through Darkness and Light” and “Vestments of Pestilence,” which was continued in Skelos and Weirdbook. He’s also launched a brand new series, the King’s Blade tales, in Tales From the Magician’s Skull, edited by Howard Andrew Jones.
I was delighted to see that John had been commissioned to write a serialized novella for Marvel’s high-profile relaunch of Conan The Barbarian in 2019. Conan: Black Starlight was published in installments in the first twelve issues of the comic, and now the entire story has been collected by Titan in a single handsome volume.
The Shadows of Thule (Humanoids, August 15, 2023). Cover by Lionel Marty
Scotland, 2nd Century AD. The Roman conquest has stopped south of Hadrian’s Wall; beyond it lies the land of the unconquered Gauls, and even further north, the wild hills of the Pictish people.
When a Roman general loses his wife in a Pictish raid, a mysterious necromancer convinces him to awaken an ancient horror and unleash it on the North. In response, Cormak Mac Fianna, the last king of the Picts, unites his fractured tribes to fight the rising evil. But he soon finds that the power of his tribes is not enough to stop the terrifying Shadows of Thulé from destroying everything in their path.
The only solution is to join forces with their enemies to fight the coming apocalypse but can the Picts, the Gauls, and the Romans set aside their differences long enough to save the world from the ancient evil threatening their existence?
It’s a growingly fine time for sword & sorcery: via small press efforts, via a new work by a major press (Howard Andrew Jones’s magisterial Lord of a Shattered Land) and by Titan’s reprints and pastiche of the works of Robert E. Howard. Among Titan’s efforts has been a much-heralded new Conan comic (rightly so, so far), but this ignores the long-standing catalog of French sword & sorcery comics (indeed, the French mag The Cimmerian is several years old already, and also decidedly better than Marvel’s recent mishandling of the adventuring barbarian.) Fortunately, Humanoids has been increasingly making a number of their titles available in English translation, and one of the newest is about as Sword & Sorcery as it gets!
Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 (Image Comics, October 25, 2023).
Cover A: Martin Simmonds, Cover B: Joshua Middleton
I’ve written in the past about how my Goth Chick origins can be traced back to clandestine viewings of classic monster movies on the local cable access channel with my Dad. Though these events were infrequent, they made an indelible impression, forever making me equate Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney among others, with warm fuzzy feelings. But in between these midnight events, sitting at a distance from the television that would have sent my Mom into fits, I had to get my monster fix in other hideable ways.
And this meant comics.
Living in proximity to six boy cousins, all but one being older than me, I had a near limitless source of contraband, which at nine years old consisted primarily of Warren’s Creepy, Marvel’s Strange Tales, and DC’s House of Mystery. Easily hidden between mattress and box springs, and able to be read by flashlight in the closet, horror comics fed my obsession with monsters and the supernatural – even as they sometimes scared the snot out of me for nights on end.
Hunter Ninja Bear, Volume 1: Provenance from Fenom Comics
As I told you back in April, Black Gate photog Chris Z and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2). During that adventure we crossed paths with brothers Joe and Tom Fenoglio, founders of the indie comic company Fenom Comics. They were promoting their graphic novel Hunter Ninja Bear, Volume 1: Provenance, which caught our attention due to the incredible illustrations.
I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a copy and having had a holiday weekend to devote to reading it, I must admit I’m now kind of obsessed with this story of three forces of nature (a hunter, a ninja, and a bear). I had to know more, and Tom indulged me with a quick response to all my questions as well as some juicy graphics.
So, Tom meet everyone. Everyone, meet Tom, cofounder of Fenom.
It was way back at the 2014 Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo when we were first introduced to a fine British lad Neil Gibson and his fledgling comic company TPub. Gibson was there to promote volume one of TPubs inaugural graphic novel, Twisted Dark. At the time Gibson described the comic as a psychological thriller which contained horror with dark (at times demented) twists, incorporating every human emotion, illegal activity, and brutal social commentary.
Nine years and twenty-two publications later, including a total of seven volumes of Twisted Dark, Gibson’s original description of TPub’s first offering seems to have transformed into a mission statement. Often exploring the darkest depths of human nature within their storylines, I have devoured each and every TPub comic since the first. But frankly, no matter how intriguing the story, we all know the visuals make or break a comic. TPub also excels on this front by employing incredible artists to augment every frame with rich detail and cinematic viewpoints.
Cover of Hellblazer #1 (January, 1988.). Art by Dave McKean
Everyone has a couple. You know, the movie or movies that serve as your mental comfort food. In the same way that you might long for Mac and Cheese or a PB&J when the world gets on your nerves, I bet you have movies you rewatch for the same reason. When asked, some of my day-job coworkers mentioned When Harry Met Sally, the original Star Wars, and Anchorman as films they put on to lift their spirits.
As you could probably guess, my go-to movies are slightly left of center. My top three in no particular order are Jaws (1975), the first Blade (1998) movie and Constantine (2005). I haven’t looked too closely as to why these stories provide me such a soothing mental distraction, or even what they have in common. But thankfully they are all streaming because I damaged more than one DVD of each taking them with me when I used to travel long stretches for work. I mean, nothing says “sweet home Chicago” like Bruce the shark.
Whereas both Jaws and Blade had more than one sequel, such as they were, Constantine did not. Based on a DC Comics character who first appeared in his own comic Hellblazer in 1988, John Constantine would go on to star in 300 issues, earning him third place in Empire’s 50 Greatest Comic Characters of All Time. So, it was not for lack of source material that we haven’t seen Keanu Reeves reprising his rendition of the cynical, chain-smoking occult detective, until now.
The kinds of stories I wanted to do I had in mind before I created Hellboy. It’s not like I created Hellboy and said, ‘Hey, now what does this guy do?’ I knew the kinds of stories I wanted to do, but just needed a main guy.
Mike Mignola, “The Genesis of Hellboy”. Back Issue! (21)
A half-demon paranormal investigator fighting Nazis is how my friend Evan Dorkin described Mike Mignola’s Hellboy to me nearly twenty years ago. He had been reading the books in preparation to write a story for the Hellboy Weird Tales book. He thought I’d really like Mignola’s work, and gave me the first couple of issues. At that point, for all sorts of reasons, I was pretty much through with comics. Hellboy turned out to be like nothing else I’d read. Now, having just finished reading all four new omnibuses, Seed of Destruction, Strange Places, The Wild Hunt, and Hellboy in Hell, along with two additional short story collections (that’s almost 2,400 pages of supernatural awesomeness), I can safely state that this is my favorite comic and, more importantly, a significant and serious work of weird fiction.
In 1991, Mike Mignola sketched a monster to which he added the name Hellboy because he said it made him laugh. A few years later, he used Hellboy as the jumping-off point for a creator-owned comic to be published by Dark Horse. Initially, he toyed with the idea of something like the old Challengers of the Unknown, a team of paranormal investigators created by Jack Kirby (and maybe Joe Simon or maybe Dave Wood). Eventually, he rejected that in favor of focusing just on Hellboy. After a few preview appearances, Hellboy debuted in his own comic mini-series, Seed of Destruction, in 1994.
All four volumes in Michael Moorcock’s Elric from Titan Comics (2014 – 2022)
There’s been a lot of comic adaptations of Michael Moorcock’s Elric over the years. Perhaps the most famous is the French artist Philippe Druillet’s ambitious rendition of The Eternal Champion, but there have been many others associated with the character, including P. Craig Russell, James Cawthorn, Walter Simonsen, Mike Mignolia, Howard Chaykin, and many more. First Comics had a lengthy association with Moorcock for many years, producing highly regarded adaptations of Elric, Hawkmoon, and others. I think my favorite was Mark Shainblum’s lengthy Chronicles of Corum adaptation.
Titan Comics has had a long partnership with Moorcock, and recently it has released the best Elric adaptation I have ever seen, in any medium. The four volumes, The Ruby Throne, Stormbringer, The White Wolf, and The Dreaming City, are among my favorite comics of any kind in the past few years. Produced by the French team that includes the writer Julien Blondel and several enormously talented artists, including Didier Poli, Julien Telo, Robin Recht, and Jean Bastide, these books belong in every decent library of modern fantasy.