Book Review: ‘Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Vol. 2’ by Roy Thomas

The first volume of this book series covered issues 1-51 of the original Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian series. This volume covers issues 52-100.

These two books are written by Roy Thomas, the legend that wrote the Conan comics. These basically serve as his commentary on his stories.

In fact, when I go back and read old issues, I’ve picked these books up to read his insight before revisiting them.

Thomas has always been one of my favorite comic book writers and the Conan franchise has always been one of my favorite IPs. So having these books is pretty damn cool and I’m actually pretty thankful that something like this was written, compiled and published.

I already reviewed the first one and all the positives I had to say about it also ring true for this volume.

All in all, these are great, resourceful books that allow you to understand Thomas’ inspiration, his stories and these characters on a level much deeper than just the comic book page.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Roy Thomas’ historic run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian.

Comic Review: Red Sonja: Worlds Away, Vol. 1

Published: August 9th, 2017
Written by: Amy Chu
Art by: Carlos Gomez
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Dynamite Entertainment, 197 Pages

Review:

In the spirit of all those Conan the Barbarian stories that sent the title character into modern times, as well as the awful but enjoyable film Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, we have finally gotten a Red Sonja tale that sends her into the future a.k.a. our present.

Granted, this did come out in 2017. I just got around to reading it though, as I’ve read through a lot of other Red Sonja runs since I started this site and started reviewing comics.

I liked that this story really just got right into it and sent Sonja to present day New York City pretty much immediately while she was in a major scuffle with the evil sorcerer, Kulan Gath.

For the most part, I enjoyed the story, most of the characters Sonja meets and the art was pretty damn good.

My only real complaint was that there was a lot of things that were done for plot convenience. In comics, I can look away once or twice but there was just too many instances of it that I was like, “Oh, c’mon!”

Still, I liked this in spite of that. I just feel like this would have been a much better experience than it ended up being had those conveniences been less common and figured out within the story in a logical, believable way.

I still plan to read the other volumes in this series, anyway, as I love Red Sonja and this is a fun, fresh take on it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Red Sonja stories from Dynamite, as well as the Conan comic book stories that put him in the modern world and the second Beastmaster movie that sent the hero to 1990s Los Angeles.

Book Review: ‘The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Book 1)’ by Robert E. Howard

This is the first of three collected editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian tales. I’m reading these as they’re numerically numbered and I assume there’s at least a loose chronology to the placement of the stories over the three volumes.

This one features several of the famous Conan short stories that I’ve also read but about 40 percent of it was new to me.

Covering nearly 500 pages, this is packed full of a dozen or so stories, as well as alternate draft versions of many. The main part of the book has The Frost-Giant’s Daughter, The Tower of the Elephant, The Phoenix and the Sword and Queen of the Black Coast just to name a few.

Overall, this was a hell of a lot of fun to both revisit and discover stories I hadn’t yet read. Some of these were also stories I knew from the comics but hadn’t actually experienced the source material for myself.

All in all, a great, beefy book packed full of sword and sorcery adventure, heroism and monsters. What the hell isn’t there to love?

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Comic Review: The Saga of Solomon Kane

Published: August 18th, 2009
Written by: Roy Thomas, Doug Moench, various
Art by: various
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard, characters by Bram Stoker

Marvel Comics (original printing), Dark Horse (reprinted), 416 Pages

Review:

Man, this was one hell of a buy! A great value in fact! I was surprised that I found one in pretty pristine condition on eBay for about twenty bucks.

This collection is pretty special, as it is magazine sized and all in black and white. It’s also over 400 glorious pages! It reprints all of the Solomon Kane magazine format stories from the original Marvel era when they had all the Robert E. Howard publishing rights from the ’70s into the early ’90s.

I’ve read probably half of these stories before, as I own a lot of the issues these tales appeared in but it’s been a really long time and about 50-60 percent of this was new to me.

It seems like this is mostly in chronological order and it allowed for it to read much better as a broader body of work, covering the large passage of time over Kane’s many adventures.

Being that this was made by Marvel, it features some great crossovers with the Marvel version of Dracula, as well as another Robert E. Howard character, Conan. There’s even a story in here that features Frankenstein’s castle.

A lot of the stories here are adapted from Howard’s literary Solomon Kane tales. Having recently read the definitive collection of the literary work, it was really cool seeing some of the same tales brought to life with great art.

All in all, this is now one of my favorite things in my graphic novel collection. It’s a beast of a collection but it’s also something I know I’ll go back to and revisit again and again for the rest of my life.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other comic stories that were featured within the pages of the original Savage Sword of Conan magazine.

Book Review: ‘The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane’ by Robert E. Howard

I have only read a few Solomon Kane stories by Robert E. Howard and that was a long time ago. I’ve always loved the character, however. Especially, when he appeared in issues of The Savage Sword of Conan, as well as his own classic comic book series from his original Marvel run. I also like the film adaptation, quite a bit, as it has grown on me since I reviewed it for this site a few years back. I may need to update that, as I have a higher opinion of the movie now than I did after my original viewing of it.

This nice, thick book collects a lot of the iconic Solomon Kane stories that Howard wrote. I’m not sure if this is all of them or most of them but it does feature the stories I’m either familiar with from the comics and from what I’ve learned about the character’s history.

I enjoyed this pretty immensely, which I kind of expected to, but it exceeded those expectations and as far as a big collected body of work, this may be my favorite book I own by Robert E. Howard. Granted, I plan on reading the collected editions of Conan soon, as I have only read about a third of his short stories.

Solomon Kane is a very different hero than either Conan or Kull, however, and it was cool seeing Howard writing what I still consider to be sword and sorcery but quite unlike his better known “barbarian” heroes.

I love that this takes place on Earth in a historical time and that it connects to the real world closer than Howard’s prehistorical fantasy stuff.

Additionally, every story here had purpose and serious gravitas. I also liked all the colorful characters that weaved in and out of these tales, as well as the monsters and the Lovecraftian influence on them.

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane should definitely be in anyone’s library who enjoys fantasy, action and horror. It’s a perfect blend of these three things, written by one of the greatest American authors that ever lived.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Comic Review: Red Sonja and Cub – One-Shot

Published: April 2nd, 2014
Written by: Jim Zub
Art by: Jonathan Lau
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Dynamite Entertainment, 40 Pages

Review:

I’ve liked Lone Wolf and Cub stories since first discovering Lone Wolf and Cub as a kid in the ’80s. While the most popular version of the story for modern audiences is the Disney+ show The Mandalorian, Jim Zub wrote a Red Sonja version of the story a half decade prior.

This was written as a digital exclusive one-shot, which kind of sucks, as I’d like a copy in print to go along with my hundreds of other Red Sonja single issue comics.

I also wish that this was more than a double-sized one-shot, as the story really could’ve been beefed up into a miniseries.

Regardless of that, Jim Zub does quite a bit with limited space and I enjoyed this story, nonetheless.

I thought that the art was good and the action flowed really well.

In the end, this was a good, quick read that left me wanting more. For a low-priced digital exclusive, it’s definitely worth the price.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Red Sonja stories from Dynamite, as well as other sword and sorcery comics written by Jim Zub.

Book Review: ‘Kull: Exile of Atlantis’ by Robert E. Howard

While this doesn’t collect all of the Kull stories by Robert E. Howard, I believe that it collects most of them. I feel like this nice, thick collection definitely gives you a lot of Kull to chew on and digest and honestly, this was all really solid without a dull moment to be found.

I believe that all of these stories are in chronological order to Kull’s life and not necessarily to the publishing date. They seem to be in order, anyway, as some stories have characters that connect to other stories and past situations sometimes get a mention.

Other than Kull, we do get mention of his big enemy Thulsa Doom. However, he doesn’t really have a presence here and I’m not sure how big of a presence he had in the actual short stories that Howard wrote. Doom did appear quite frequently in the Marvel comics series, though.

We also get a story where Kull meets another great Howard warrior, Bran Mak Morn. I think this story was originally written as a Bran Mak Morn tale but it was cool that it was included here, as it shows Howard sort of envisioned his stories within the same shared universe, which also exists within the realm of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. In fact, the two men were great friends and inspired one another.

For those who don’t know, Howard created Kull before his most famous character, Conan. The two have some similarities that are obvious but their personalities differ and you really get to see that, here.

Also, there is at least one story in this book that would be reworked and rewritten later as a Conan story.

For those who love Robert E. Howard’s work or are simply sword and sorcery fans, this is certainly something you’ll want to read and add to your library.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: anything else by Robert E. Howard, also the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Book Review: ‘The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard’

I’ve always loved that H.P. Lovecraft never really gave a shit that other writers would tap into his Cthulhu mythos. In the case of Robert E. Howard, the two had become good friends whose work influenced each other. So, naturally Howard wrote some Lovecraftian tales and even merged some of his most famous characters with those existing in Lovecraft’s literary universe.

The first story in this anthology collection sees Howard’s Kull of Atlantis crossover into Lovecraftian horror. Granted, this also happened in some works featuring Conan the Cimmerian, as well.

My favorite story in the collection was the second one, which was originally a novella. The story is called “Skull-Face”. The story is about a British man who smokes opium, has weird visions and then discovers that there’s something real and sinister afoot.

As I was reading “Skull-Face”, I kept envisioning Peter Cushing as the main character and it read like something that could’ve been adapted greatly by Hammer Films in the 1960s.

The rest of the stories were also pretty solid but my mind kept drifting back to “Skull-Face”.

All in all, this was really neat to read as it merged two of my favorite fantasy authors’ worlds together. Sure, Lovecraft influenced Howard’s sword and sorcery tales but this thick volume went beyond just the stuff I’ve read involving Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other works by Robert E. Howard, as well as the literary work of H.P. Lovecraft.