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.

Book Review: ‘Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery’ by Brian Murphy

As a lifelong, hardcore fan of sword and sorcery fiction, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Brian Murphy did his research and it showed, as this great book is probably the best thing I’ve ever read on the history of sword and sorcery fantasy, as a whole.

It’s part biographical when it covers specific writers in the genre but it also gets really deep into the history of the sword and sorcery style and how it was established and grew into quite the phenomenon that still creeps in and out of mainstream pop culture.

While this spent a good amount of time on the legendary writer, Robert E. Howard, and his most famous creations Conan and Kull, it also went way beyond that exploring other writers and their work, which helped propel sword and sorcery forward and into the hearts and minds of literary fantasy fans around the world.

The book also shows how sword and sorcery grew beyond just words on a page and how it sort of fell out of popularity but also had a resurgence, later on.

If you love sword and sorcery and you haven’t picked this book up, you definitely should. It’s something I will probably go back to and reference for years to come.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other books about sword and sorcery literature, comics and film. Especially, the books put out by Pulp Hero Press.

Comic Review: Conan Chronicles – Epic Collection IV: The Battle of Shamla Pass

Published: January 14th, 2020
Written by: Benjamin Truman, Tim Truman
Art by: Joe Kubert, various
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Dark Horse Comics, Marvel (reprinted), 464 Pages

Review:

These massive collections are kind of pricey, which up to this point was fine. But this one is probably my jumping off point, as it was such a big step down from the previous three Epic Collection releases Marvel has put.

These beefy trade paperbacks cover the span of Conan stories while they were being produced and published by Dark Horse after the original Marvel runs. Well, now that Conan is back at Marvel, they’re releasing two-to-three of these per year to fill in the void.

I guess the stories in this volume weren’t all that bad but the art was a big departure from what I had come to expect with the other volumes.

Additionally, the art was a mixed bag with contrasting styles that changed too often and just sort of made this collection feel really disjointed, where the others felt cohesive, uniform and consistent.

In fact, I’d say that this one made me appreciate the early volumes that much more.

I guess if you’re a Conan completist and you want all of these, have at it. For me, I’ll have to look through the next one before I just outright buy it.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Conan comics from the Dark Horse era.

Comic Review: What If Thor Battled Conan?

Published: June, 1983
Written by: Alan Zelenetz
Art by: Ron Wilson
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

I’m planning to review many of the classic What If? stories but in doing so, I wanted to start with the ones featuring Conan first. This is the second of the four Conan stories.

While Conan briefly crossed over with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in his first What If? tale, it was just a small cameo by Spider-Man and his future wife and the characters didn’t actually interact. This story, however, is the first time that Conan actually has fisticuffs with an iconic Marvel character.

The comic also features Conan villain Thoth-Amon, a brief appearance by Loki and a strange, bonkers appearance by Crom, who shows that he just doesn’t have time for Thor’s shit.

The comic’s title is somewhat misleading, as Thor and Conan do actually battle but it’s pretty short and they start working together to try and figure out how to get Thor back home, as he’s trapped in Conan’s realm and time.

The setup for this is pretty basic. Thor follows Loki into a cave and ends up in a different time and place. Part of me was kind of hoping to see Loki team up with Thoth-Amon but that didn’t happen.

Overall, this was a pretty cool read but the scene with Thor meeting Crom felt really out of place, strange and as if the writer didn’t really know much about Conan lore. Crom isn’t like Odin, just chilling on a throne for anyone to confront and chat with.

This isn’t my favorite of the Conan What If? stories but none of them are bad and they’re all amusing and entertaining in their own unique way.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the three other What If? comics featuring Conan.

Comic Review: What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth TODAY?

Published: February, 1979
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Glynis Wein
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

finally collected all four issues of What If? that feature Conan the Barbarian. So I figured that I’d read them all and review them. In fact, I’ve had plans to review all of the What If? comics in my collection, as some of them are great alternative takes on the heroes and villains we all love.

This is the first story to feature Conan and it’s probably the most well-known of the four. Also, it is penned by regular Conan the Barbarian comic writer Roy Thomas.

The question posed by this issue of What If? is an intriguing one, especially for the time when it came out. While Conan has been to the modern world several times since the 1970s, this was the first of those stories.

Now I can’t call it the best of those stories, as I am digging the absolute hell out of the Savage Avengers title that started last year but this took a typical “fish out of water” story and just made it more badass and cooler than they typically are.

This also features a very brief cameo by Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson but unfortunately, we don’t get to see Conan and Spider-Man tussle.

The story sees magic from Conan’s time send him to 1970s New York City, a time of rampant crime and a Times Square filled with grindhouse theaters, lots of drugs and affordable sex services. Being that Marvel likes to sell comics to kids, we don’t get to see Conan partake in any of these awesome activities.

What we do see, is Conan not knowing how to adapt to this strange land and quickly finding himself a wanted man because half naked dudes swinging swords in New York City was really frowned upon, even in the ’70s.

He also meets a cool chick that is way too trusting and they do “Conan and lady” thangs.

Ultimately, he arrives back home by the end of the issue and it left me wanting more. I get that What If? is a series of one-shots, essentially, but this really could’ve worked and been better as a multi-issue story.

In the end, it was a solid read and I liked seeing Roy Thomas’ take on Conan in the then-modern world.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the three other What If? comics featuring Conan.

Comic Review: Conan: The Hour of the Dragon

Published: January 1st, 2020
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: John Buscema, Gil Kane
Based on: Conan the Barbarian and other characters by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 281 Pages

Review:

This is old school ’70s Conan the Barbarian by the original Conan comic book maestro, Roy Thomas. But it was just released as a collection and it’s kind of unique, as it tries to adapt the only full-length Conan novel that Robert E. Howard wrote: The Hour of the Dragon.

This was mainly told over the course of multiple issues of Giant-Size Conan and Conan the Barbarian annuals, as opposed to being a part of the regular comic book series.

Overall, this was action packed and featured some of the best character development writing for the Conan character. It also sees him fall in love, get married and become a ruler.

This is one of those Conan stories that kind of hits all the marks one would be looking for in a comic featuring the iconic hero. A lot happens and every issue and chapter within is pretty cool.

Additionally, this features art from two of my all-time favorite Conan artists, Gil Kane and John Buscema.

Top to bottom, this is a solid Conan tale with solid art and while it might not be a perfect adaptation of the source material, it pulls it into the Marvel comic book mythos quite well.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Conan comics from the classic Marvel era.

Comic Review: The Adventures of Red Sonja, Vol. 1

Published: September 6th, 2007
Written by: Roy Thomas, various
Art by: Dick Giordano, Frank Thorne, various
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Marvel Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, 137 Pages

Review:

This collects Red Sonja’s first solo stories, which appeared in Marvel Feature before she’d go on to have her own self-titled comic book.

Overall, this is great. I’ve never read these stories and it was nice filling in the blanks between her first appearance in the pages of Conan the Barbarian and the first Red Sonja title. Plus, this also brings her and Conan back together and throws in Bêlit, who has become one of my favorite Conan companions.

Conan and Bêlit don’t come in until the last two chapters of this collection and unfortunately, that story ends on a cliffhanger without the finale in this volume. But it’s still cool seeing them together, as well as seeing Bêlit’s first impression of Sonja.

This is quintessential ’70s Marvel sword and sorcery without Conan as the focal point and it’s just a really cool, energetic read with incredible art and great stories by Roy Thomas, as well as others. It also includes some adaptations of Robert E. Howard’s original literary work.

For fans of ’70s Marvel, sword and sorcery, general fantasy, great writing, great art or all of the above, this should definitely be a pleasing experience.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel era Red Sonja comics, as well as other crossovers with Conan.

Comic Review: Conan the Barbarian: The Devourer of Souls

Published: January, 1987 – November, 1987
Written by: Jim Owsley
Art by: Val Semeiks, Geof Isherwood
Based on: Conan the Barbarian and other characters by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 476 Pages

Review:

The title The Devourer of Souls isn’t the official title of this story. In fact, this is just what I call the larger story arc that takes place from Conan the Barbarian issues 190 through 200, plus the 12th annual.

This stretch of issues is actually several smaller stories but they all connect into a larger narrative around the antagonist referred to as “The Devourer of Souls” a.k.a. Wrarrl.

Outside of the classic Roy Thomas era, this is my favorite section of the original Marvel Conan the Barbarian run. It was a real high point and this is actually where I started reading the series when I was a kid.

What makes this so good and actually kind of epic is that it features the best villain in the Conan comics, as well as bringing in other Robert E. Howard characters: Red Sonja, Kull and Thulsa Doom.

Fans of the villainous Thulsa Doom might really dig this, as he actually works alongside Conan and the other heroes in their attempt to defeat the super powerful and immensely dangerous Wrarrl.

The plot by Jim Owsley is well constructed with great pacing and clever twists that prevent this great tale from being predictable or too derivative of previous Marvel sword and sorcery books.

I also love the art by Val Semeiks and Geof Isherwood, which was a perfect marriage of pencils, inks and colors.

Reading this entire saga might seem like a big undertaking but it’s well worth the time invested into it. It’s hands down one of the best stretches on the premiere Conan title and one of the greatest fantasy stories in the comic book medium.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Conan and Red Sonja stories from their classic Marvel runs.

Comic Review: Spider-Man/Red Sonja

Published: 2007
Written by: Michael Avon Oeming
Art by: Mel Rubi, Michael Turner (covers)
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Marvel Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, 144 Pages

Review:

Man, I really wanted to like this but it left me mostly, underwhelmed and baffled.

A long time ago, back when Marvel had the full-time publishing rights to Red Sonja, they did a one-off story about Mary Jane being possessed by Sonja and then had her team-up with her boyfriend, Spider-Man.

This longer, five-part miniseries is just a rehash of that story, as opposed to having Spidey actually team-up with the real Sonja in the flesh.

Still, it’s not the worst idea for bringing these characters together but doing it a second time seems lazy and uninspiring. But then, so does the rest of this story.

Red Sonja’s villain Kulan Gath shows up in modern day New York City to create havoc because that’s what villains do. He then uses Venom to try and take out Sonja and Spidey but ultimately, he steals the Venom symbiote for himself because this story is already cookie cutter as shit and aiming low seems to be what they were going for.

We also get suped up magical versions of well-known Spidey villains because why wouldn’t we?

I don’t know, more often than not, crossovers like this are really bad and half-assed schlock made to grab a buck from multiple fan bases. I guess this one didn’t strive to be anything different.

I mostly liked the interior art though and the covers were solid.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Red Sonja crossovers or stories that put her in modern times.