Comic Review: Queen Sonja, Vol. 6: Heavy Is the Crown

Published: April 30th, 2014
Written by: Luke Lieberman
Art by: Milton Estevam
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Dynamite Entertainment, 248 Pages

Review:

This is it! The grand finale of the Queen Sonja series and also, the beefiest volume of the lot.

This probably should have been broken out into two volumes though, as it covers two different main story arcs.

However, out of the volumes written by Luke Lieberman in the Queen Sonja series, this is my favorite of the lot. Although, I don’t like it as much as the volumes written by Arvid Nelson, because those seemed to have more energy and were just more exciting, overall. Granted, he had the benefit of using Thulsa Doom in one of his stories.

This brings everything to a close though, as events happen to bring peace throughout the larger empire. There are those that don’t want to unify under Sonja’s rule and that is the main focus of the larger story here. However, Sonja also steps down as Queen/Emperor after leaving multiple kingdoms in what she feels is, the right hands.

Ultimately, this brings the story full circle, ends on a fairly high note and also brings Sonja back to where she started, as a nomadic warrior fighting for truth, justice and the Hyrkanian way.

The Queen Sonja series was pretty enjoyable from start to finish, as even the lowest points were still engaging and helped propel the story forward. I feel as if it may have been cut short due to Dynamite feeling a need to do a soft reboot once they brought in Gail Simone to write the character, which immediately followed this series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other older Red Sonja comics from Dynamite.

Video Game Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)

I’ve wanted to play this for awhile but I put it off for so long. After seeing the television show, however, I was inspired to finally play the most recent game in the franchise. I was also told by several people to just play this, as I didn’t need the previous two games for context due to this game pretty much filling you in on everything you need to know.

Even though this was the third game, it was the first one released for consoles. That’s another reason why I played it. Also, it was on sale on the PlayStation Store just after the TV show proved to be a massive hit.

While I’ve heard people debate for years as to which is better, this or Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, there are some stark differences between the games despite many similarities.

To start, this is much more character and story driven. That works for it in that regard but I kind of like the anonymity and mystery of your Skyrim character and also the customization options the game gives you. But I don’t want to write up a comparison, I’ll just say that I still prefer Skyrim but this is a very worthy game in the action fantasy genre.

The graphics are incredible, there doesn’t seem to be any major glitches and it runs and plays really smoothly with mostly great mechanics. Although, I think the horse riding is a bit wonky and I mostly preferred to run around on foot. It was also easier to fight random things in the wild when you aren’t on horseback.

I thought the story started strong but about two-thirds of the way through the main quest, I was growing tired of it and I dipped out of it to catch up on side quests. Now while a lot of these are fun, some of them get to be repetitive after awhile. In fact, I mostly enjoyed hunting down and killing beasts. The rest of the missions felt more like busy work or wastes of time. And then there are just so many side quests. Every time I cracked out a half dozen, I’d have triggered more new ones than ones I’d completed.

Still, this is a great game. I’m mostly done with it but I’ve put in so many hours that I started to get burnt out. I know that some people want the games that they love to go on forever but this feels like it is overloaded, which isn’t a criticism I’ve ever had for an epic RPG.

My only other negative is that there isn’t enough diversity in the environments. One thing I loved about Skyrim and even Conan: Exiles was that different parts of the map were completely different biomes. With The Witcher 3, most of it all looks the same.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other epic fantasy action games of the modern era: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Elder Scrolls: Online, Conan: Exiles, etc.

 

Comic Review: Queen Sonja, Vol. 5: Ascendancy

Published: April 10th, 2013
Written by: Luke Lieberman
Art by: Fritz Casas
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Dynamite Entertainment, 139 Pages

Review:

After coming off of the really satisfying previous volume, this one is a bit of a step down. But, as I’ve said in my reviews of the previous installments of Queen Sonja, the creative team keeps changing from book-to-book and that’s usually not a good way to maintain quality, plot coherence and momentum.

Luke Lieberman returns to write this one and I feel like he just steps in when another writer couldn’t be locked down and the publisher didn’t want to go on hiatus.

Overall, I’ve liked this series and its highpoints have been really good. But it is very topsy turvy and incredibly inconsistent. While Lieberman understands the character, as his family owns the trademark, his writing style tends to move slower. While that’s fine, the installments of Queen Sonja that he didn’t write, move at a brisker pace.

I did like this story but it lacked the feeling of scale that the previous story did, which featured Thulsa Doom and a supernatural beast that was posing as the god Set.

This story involves throne politics, which is the focal point of most of this series. It shows Sonja deal with new challenges and trying to balance them with those who want to usurp her. By this point, however, it’s getting somewhat repetitive.

There is only one volume left in the Queen Sonja series, so I am looking forward to reading it. Plus, it’s the beefiest book of the lot.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other older Red Sonja comics from Dynamite.

Film Review: Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Release Date: August 11th, 2011 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Written by: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Saïd Taghmaoui, Leo Howard, Bob Sapp, Ron Perlman, Nathan Jones, Morgan Freeman (narrator)

Lionsgate, Millennium Films, Cinema Vehicle Services, 113 Minutes

Review:

“I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.” – Conan

I put off watching this for a really long time. But finally, after nine years of ignoring this movie, I said, “fuck it!” and fired it up because it was free on Prime Video and because I’m a hardcore fan of the Conan franchise. Also, I believe that this is the only film based off of Robert E. Howard’s literary work that I hadn’t seen.

It’s actually not as bad as people led me to believe but it is far from a good movie and it’s honestly, really fucking boring.

Jason Momoa was a decent choice for the role of Conan but I feel like he was chosen a few years too early, as he hadn’t reached the level of fame that he has now and because he hadn’t developed more as an actor. He’s got some of his charm here but it is nowhere near as much as it was in 2018’s Aquaman.

That being said, if they made a Conan movie with him now, I’m pretty sure it would do really well. And hopefully, it would be better than this was, as it didn’t seem to understand what it needed to be to be successful.

The main issue with this movie is it doesn’t feel larger than life. It relies so heavily on CGI and green screen that it lacks the scope and scale the Schwarzenegger Conan movies had. Hell, 1985’s Red Sonja looks much more grandiose than this digital cartoon that looks more like a syndicated television show than a blockbuster movie featuring one of the biggest and greatest literary and comic book heroes of all-time.

Adding to that problem, Conan only really tangles with one monster in this movie. Now it doesn’t need to be overflowing with mythic beasts but it should take more cues from the books and comics, which saw Conan come face to face with big creatures a lot more often than he does in this picture.

Now I did like the casting of Rachel Nichols as the female love interest of Conan and I thought that Nichols and Momoa had pretty good chemistry but overall, they didn’t get much to work with between the mundane script and uninspiring story.

On the other side of the coin, the villains felt completely wasted.

I just wasn’t feeling Rose McGowan as the witch character and her performance here borderlined on cringe, which I found surprising as she is typically pretty good. But I think that the script failed her, as did the overall look of the character.

As far as Stephen Lang goes, how do you take the guy that stole the show and was really the only good thing about Avatar, and make him so lame and generic? Who the fuck was this guy? Why the fuck should I care? He just looks like a boss from the second level of a side scrolling beat’em up game from the ’80s.

I also thought the mask was stupid and they could’ve come up with a much better MacGuffin than that. I mean, there are countless books and comics to pull material from and you basically come up with Gran Naniwa’s crab mask? For those that don’t know, he was a goofy comedy wrestler from Japan in the ’90s: Google that fucker. Side note: he was actually really entertaining, unlike this movie.

Conan the Barbarian was hard to get through. I wanted to turn it off just about every three minutes. I had to watch it in spurts of twenty-to-thirty minutes because it was dreadfully slow, terribly lame and didn’t feel as badass as something with the Conan name on it should.

But I am definitely not against giving Jason Momoa another shot as the character. The studio just needs to get their shit together and give fans something worthy of the Conan brand.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other modern sword and sorcery films.

Comic Review: Conan: Serpent War

Published: April 22nd, 2020
Written by: Jim Zub
Art by: Vanesa R. Del Rey, Scot Eaton, Ig Guara, Luca Pizzari, Stephen Segovia, Carlos Pacheco (cover)
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 115 Pages

Review:

Conan: Serpent War is kind of a neat idea.

It probably shouldn’t give top billing to Conan though, as it is a miniseries that features four heroes: the others being Dark Agnes, Solomon Kane and the one non-Robert E. Howard creation, Marvel’s Moon Knight.

The story is about this guy who has a psychic link to all four characters, regardless of their place in time and space. He brings them all together to help stop the two serpent-like gods who are going to war with one another.

My biggest complaint is that the story is pretty thin and wonky. And also, you never really get to see them all come together in any meaningful way.

Still, it’s a mostly entertaining story, that’s a pretty quick read.

I can’t say that it failed to meet expectations, because I didn’t have any. But it certainly doesn’t exceed them either. It mostly felt like a wasted opportunity to make an actual team that’s pretty interesting and could’ve made for some compelling developments.

However, with Conan’s involvement in the Savage Avengers title, this feels pretty weak by comparison.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Conan comics Marvel has done since getting the license back.

Comic Review: Queen Sonja, Vol. 4: Son of Set

Published: October 3rd, 2012
Written by: Arvid Nelson
Art by: Edgar Salazar
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Dynamite Entertainment, 140 Pages

Review:

Where the previous installment of the Queen Sonja series felt kind of light and was more of a prequel/Year One type of tale, this moves the story forward in a great way and also serves as a sequel to Red Sonja Vs. Thulsa Doom, as Doom is resurrected by an ancient force claiming to be the god Set.

All the Thulsa stuff here is pretty great for fans of the character. Also, everything with Set has very strong Lovecraftian vibes and it draws comparisons to the old Robert E. Howard stories that kind of tied to Lovecraft’s mythos, as the two writers were very close friends and it’s been said that it’s possible that the original Conan, Kull and Red Sonya stories happen in the same universe as Lovecraft’s.

The story was the second strongest of the Queen Sonja series thus far, following the second volume. I liked the action, the stakes and how Sonja overcame adversity and was able to further develop into a real leader, able to rally her kingdom behind her, even when it’s all in complete disarray.

My only complaint about the story is that the faux Set and Thulsa Doom sort of have their own battle and we didn’t get the satisfaction of seeing Sonja really fight either of them. But the ending, regardless of that payoff, was still good and it makes sense for the story. I just wanted to see Sonja and Doom get into a physical confrontation once again.

Overall, this was some good shit, especially for fans of Howard lore, Lovecraftian lore and simple yet badass sword and sorcery tales.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other older Red Sonja comics from Dynamite.

Film Review: Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans (1987)

Also known as: Deathstalker II (original title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Neil Ruttenberg, Jim Wynorski
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: John Terlesky, Monique Gabrielle, John LaZar, Toni Naples, Maria Socas

Aries Films International, New Horizons Pictures, Concorde Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch the prince of thieves.” – Deathstalker, “It is early in the morning!” – Princess Evie

I’ve already reviewed the first and third Deathstalker movies because watching these in order doesn’t really matter. Each film seems to have its own tone, a totally different actor in the lead role and they’re mostly total crap.

However, this one is actually kind of enjoyable.

I think that this chapter is the most palatable because it is actually a lighthearted comedy mixed with sword and sorcery and glorious boobs. It has a charm that the other movies don’t and frankly, the two leads in this are more charismatic than the leads in any of the other films.

That could also be due to the fact that I’ve been crushing hard on Monique Gabrielle ever since I saw her in The Return of Swamp Thing, as a kid. Finding out later that she was a Penthouse Pet was a pretty stellar discovery in my teen years.

Like the other films, this one was made by Roger Corman’s studio but he didn’t direct it. Instead, he hired Jim Wynorski, who had just come off of directing the cult classic horror/sci-fi/comedy, Chopping Mall. I think that his style was beneficial to this picture and how it was presented as a more amusing movie than its predecessor.

The story is pretty cookie cutter stuff for cheap Conan knockoffs but it has some unique bits. For one, we are treated to an intergender wrestling match in an actual ring around the midpoint of the film. Also, it doesn’t try to emulate and ripoff Conan as much as the first film and works as its own thing in a similar setting.

The special effects are pretty cheap but everything still looks okay for what this is. It certainly looks better than the European sword and sorcery movies of the era. In fact, it feels similar in visual tone to the first Beastmaster. Sure, it lacks Beastmaster‘s hard edge but it utilizes the night in the same way, keeping things kind of small scale, production-wise, without exposing too many of its budgetary flaws.

All praise aside, this is still a cheap movie, as Roger Corman associated productions go. But out of the Deathstalker pictures, I’d say that it looks the best and uses its budget pretty well.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Deathstalker films and other very low budget barbarian movies.