Book Review: ‘The Art of Vampirella – The Dynamite Years’ by Various

Like all the other large format art books put out by Dynamite Entertainment, this one if full of spectacular pieces from my favorite artistic medium: comic books.

Plus, it also features one of my favorite indie comics characters of all-time: Vampirella.

While the Warren Years Vampirella art book blew my f’n mind, this one doesn’t quite hit the mark for me in the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a great book to own for fans of the character and comic art. However, I’m a much bigger fan of the ’60s and ’70s classical art style of the other book. That era was full of work by great fantasy painters from Spain and Italy and it had a totally different vibe.

This collection features modern comic book art. I do like most of it but it doesn’t blow my socks off like the old school stuff.

If these are the sort of books you like to collect, this one shouldn’t disappoint. The art styles have changed over the decades since the original Vampirella stories but there are still great pieces to enjoy here.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other art books put out by Dynamite Entertainment that features the history of the characters they publish.

Comic Review: The Tomb of Dracula – The Complete Collection, Vol. 1

Published: October 4th, 2017
Written by: Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin
Art by: Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, Gil Kane (cover)
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Marvel Comics, 518 Pages

Review:

This was an interesting collection, as it not only featured the first few story arcs of The Tomb of Dracula comic book series but it also featured issues of the black and white comics magazine Dracula Lives!

Additionally, this features the first appearance and first story of Blade, the character made most famous by Wesley Snipes in the film trilogy that kicked off in 1998. It also has a story that pits Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane against Dracula, capitalizing off of the popular sword and sorcery trend in comics at the time.

Overall, this is a pretty neat comic and since I love the Dracula character in many of his incarnations, it’s cool seeing Marvel’s take on him. I also like that Dracula exists within Marvel canon, as well as Robert E. Howard’s canon, because it opens up a lot of possibilities. Sadly, I don’t think we ever got a Dracula and Godzilla crossover even though both of them existed at Marvel at the same time.

I absolutely love the art in this whether its the stuff from the Tomb stories or the Lives! ones. But I do kind of wish that they would’ve made this a beefier collection of just The Tomb of Dracula while also making a collection just for Dracula Lives!

Both series are great but they’re also very different in that the Dracula Lives! comics didn’t have to adhere to the Comics Code Authority and therefore, were a lot darker, more violent and much sexier.

Anyway, I enjoyed both halves of this huge collection and I look forward to delving into the second volume in the near future.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the later Marvel Dracula stories, as well as other ’70s Marvel horror titles.

TV Review: The Witcher (2019- )

Original Run: December 20th, 2019 – current
Created by: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski
Music by: Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinelli
Cast: Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Eamon Farren, Anya Chalotra, Joey Batey, MyAnna Buring, Royce Pierreson, Mimi Ndiweni, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, Anna Shaffer, Mahesh Jadu

Netflix, Pioneer Stilking Films, Platige Image, Sean Daniel Company, One of Us, Cinesite, 8 Episodes (so far), 47-67 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

As someone who has never read any of The Witcher books or played any of the video games, I went into this pretty blindly. But I really wanted a dark fantasy television show that worked for me, as I was never a fan of Game of Thrones but have always loved the genre apart from that show. Also, I like Henry Cavill and he seemed pretty excited for the world to finally see this.

I wasn’t too keen on the first episode, I thought it was alright and I might not have watched beyond that if the first season wasn’t a short run of just eight episodes. But I’m glad I did because about midway through, everything sort of clicked and I ended up enjoying this quite a bit.

The show starts off with a weird pace, as different characters exist in different timelines. That’s not made clear until episode four or so but once you come to that realization, things flow better.

I thought that the world created for the show was pretty cool. The environment changes quite a bit as they travel and it doesn’t feel like it’s stuck in the same place.

The acting is superb, especially the scenes that feature Henry Cavill. However, Anya Chalotra steals just about every scene that she is in, which is impressive as she doesn’t have a whole lot of screen experience and frankly, I didn’t know who she was before this.

It’s hard to say how good this will be going forward but the first season does a good job of setting up the universe for these characters to play in. Plus, it’s made me want to try out one of the games.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other fantasy action television shows. Some would say Game of Thrones but I never liked that show and this is superior.

Book Review: ‘Silken Swords: An Informal Guide to the Women in the Fiction of Robert E. Howard’ by Fred Blosser

This is a pretty cool book to have around for those who like Robert E. Howard’s work.

It’s all about the female badasses from his stories whether they appeared in the tales of Conan, Solomon Kane, Kull or their own stories.

This is basically a reference book that is organized and reads like an encyclopedia. Because of that, it’s really valuable if you like specific characters and want to know more about them and where they appear.

It still reads well if you delve into it from cover to cover and in doing that, it introduced me to a lot of characters that I hadn’t yet known about.

The only thing that I think could improve it would be to also include information about their comic book counterparts as many of these characters have found life alongside Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane since Marvel started publishing those characters in the ’70s.

For those of you that have a sword and sorcery section in your personal library, this would be a handy edition to it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the Barbarian Life books by Roy Thomas.

Video Game Review: Conan: Exiles (PlayStation 4)

For my last video game review of the decade, I wanted to talk about something truly epic.

I bought this game without knowing much about it simply because it was a Conan the Barbarian game. I wanted to play a modern game set in that world, whether or not you could play as Conan or not.

Being that I never play multiplayer stuff online, this game, at first, felt like a waste of time. However, I found a lot to do in single player mode that made the game worth it to me and really, this game could be great or terrible depending upon what you want to get out of it.

Don’t go into this expecting a massive open world RPG with dozens upon dozens of quests like Skyrim. This is more of a survival game and it’s about living and prospering in Conan’s world more so than it is about simple adventure. But that’s not to say that adventure doesn’t exist, it does. But I’ll explain further as I work my way through this review.

The game starts with Conan sparing your life, as he unties you from a cross in the desert. From that point on, you have to figure out how to get food, water, how to make your own clothes and learn how to construct a shelter to protect you from the harsh elements of the desert wasteland.

As the game moves on, you gain experience, you get better at surviving and you discover new biomes (or environments) to explore and survive in.

Apart from survival, this is mainly a game about exploration. So if you dig survival stuff and exploring massive video game worlds, you should probably enjoy this game. It took time for me to adjust to the fact that there doesn’t seem to be clearly defined objectives or what I thought was a point to the game but when it clicks, it becomes fairly addictive.

Now getting back to what initially may feel like a lack of adventure, the game does provide it in a way.

First, exploration is an adventure and this game throws so many beasts, supernatural threats and savage men at you that traveling around is a challenge in and of itself. But man, walking from one end of the map to another is tough but it’s damn fun, as the world has a lot of different and unique challenges from biome to biome.

Also, the game may not have quests but it has great dungeons and the game’s developers are always crafting and making new ones, as the game has pretty frequent updates and tweaks, even 18 months after its release.

The game may lack a clear story or objective but each dungeon sets you on a path that pretty much serves as a one-off quest. And each dungeon feels unique and I’ve yet to play through one that wasn’t a fun experience.

On top of that, there are a ton of subterranean caves to explore, which aren’t specifically dungeons but they have their own challenges and treasures to discover.

There are also mini bosses and big bosses throughout the game. Almost every animal has a giant counterpart that is tough as nails to beat but rewarding when you do, as most have keys that open very helpful treasures.

I’ve been playing the game for a few months now and I mostly build cool cities with pyramids, castles and labyrinths but I really like going off into the wild and discovering new places. After all this time and exploring every biome, I still come across new caves and interesting locations every time I wander out beyond the safety of my multiple shelters.

Again, many people might not like this as it isn’t what most people would initially hope for in a gigantic RPG style sword and sorcery game but if you stick with it and give it a real shot, it will probably grow on you.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other open world survival RPG-type games.

 

Comic Review: Savage Sword of Conan (2019 Series)

Published: February 13th, 2019 – December 11th, 2019
Written by: Gerry Duggan, Meredith Finch, Jim Zub, Roy Thomas, Frank Tieri
Art by: Ron Garney, Luke Ross, Patch Zircher, Alan Davis, Andrea Di Vito, Alex Ross (covers), David Finch (cover), Marco Checchetto (covers), Dave Wilkins (cover)
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 336 Pages

Review:

This is the second time Marvel has done a comic book series called Savage Sword of Conan, although the original one was a black and white comic magazine while this one was a traditional color comic book. If I’m being honest, I had really hoped that this was going to be a colorless magazine but it was still pretty good, initially.

The first half dozen issues or so were written by Gerry Duggan and the story was solid and had a good flow and pace. About halfway through the twelve issue run, he went off to write Savage Avengers and the duties were then handled by four other writers all taking turns. This is where it became a bit disjointed and somewhat directionless.

Plus, Marvel had just relaunched the regular Conan the Barbarian title a month earlier, so reading both books, monthly, created a lot of confusion, as I couldn’t remember which events happened in which story arcs.

That being said, this probably reads better as a complete body of work, as opposed to reading it in one issue increments with a month of time between the chapters.

For the most part, I loved the art in every issue and am happy that Marvel are using some of their better talent on these new Conan books.

Side note: the first issue was absolutely fantastic. Everything starts to be a letdown after that.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Conan and sword and sorcery comics of the modern era.

Comic Review: Age of Conan: Valeria

Published: February 25th, 2020
Written by: Meredith Finch
Art by: Aneke
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 112 Pages

Review:

Since Age of Conan: Bêlit didn’t tickle my fancy too much, earlier this year, I was a bit apprehensive about getting into this miniseries. Plus, it felt really similar as both main characters from both series are basically swashbuckling princesses that have mostly only been accessories in the larger Conan lore.

However, I’m all for both characters getting some focus and taking on bigger roles now that the Conan I.P. is back at Marvel. Plus, who doesn’t want more sword and sorcery comics? Well, probably a lot of people but a lot of people also buy Drake albums and tickets to Transformers movies.

Anyway, this was a better miniseries than the similar one starring Bêlit. It just had a better story, the heroine’s journey felt more organic with real struggle while she was searching for her own sense of worth. Plus, this had better art.

I wouldn’t say that either Age of Conan miniseries has been as good as the two regular Conan books Marvel’s been putting out since the start of 2019 but they add more context to the bigger picture, which ultimately, is a good thing.

I wouldn’t say that this was a waste of time but it also isn’t a must read. It’s enjoyable if you don’t expect much, want some decent escapism and already have a love for the Conan universe.

If these miniseries have been attempts at trying to attract girls to sword and sorcery comics, I doubt that these are capable of doing that. Especially when any sword and sorcery female character will never outshine Red Sonja, regardless of who her publisher is.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see Marvel try to develop these ladies into something better, along with Dark Agnes, who they have added to a different Conan book just this month.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Age of Conan: Bêlit and other recent Marvel Conan comics.