Thursday, September 29, 2011

Novel Ideas

Sorry I've been less than bloggy the last couple of days. Been busy. I'm back in novel writing mode, but this time I'm not alone. My pal Jim, aka James A. Moore, asked me if I'd like to collaborate on a novel that would mix crime fiction with Lovecraft/Machen style horror. Well duh. Sure I would. We've been sending chapters back and forth at a dizzying pace, so that's kept me occupied. Things have calmed down some now, so I should be back to blogging soon. I'll keep you informed on how the writing goes

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fatal Error

Just finished up F. Paul Wilson's penultimate Repairman Jack novel, Fatal Error. In a word? Wow. I mentioned in a couple of previous reviews that the last few RJ books had all become one big story (Wilson says much the same in a short author's note at the front of the book) and so there isn't as much sense of each book being complete in itself, but Wilson does a fine job in this one of giving a solid problem for Jack to handle that's only marginally tied to the larger story. And Jack needs that because he's grown really really tired of playing a waiting game when he would rather take the fight to the enemy. This one is action all the way, even as the final bits of the Secret History of the World fall into place.
Thing is, while I mostly agreed with Jack about taking the pro-active approach to the evil entity known as Rasalom, I had to give credence to the ancient warrior Glaeken's advice of caution as well. I think to some degree Jack is still underestimating just how dangerous Rasalom is. Then again, Glaeken is probably underestimating just how dangerous Jack is, something that I was reminded of in the last few chapters of Fatal Error, when Jack fights his way across a paralyzed city to get to the people he loves and protect them.
Anyway, this one sets things up for the last Repairman Jack book, The Dark at the End. That one hits the shelves October 11 and I'll read it as soon as I can get my grubby hands on it.

Slaine the Wanderer

Someone asked me the other day if I, fan of sword & sorcery and barbarians that I am, was familiar with Slaine, the long running Celtic Barbarian comic from the UK. I told them what I'm about to tell you, that I had read some Slaine stories back in his early days in the British weekly comic 2000 A.D. but that I had lost touch with the character over the years.
Intrigued, I did a quick internet search and found that there were quite a few collections of the Slaine stories available, and looking at some of them I could tell that the character had undergone some interesting changes since I'd last encountered him. I asked my local comic shop owner, Cliff "Two Houses" Biggers, to order a couple of the Slaine books from his distributor. The first to arrive was the most recently published, Slaine the Wanderer. I gave it a read and have to say I enjoyed it tremendously. Dark humor, quirky characters, amazing artwork, and over the top violence. What's not to like.
If you're not familiar with Slaine, he's a sword & sorcery hero, obviously influenced by Conan, but based in Celtic myth. Created by writer Pat Mills, Slaine adventures in the Tir na nOg (the land of the young) fighting demons, wizards, monsters, mercenaries, and the other usual S&S bad guys. When I was reading Slaine back in the 1980s, the character was drawn in a fairly standard comic book style. I was vaguely aware that fan favorite Simon Bisley had taken the character to new artistic heights later on, but I wasn't reading a lot of fantasy, comic book or otherwise, in those days. I'll be checking them out in reprint form though, I can tell you. I'm hooked.
The current art on Slaine is by an artist named Clint Langley, who combines painting, photography, and digital art into a visually stunning style. There are the occasional panels that look a bit too much like retouched photographs, but for the most part Langley's style merges everything into an impressive whole. I like it a lot.
Slaine the Wanderer contains four blood-drenched stories, my favorite of which is Slaine The Exorcist, which is a darkly funny Gothic extravaganza full of demons, pitchfork waving townsfolk, premature burials, and plenty of ax-wielding action.
Anyway, two-thumbs up for Slaine the Wanderer. I'll be back for more.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Conan: Road of Kings #8

Another Strong issue of Conan: Road of Kings from writer Roy Thomas and artist Mike Hawthorne. I alluded to Lone Wolf and Cub in my review of RoK issue 7 and this issue follows through on that comparison as Conan must guard the small girl child Albiona as he works his way through a series of catacombs. There are some nice bits of Conan acting as stand-in father for the child. (Tell Conan you're hungry and he'll go find some food by taking it away from thieves.) And Hawthorne, who draws a web comic about his own adventures as a father called Raising Crazy, is very well suited to illustrating the more humorous parts of the story.
However, when things turn serious, Hawthorne shifts into action mode to draw Conan fighting palace guards and defending his small charge from slimy giant centipedes, spiders, and such. And the last page is a really sharp illustration of...well, see for yourself. Just follow the link at the bottom of this post for samples of Mike Hawthorne's Conan pencil work. While you're there, check out his drawings of Batman, Big Barda, Power Girl and other DC heroes. I've no idea why DC comics hasn't snatched this artist up, because in my opinion his work is considerably stronger than some of the artists DC is using on their new 52 relaunch.
Anyway, issues 9 and 10 will be illustrated by Dan Panosian, whose work I like, and then Hawthorne will be back for issues 11 and 12 to finish up the series. Great stuff.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A House Divided

I'd like to congratulate my pal Cliff, who bought a new house yesterday. He's not moving. He just bought the house across the street from his current abode. He plans on using the second house as a studio for his musical interests, as an office, and as a guest house. (Oh and this way he can always park his car in the shade by switching driveways at different times of the day.) Basically he's just expanding his home into two buildings. Trust me, he has enough stuff that he can fill two houses if he wants.
Cliff had a second home in Rome Georgia several years back so it's not the first time he's owned two houses. The new one's just a bit closer. Now if he could just build a walkway from roof to roof...

Monday, September 19, 2011


I've raved about the work of Harold Lamb before, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that I loved Lamb's short novel, Durandal. This may be my favorite Lamb so far, as it contains knights and derring-do, as my pal Laura would say, and one of lamb's most interesting heroes, the strange Celt, Donn Dera, a character who might have had some influence on a young writer named Robert E. Howard, who enjoyed dropping Irish heroes into whatever exotic settings he could.
Set during The Crusades, Durandal gets off to a fast start as an agent of the Christian Emperor Theodore Lascaris convinces a knight named Sir Hugh of Taranto to wear the armor of the emperor, thus drawing the enemy away from Theodore. Hugh agrees and he is soon leading his 800 fellow Franks into battle against the Seljuk Turks. But what Hugh doesn't know, is that Theodore plans to betray him, holding his own forces out of the battle until the Franks have been slaughtered almost to the last man. Then Theodore sweeps in with his fresh troops to mop up the Turks.
But fate takes a turn and just when it seems that Sir Hugh will join his comrades in death, he is rescued by a warrior who fights so savagely that the Turks call him a demon. This is Donn Dera, the man of weapons, who hails from the Emerald Isle, a warrior so strong that he shatters every weapon he wields. In fact Donn Dera is seeking a weapon that even he can't destroy, the legendary sword of Roland, Durandal.
Donn Dera and Sir Hugh are taken prisoner by Arabs, but the wily Irishman soon enlists his captors in a mad plan to storm a fortress and steal away a great treasure, and of course to secure Durandal. But things don't go quite the way Donn Dera plans.
This is a book about heroes and villains, loyalty and treachery, friendship and honor. The battle scenes are amazing and the action rarely lets up. You won't find deep characterization here. The characters are sketched rather than painted, but they are fine sketches from the hands of a master. And like all of Lamb's work, the heroes or villains can be any race and any station. It's not good crusaders versus bad Arabs and Turks. No quick and easy labels for Lamb, which is even more impressive if you think about the era in which he wrote.
Durandal was the first of three interrelated stories which appeared in the 1920s in Adventure Magazine. The three stories were combined with some other lamb material and printed as a novel in 1931 called Durandal:A Crusader with the Horde. However, the version that I have is the 1981 Donald M. Grant illustrated edition which is only the first of the three stories. Coming in at 156 fast paced pages, it's a quick and energetic read. I have the second part, The Sea of Ravens, but Donald Grant died before the third part, Rusudan, was published. I suppose I'll have to track down a copy of the 1931 book at some point to see how everything turned out, but fortunately Durandal can be read as a stand alone adventure. Lamb was a savvy pulp writer and he knew that some of his readers might not be able to get all three stories.
It would be fun to speculate on the influences of incidents in this story on some of Robert E. Howard's work, but that will have to wait until a day when I have more time to compare texts. For now I'll just reiterate what I said in another post about Lamb. If you've read all of REH's stuff and you're seeking more stories with the ring of steel on steel, the fire of battle in the blood, and heroes willing to stake everything on the strength of their sword arms, you need to be reading Harold Lamb.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

That's right you lubbers. It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day. So buckle your swashes, batten down your hatches, and swab your decks. Yarrrr!!
The REH fans among you can read Black Vulmea's Vengeance or The Island of Pirate Blood or if you just have to have Conan, go with Queen of the Black Coast or The Black Stranger. And don't forget, Yaaarrr!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Savage Memories

Savage Tales #5 was the first issue of the Marvel Black & White Magazine that I ever saw. I was 12 years old and digging through the comics and magazines at Blair's Food Town, the only supermarket in those days in the small town of Canton Georgia, and the source of most of the early part of my comic book collection. Distribution was spotty back then and I don't know if Blair's hadn't carried the previous four issues or if I'd just never seen them. In any event, I bought that issue as soon as I beheld it. I'd been reading the Marvel color comic Conan the Barbarian for several months and I was desperate for ANYTHING else with Conan in it. Little did I suspect what a treasure trove I'd found.
To begin with, the magazine had a beautiful, vibrant cover by Neal Adams. Adams had drawn the first issue of Batman that I'd ever bought (The Joker's Five Way Revenge!) and I'd sought out his work in other DC Comics. His cover for Savage Tales #5 featured not only Conan but Marvel's resident jungle hero, Kazar. Of course, like many comic covers back in the day, the cover was a little misleading. The two characters don't actually appear together in the magazine.
The Conan story in that issue was written by Roy Thomas, whom I was familiar with from the color comics, and drawn by Jim Starlin. I don't recall if that was my first exposure to Starlin, but it's possible. However I saw right away that the magazine was much more violent than the Conan the Barbarian spinner rack comic. There was more blood and gore. There was more partial nudity too. See in those days the Comics Code of America still oversaw the color comics, protecting the youth of America from sex and violence in the four color pages of comic books.
But by putting out larger size black & white magazines, Marvel could get around the Comics Code. Savage Tales didn't fit on the spinner racks. It was a full size magazine and so it fell under different distribution rules and mailing restrictions. Thus, more sex and violence. It wasn't really that big a deal. The girls wore scantier clothing and the beheadings and disembowelments were shown with more detail. Any sex was implied, much as it was in TV at the time. But still, eye opening stuff for a 12 year old, let me tell you.
Then on the very next page following the Conan story, Roy Thomas wrote a short article entitled Savage Tales is Dead! Oh no. Were they already canceling the magazine, just when I had found it? But no. Roy was just being dramatic. The big announcement was that they were changing the format. Conan would no longer appear in Savage Tales. He was being replaced by Kazar as the cover feature. Why? Because Savage Tales featuring Conan had been so popular that Marvel was giving Conan his own black & white magazine, The Savage Sword of Conan! Holy cow. Now there would be two of these just discovered magazines I'd have to buy.
Now we come to what to me, was perhaps the most nifty part of the early days of Savage Tales and Savage Sword. The magazines didn't only feature illustrated stories, but also prose articles as well. Savage Tales #5 had part two of an article by Thomas about the Gnome Conan books. This was my first sight of the hardbacks that had brought Conan back from pulp oblivion. I reread the article this morning and it's still fascinating. This is the stuff I miss in the current Dark Horse 'phone book' reprints of the Savage Sword material.
Next up was yet another discovery, The Spell of the Dragon, a tale of Brak the Barbarian scripted by Brak's creator, John Jakes. I wasn't familiar with Brak or Jakes, but of course I soon would be. Weird thing about this story is that it's an original Brak tale, not an adaptation, and it was considered canon at the time, so this Brak story isn't available in any reprints of Brak tales but it is part of official continuity.
The final story for the issue was The Legend of the Lizard Men, featuring soon to be cover boy, Kazar, the lord of the hidden jungle. This one sports absolutely gorgeous art by John Buscema at his prime. Both penciled and inked by Buscema, this is amazing stuff.
As you can see, this was quite a find for a young sword &sorcery enthusiast. Heck, the letters column even had a letter from Fritz Leiber, congratulating Savage Tales on their adaptation of Red Nails and asking for a similar adaptation of People of the Black Circle. Of course in those pre-comic book shop days the next problem was how could I be sure of getting the next issue, and more importantly the first issue of Savage Sword of Conan? It would never have occurred to me at 12 to find the manager of the store and ask him to hold the comic for me. So did I get it? That's a story for next time.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Maze of the Minotaur

Tonight's episode of Doctor Who, The God Complex, apparently features a minotaur as one of the monsters. This is a little annoying to me, as I plotted a Doctor Who story a few month's back titled The Maze of the Minotaur. My basic idea was that the Doctor and Amy are visiting the isle of Crete and they end up in the maze under the palace of King Minos with a bunch of other folks being sacrificed to the minotaur. Of course, this being a Doctor Who story, the minotaur would turn out to be an alien construct, genetically engineered by marooned aliens as a guardian so they could be undisturbed while they worked at repairing the drive to their star ship. The big problem was that their extremely inefficient drive technology would require a huge amount of matter to operate. Say, about a third of the earth. So double menace and a chance for a last minute countdown of the sort Who fans love.
Anyway, tonight's episode looks to be nothing like that, but still, they're using a minotaur so phooey. I could still write it, but if I tried to sell it somewhere, it's always going to look like I was copying one of the TV episodes. Bah.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Doctor Spektor Volume 3

While I'm shilling for Dark Horse Comics I might as well go ahead and mention volume three of their Occult Files of Doctor Spektor collections. This is my favorite volume so far, for reasons that will soon become apparent. The usual suspects are here, well written stories by Donald Glut (pronounced Gloot) and beautiful art by Jesse Santos. Santos had also started painting the covers of the comic by this point in the run and they are gorgeous.
What really makes this a great volume is that Glut was reaching the height of the crossovers he would become famous for and in the defining of the 'Glut-iverse.' The stories reprinted here see occult investigator Doctor Adam Spektor crossing paths with another famous Gold Key Doctor, Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom, and facing off againts an ancient wizard (or what's left of him) who had already caused problems for one of Gold Key's sword & sorcery heroes, Durak. And Durak also crosses time and space to team up with Doctor Spektor, so of course this is my favorite volume. It has sword & sorcery in it. Hello? But it gets even more convoluted. Durak was friends with Dagar, the titular character of the soon to be reprinted Gold Key S&S title Dagar the Invincible, and Dagar had done some time traveling himself, crossing timelines with Glut's caveman hero Tragg. Glut was slowly linking everything he had written at Gold Key and I remember catching a lot of this as a kid and being fascinated and delighted.
Year's later I got the chance to interview Don Glut for and I asked him what was the fascination with team-ups and crossovers. he said:

"I just think it’s fun to do. Probably it’s the eternal fan in me who remembers how cool it was – long before continuity was so commonplace – just to see Green Arrow and Aquaman appear in a comic book panel together, or to read a story in which Tarzan goes to Pellucidar. Now nobody cares even when characters from different companies crossover into each other’s “universes.” I guess I’ve always thought of all my stories (including movies, short stories and novels) taking place in the same universe. Long ago I decided to plant clues in the comic-book stories, short stories, novels and now movies that were all connected. Maybe I was influenced by some of the writings by Phil Farmer…or by someone telling me how the Green Hornet was really the grand nephew of the Lone Ranger. Whatever, I decided to put all of these continuity clues all over the place in things I wrote. Someday, I thought, maybe somebody with way too much time on his or her hands would read something I wrote…maybe one of my Frankenstein novels…and spot references to my comic books, movies, whatever. "

And somebody did! Anyway, in volume three Spektor also has to deal with being turned into a werewolf, and with the return of the Frankenstein monster. And he travels to Rutland Vermont for Tom Fagan's Halloween celebration. If you're someone who enjoys old Universal Horror movies or if the kid in you just loves monsters, I highly recommend these collections of the Occult Files of Doctor Spektor. Good stories and good art and evil monsters. What more could you want?

Oh, if you want to read the full interview with Don Glut, go here:

Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson

It seems my Halloween season is trying to jump the gun and get started in mid September. Dark Horse comics just released a must have item for me, a collection of all the stories that artist Bernie Wrightson did for the old Warren horror magazines Creepy and Eerie, called Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson. If you're not familiar with Wrightson, he is an illustrator and comic book artist known for his fondness for the weird, the macabre, and the just plain grisly, and for his consummate skill at depicting that sort of imagery. Wrightson is the man who defined the look of DC's Swamp Thing and who produced an illustrated version of Frankenstein which is truly a work of art.
He was also a member of The Studio, a group of four young, rebellious artists (the other three were Barry Windsor Smith, Mike Kaluta, and the late Jeff Jones) who shared studio space and created some of the most impressive and influential fantasy art and comics of the 1970s.
But he got his start as a comic book artist and he did some of his best and yes, Creepiest work for the black and white magazines published by Jim Warren. The Creepy presents volume contains all the stories Wrightson drew or inked, plus all his many spot illos, pin ups, color illustrations, and frontispieces. These stories include The Pepper Lake Monster, The Muck Monster and what to me is the creepiest story Wrightson ever drew, Bruce Jones' Jennifer. I remember my buddy Lanny and me talking about this one on a cold Halloween night. Just disturbing as all get out.
The book also features Wrightson's amazing adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story Cool Air. This may have been my first exposure to Lovecraft, because if memory serves, I read this in comics form before I'd ever read any of Lovecraft's prose. There's an adaptation of Poe's The Black Cat as well.
Now get this. The entire collection is only $19.99. That's right. All this gruesome Wrightson goodness can be yours for the low low price of twenty bucks. The linework reproduction is great, the paper is very nice, and the color pages are lovely. Get down to your local comics shop and grab a copy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Charles Rutledge's Book of Horror Vol III

It's that time of year again. October approaches and I always try to get the table of contents up early for my annual imaginary horror anthology, so that anyone interested can track down any of these stories before Halloween. As always, the contents were pulled from a wide variety of sources. Several of them came from my recently acquired collection of DAW's Year's Best Horror Stories volumes. Others, like the ones by Howard and Lovecraft, are readily available in current books. The newest story is probably the one by Joe R. Lansdale, pulled from the 2011 anthology Supernatural Noir. The oldest is Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's The Hall Bedroom, which is available at the inestimable Literary Gothic website (Of which I shall have more to say later.) and I'll provide a link at the bottom of this post. It's a very strange little story, written in the early 1900s and I was impressed with the idea behind it. Not so much scary as unsettling.
Unfortunately the new volumes of Karl Edward Wagner's horror fiction won't be available until next year, but you can still track down the very creepy .220 Swift in the collection In a Lonely Place, and it was recently reprinted in the anthology The Mammoth Book of Monsters. I will note that I enjoyed using some of the stories that Wagner had picked for the DAW anthologies, making some of my own Best Horror choices from Wagner's past selections.

Anyway, here's this year's unlucky 13 scary stories.

Manly Wade Wellman/ Chastel

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman/ The Hall Bedroom

Karl Edward Wagner/ .220 Swift

H.P. Lovecraft/ The Dreams in the Witch House

Robert E. Howard/ Children of the Night

R. Chetwynd Hayes/ Acquiring a Family

Joe R. Lansdale/ Dead Sister

Hugh B. Cave/ From the Lower Deep

Clark Ashton Smith/ The Witchcraft of Ulua

Harlan Ellison/She's a Young Thing and Cannot Leave Her Mother

Joseph Payne Brennan/ The House on Stillcroft Street

Frank Belknap Long/ The Hounds of Tindalos

Stephen King/The Night Flier

This year's Stephen King selection, The Night Flier, is still one of the scariest short stories I've ever read. It's one of those that makes you stop and go whoa. When King is on, he's hard to beat. The Hugh B. Cave story also has a very shuddersome moment or two. Those are probably the just plain scariest of the lot. Anyway, I hope those of you interested in some Halloween reading can make use of this list. I wish you uneasy nights and shadow haunted days.

Here's the link to The Hall Bedroom. Explore the Literary Gothic site while you're there. I have found this to be a treasure trove of stories, information, and links to further reading dealing with the literature of the macabre. Can't recommend this site highly enough.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Gotham City Gothic

My friend Sara has put up a great review of the Batman story The Demon of Gothos Mansion. Sara's blog, My Love-Haunted Heart, specializes in the 'Girl Running Away From Houses" Gothic Romances that my mom loved when I was growing up. Check out a review by an aficionado of the Gothic, who brings her knowledge of the genre to the story.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

They Giveth and they Taketh Away

There are days that I think Dark Horse Comics is trying to break me. As the current license holders for the comic book version of Conan, they are not only publishing new Conan comics and collections left and right, but also putting out volumes of older Conan comics and while I'm glad to get these, so that I don't have to dig out my old comic books to reread the stories, the cost of all those collections adds up.
But wait, as they say, there's more. Dark Horse is also putting out nice hardcover reprints of various Gold Key comics that I loved as a kid. The Jesse Marsh Tarzan archives are coming up on volume 10 and they just published volume 3 of the Doctor Spektor archives. (More on the good Doctor later.) Next up are Dagar the Invincible and the Brothers of the Spear. Did I mention all these volumes are fifty bucks a pop? Far far less than you would pay for the original comics but it adds up when the books come fast and furious, as they tend to do toward the Holidays.
Now here's the deal. I just want to read the stories, so I'm just as happy with the reprints as with the actual comics. In fact in some ways I'm happier because I can stick the volumes on a shelf where they are easily accessible and I don't have to worry about damaging an aging comic book when I want to read them. And in the case of the Tarzan comics I could never have afforded the actual comics. So I'm very pleased that these volumes are coming out. The flip side, though is a definite crimp in my wallet.
Dark Horse isn't the only culprit of course. DC comics has been putting out a ton of reprint volumes, including the recent Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko Omnibuses. Next up for them is a Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth Omnibus. This is kind of interesting because DC had originally started out Kamandi as one of their Archive books, printed on super nice, slick paper, but after the success of the other Kirby Omnibuses, (Fourth World, OMAC,The Demon, etc) which were printed in a different format, they decided to start over with Kamandi in the Omnibus form. Now I don't know how the other people who bought the first couple of Kamandi Archives feel, but I'm delighted to have all my Kirby collections in matching formats. That way I can shelve them all together and just sit and beam at them. Yeah I'm a fanboy. Get over it.
So anyway, while I may occasionally gripe about the money, overall I'm mostly pleased to be getting these collections from Dark Horse and DC. But slow it down a little, will you guys?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Weekend Report

Autumn has arrived and with it my usual restlessness. I found it hard to focus during my long Labor Day weekend, and just sort of bummed around. I started to read several different books but couldn't get into any of them. I finally ended up re-reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which I enjoyed much more on the second read, primarily because I've read so many of the 17th century Gothic novels now that are referenced or parodied in the book. It does make a difference. Enjoyment of a clever parody pretty much depends on a knowledge of the material being parodied. First time through I didn't get half the jokes.
I also read King Gautrek, one of the Norse sagas from the Penguin edition of Seven Viking Romances. Not romance in the modern sense, as in love stories, but the old meaning of romance, full of excitement, adventure, wonders, etc. I tell you, George R.R. Martin has nothing on the Vikings. Their games of thrones are so bloody that they make Martin look tame in comparison. It's funny, but the Sagas are something that probably would have bored me senseless as a kid, but I Love reading the things now. Of course I'm the same way about history in general. Stuff you couldn't have paid me to read in school just fascinates me now.
And that led to me re-reading Robert E. Howard's Cormac Mac Art short story, Swords of the Northern Sea, which is full of Viking battles and mile a minute action as only REH could write it. Stephen King once said that sparks almost seemed to fly from Howard's prose when he was on, and boy that's the case for this one. Cormac and his Norse pal Wulfhere Skull-splitter fight a running battle against a vastly superior force of men and Howard milks it for every bloody thing that it's worth. Seriously, if you haven't read this one, track it down.
I also read through the Jimmy Olsen stories in Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus volumes 1 and 2. I was just in the mood for some Kirby and those remain some of my favorites.
So I guess I did more focused reading than I thought over the weekend. But I'm still restless.

Friday, September 02, 2011


A couple of years back I reviewed Phillip Jose Farmer's The Adventure of The Peerless Peer, a novel that teamed Sherlock Holmes with Tarzan of the Apes. It remains one of my favorites of Farmer's works and it always kind of bothered me that it was out of print and fairly hard to come by for many years.
But not anymore! Thanks to the fine folks at Titan Books, publishers of numerous other once scarce Sherlock Holmes pastiches, you can now get a shiny new copy of the Peerless Peer for your very own. I ordered a copy last week, even though I already have two versions of it. (Three if you count The Adventure of the Three Madmen, an alternate version replacing Tarzan with the Jungle Book's Mowgli.) Nice to have a reading copy.
Anyway, this new version also contains a terrific afterword by Win Scott Eckert loaded with information about the identities of some of the characters Farmer included in the tale and their connections with Farmer's Wold Newton Universe. If you're not up on your pulp heroes and your obscure fictional detectives, Win has got you covered. He also explains about the Three Madmen version of the story. I highly recommend The Peerless Peer to fans of Holmes, Tarzan, and Farmer, and also to anyone who enjoys a fast paced, witty adventure.

A Few Thoughts on How to Make a Good Conan Film

First, you need a writer/director who understands that Robert E. Howard's Conan isn't fantasy the way that Sindbad is fantasy. In fact it's barely fantasy at all, but rather closer to historical fiction with fantastic trappings. Robert E. Howard was all about realism, even with the magic and the monsters, and some Conan tales have very little fantasy element to them at all. So first, the film needs to look real. It needs to look like HBO's Rome or Ridley Scott's Gladiator. (Not actually Rome of course, but that level of realism.)You guys know I love Hercules and Xena but that isn't what Conan needs to look like. Think of the old Batman Franchise where Gotham City looked like a Star Wars set, and the new one, which takes place in the real world. A Conan film needs to be thought of as taking place in the real world. Maybe given a Mesopotamian look. (Though that would change depending on what story you were adapting. Howard used different pseudo-historical settings.)
Second, adapt one of the Robert E. Howard stories. Don't make some pastiche pulled from six of them or worse just graft the Conan character onto a throwaway wish-I was-directing-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean summer movie plot. I've heard filmmakers saying the REH stories aren't filmable, but they used to say that about the Lord of the Rings. It just took the right writers and director. Red Nails or People of the Black Circle both have enough story to generate a two hour movie and Red Nails in particular has a cast that would hit most of the idiotic Hollywood demographics without any additions. You know, strong woman, slinky woman, stalwart friend, burly villain, creepy villain, etc. All right there on the printed page.
Finally, not to invoke Peter Jackson again, but you need someone who likes and appreciates the source material as Jackson did with LotR. Now, what do I think the odds are of ever getting all this? Not too good. But as Mikey Boy says, there's still hope.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Two Hours of My Life Wasted

Well, I have just walked in the door from viewing Conan the Barbarian. In a word? Awful. I hated it. I almost got up and walked out twice. Not surprisingly, it was a private showing. I was literally the only person in the theater. Everyone else was smarter than me and stayed home. Word of mouth is killing this movie, but not fast enough.
Badly written, cliched summer blockbuster plot made up of bits of other movies and some simpleton's idea of what comprises sword & sorcery. The dialog often didn't make sense. The film was badly edited. Most of the acting was horrendously bad. Look at it this way. Any movie where the best performance is Rose McGowan is a bad thing. The sets looked like leftovers from a bad viking movie. Someone should call Hercules The Legendary Journeys and tell them they can have their costumes back.
The only bright spots I can think of were a couple of the action sequences and Jason Momoa. Jason looked good as Conan. He spat his lines well enough. Given a decent script and a real director he would be okay. But seriously folks, I would rather watch the Arnold movie, and you know what I think of the Arnold movie. It was that bad. Even if I'd never heard of Robert E. Howard, I would consider this one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Save your money. Don't go.