Comic Review – Conan: Serpent War #1

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Conan Serpent War #1 CoverCross Plains, Texas. 1936. There is a young man, a writer by trade, plagued by a strange illness. In this time and place he is known as James Allison, but there were other times and other places, which came to him in dreams that spoke of other lives lived in other realms. Realms that are plagued by the same spirit of the sickness that has inflicted James Allison and seek to destroy all that was and will be! The spirit of the dark god Set!

Through Allison the heroes of the ages are summoned and joined together to face this menace, even as they fight it in their own times. Conan; a thief and reaver from a land before time, who has often crossed paths with the Stygian wizards who worship Set. Marc Spector, known as the Moon Knight; chosen of Khonshu, the Pale Crescent of Egypt, who has fought to delay the night when Set drags the moon from the sky and all becomes black. Solomon Kane; a Puritan and Paladin who seeks to destroy all that is evil in the name of his One True God. Dark Agnes; a fierce and fiery woman warrior, who slew her betrothed and rode off in search of adventure rather than be a dull and dutiful wife. All shall be tested as never before, in a battle for the souls of all humanity!

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Presumably there is some reason why “James Allison” was not Robert E. Howard in this story, though it is clear who the author summoning these ancient heroes into battle is meant to be. Even without the reference to Cross Plains, Texas (Howard’s home town, if you did not know.), the artwork captures the famous Howard house (now a museum) quite well and writer Jim Zub does a masterful job of mimicking Howard’s prose with the text introducing this issue, which sounds like it could have come straight from Weird Tales

In other words, Conan: Serpent War #1 is not your typical team-up comic, nor is it at all exploitative of Howard’s work and characters. Solomon Kane, Conan and Dark Agnes are all written true to form here, though I know that some Howard scholars will debate the appropriateness of Agnes fighting cultists when the two stories involving her which Howard completed were non-supernatural historical pieces. (A third unfinished Dark Agnes story, “Mistress of Death,” was completed by Gerald W. Page in 1971 and includes a sorcerer villain, but it is largely considered a lesser work.) I’m not that familiar with Moon Knight, but he seems to be in character as well, from what I do know.

Amusingly, the only fault to the story is that it doesn’t introduce these heroes as well as it might have, so the Howard purists who might object to this adaptation on principle are the only ones who may get all the references. We do get two-page graphic montages showing the characters in action and detailing some of their exploits, but the text doesn’t give us much beyond a basic description of who they are. Presumably we will get to learn more in later issues as we see the heroes interact with one another.

The artwork is vividly detailed, with two teams handling different sections of the story. Vanesa R. Del Rey and Jean-Francois Beaulieu turn the sequences showing James Allison into vivid works of horror, reminiscent of the EC Comics of the early 1950s. The main section of the comic showing our heroes in action look more traditionally heroic but are no less skillfully brought to life by Scot Eaton, Scott Hanna and Frank D’Armata. Travis Lanham also deserves praise for his clear, precise lettering and his expressive sound effects balloons.

While not a substitute for The Complete Robert E. Howard Library, Conan: Serpent War #1 is a spirited tribute to Howard’s work and heroes. I’m not sure how effective it is in introducing Howard’s more obscure heroes to modern audiences, but I do hope we might get a Dark Agnes solo series out of this book. 

(EDIT NOTE: Apparently there IS a Dark Agnes mini-series on the way. Hurray!)

8/10

Conan: Serpent War #1 releases on December 4th, 2019!

Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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