Friday, 13 April 2012

‘The Chronicles of Kull Volume Five: Dead Men of the Deep and Other Stories’ – Various (Dark Horse Books)

Now I did say that there would be quite a bit of ‘Kull’ this week, sometimes that’s just the way the reading pile operates… Not that I’m complaining mind you. We’ve had a few nice sunny days that have been particularly conducive to reading, especially when there’s a nice comfortable chair that likes to beckon me in its direction :o) You can’t ask for a lot more than that really, can you? Are you just a little bit jealous right now…? ;o)

So ‘Kull’ it was then but this time round I took a bit of a step back from more recent adaptations and took a trip back in time to… well, I’m not sure actually. This Dark Horse edition collects the final few comics in Marvel’s ‘Kull the Conqueror’ series but I don’t know when this series actually ran (and have little time to go and ask Wikipedia). I could hazard a guess but saying it was some time over a ten year period isn’t really a guess is it? If any of you know when ‘Kull the Conqueror’ ran then a comment below this post would be appreciated, thanks very much! My limited knowledge of ‘Kull’ also suggests that these stories are further adaptations rather than the original works of Robert E. Howard.

It doesn’t really matter when the original comics were published though (other than to satisfy my curiosity). The important thing was that I enjoyed reading the book over the last couple of days; I might even have to find the other four volumes in this series if this one was anything to go by.

The big difference between ‘The Chronicles of Kull Volume Five’ and the book that I reviewed yesterday is the size; some two hundred and fifty pages compared to the hundred contained within ‘The Hate Witch’. I guess that’s to be expected as ‘The Hate Witch’ collected a four issues mini-series whereas this book is part of a series collecting an entire run of comics. The upshot though is that there’s a lot more space for stories to be told at great length. Not only that but these stories run into (and on from) each other, referencing back to events that happened maybe a hundred pages ago. I love this approach as it offers something far more immersive than the ‘quick hit’ of a mini-series; I guess there is something to be said after all for continuity in comics (and that’s saying something given my experiences with ‘X-Men’ continuity…)

The stories themselves focus, as always seems to be the case, on Kull’s struggle to impose his rule over Valusia. This is no small task given that there always seems to be a Count or two seeking to supplant him. Kull’s prowess in battle means that all plots against him are a lot more subtle than a mere military coup. Such schemes rely on Kull’s lack of civilisation but his barbarian cunning is often up to the task of keeping Kull’s head on his shoulders.

What I like about these tales is that Kull never faces the same plot twice and the reader is kept on his toes just as much as Kull is himself. You’re never too sure quite what is going to happen next and the cliff-hangers we face aren’t as jarring as you might think given that tales are told over the course of individual comic books. Everything flows very smoothly and it was a real pleasure to read in that respect.

It’s not just the machinations of his subjects either; Kull has to face up to any number of supernatural menaces all of which are lovingly rendered by the contributing artists. John Buscema appears to be the man to go to if you want a nasty looking monster drawn; the man comes up with vicious looking goblins, snake men and something really nasty that crawls out of a long forgotten tomb. This all makes for some great reading, the lion’s share of which seems to be provided by Alan Zelenetz. Here’s a man who the gift of writing fantasy comics appears to come to quite naturally. To be fair, any writer would be onto a winner using Robert E. Howard’s characters as a springboard for their own work but Zelenetz really comes across as paying both the character and setting the respect that they’re due. The stories really shine as a result.

The comics collected within this volume don’t consistently reach the high standards that I’ve mentioned. ‘A Season of Black Death’ didn’t work for me for example; I just couldn’t buy the premise that the story is based around. On the whole though, ‘Kull Volume Five’ made for an engrossing read that I’m sure will reveal new details (in the story and the artwork) every time I revisit it. Worth a shot if you ever come across a copy.
Nine and a Half out of Ten

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