Thursday, 12 April 2012

‘Kull: The Hate Witch’ – Lapham, Guzman & Jackson (Dark Horse Books)

My ‘Kull’ reading, so far, is limited to two short stories and a poem (from the ‘Conan’s Brethren’ collection) along with the comic book adaptation of one of these tales. Not really a lot to be going on with then and it’s not a title that seems to be on the bookshelves either… I’m pretty sure there is more to ‘Kull’ than this. I need to try and get my hands on the Del Rey collections...

In the meantime, comic books have once again proved to be my friends with a little dose of ‘Kull’ action to keep me ticking over. What I’ve got in front of me isn’t original ‘Kull’ though, we’re in the territory of putting Robert E. Howard’s name in front of the title just to show the reader who had the original idea. In a week where stressy phone interviews and a near constant headache has ground me down a bit (headaches always feel like they’ve been around forever don’t they?) I’m after a little ‘comfort sword and sorcery’ and I couldn’t care less whether it’s straight from the source or not.
‘The Hate Witch’ fitted the bill on that front and ended up being just what I was looking for to while away an evening…

Kull’s hold on the throne of Valusia has always been tenuous to say the least with his own nobles conspiring to topple him. Now things are about to get even worse with the arrival of an evil out of the past of Atlantis itself. The Hate Witch is the last of an old race that originally enslaved humanity long ago; now she wants to do it all over again with the unwitting aid of Kull, a man prophesied to bring about a great cataclysm and the fall of mankind.
Kull must hunt the Hate Witch down through the wilds of Atlantis if he is to stop her plans from coming to fruition. Is the chase just another part of her scheming though? Is Kull actually plunging headlong into a trap…?

‘The Hate Witch’ collects issues one to four of the original comic book min-series and is quite a slim volume as a result, weighing in at only a hundred pages. We’re talking about a book where if you turn it sideways on you’ll have trouble seeing it (seriously, try it if you have a copy to hand)! That counts for very little though when you open the book and get reading. I was spellbound to say the least, there is so much going on in ‘The Hate Witch’ that I think any other reader would be too.

There’s the plot with the arrival of the Hate Witch and the spell of terror that she casts over the city. There’s another plot focussing in the rumbling of malcontent nobles and how this affects Kull’s reign. If that wasn’t enough, the reader also gets to go back to Atlantis with Kull and see the past that he had thought to leave behind him. There’s plenty there to get your teeth into with Lapham and Guzman combining well to come up with a tale that kept me more than occupied.

Lapham juggles three plots with equal care and attention; throwing up twists, turns and nasty surprises around dark corners and mountain pathways. Certain cliff hangers may come across as a little contrived but there really isn’t that much room to build up to them to be fair (although you might wonder how much of a fair excuse this is, I did…) You can’t deny the excitement and adrenalin that builds up over the course of the tale though and that’s the main thing. Hunting the Hate Witch through the streets of the city (following a trail of fresh corpses), in particular, makes for some really tense reading; especially as we know better than Kull what awaits him by the fountain.

And this is where Gabriel Guzman comes in with artwork that more than complements such a thrilling tale. Guzman displays a real skill at capturing the mood in a sequence of events, whether it’s the aforementioned hunt in the city or the horror of a friend ensnared in the clutches of the Hate Witch’s scheming. Guzman’s art is never anything less than striking in these instances and you get a real feeling not only for what Guzman wants to convey but Lapham also. Guzman also employs a similar approach to capturing the experience of Kull holding a throne and slowly finding out that he is not suited to it. The shot of the tiger, right at the start, is a memory of Kull’s past but also shows us that the throne is a leash holding Kull back, from his natural urges, as much as it is a prize.
The level of detail, in Guzman’s art, isn’t consistent over the course of the book but when it really hits the spot then you almost find yourself shrugging that off and just enjoying the ride.

‘The Hate Witch’ may not be an original Howard story but Lapham and Guzman have done well to capture the essence of Kull and work it into a tale that wouldn’t look too out of place in the original canon. This is a book that I will be reading over and over again, no doubt about it.

Nine out of Ten

1 comment:

Cursed Armada said...

Hmm this one looks awesome... Thanks for the heads up!