Review by Win Wiacek
Dark Horse’s first Solomon Kane story was a creative success, and this second outing sticks to the same formula. When Robert E. Howard died his papers included fragments of ideas and plots for further stories of his 17th century Puritan, a disenfranchised English soldier-of-fortune on a self-appointed mission to scour the Earth doing God’s Work. For The Castle of the Devil Allie fleshed out the snippet of Howard’s idea, but here has a little more source material, adapting completed story ‘Rattle of the Bones’ with Howard’s brief notes and title.
Kane considers his mission to punish the wicked and destroy devils and monsters. With no seeming plan, the devout Puritan lets fate guide his footsteps ever onwards towards trouble. This drama opens where the previous volume left off. Having survived epic clashes with demon wolves, devilish pagans and satanic thralls, the surly pilgrim is still lost in Germany’s vast and foreboding Black Forest and eager to find his way out.
Sadly, his wanderings merely lead to more conflict as he encounters the remains of a band of slaughtered gypsies where an extremely capable Frenchman named Gaston battles against a vile pack of voracious double-mouthed, distressingly equine talking horrors. Joining the fray, the chilling churchman kills three of ‘Death’s Black Riders’, but not in time to save any other than Gaston from the beast’s butchery. Although something about the Frenchman disturbs and unsettles him, Kane accompanies the sole survivor as they make their way on foot through the benighted forest, eventually coming upon a lonely inn, blithely unaware that the hostelry is afflicted by ‘The Rattle of Bones’.
It begins a non-stop parade of peril and explosive action, with the art both beguiling and emphatically evocative. Mario Guevara’s pencils are ably augmented by the potent palette of colourist Juan Ferreyra, but the tone changes utterly as Guy Davis assumes the illustration chores for Allie’s eerie follow-up ‘All the Damned Souls at Sea’.
Here the exhausted, world-weary horror hunter takes ship for his long-missed England, intent on seeing once more his beloved childhood haunts of Devon. Typically, however, Kane clashes with a witch before boarding and, as he reminisces during the crossing of his previous voyages battling the Spanish navy, an uncanny transformation grips the ship, remaking it into a predatory beast hungry for sailors’ souls.
As before, this turbulent battle-scarred tome is packed with fascinating artistic extras and behind-the-scenes bonuses. We have a gallery of covers and art pieces from Mike Mignola, Jason Shawn Alexander and Darick Robertson, plus creative insights via ‘The Art of Solomon Kane’ with sketches, designs, process art and commentary by Guevara, Davis, Chad Vaughn and Allie.
Powerful, engaging and sumptuously spooky, this fight-filled fantasy fear-fest will delight both fans of the original canon and all lovers of darkly dreaming, ghost-busting thrillers.
A third Solomon Kane outing follows in Red Shadows.