Review by Win Wiacek
Following their early 1970s revitalisation of the Sword and Sorcery genre with their magnificent adaptation of pulp superstar Conan the Barbarian, Marvel quite naturally looked for more of the same. They found ample material in Robert Ervin Howard’s other warrior heroes such as King Kull, Bran Mac Morn and dour Puritan Avenger Solomon Kane.
Solomon Kane debuted in the August 1928 issue of Weird Tales in a gripping tale of vengeance entitled ‘Red Shadows’, making seven more appearances before vanishing in 1932 as his creator concentrated on the far more successful Conan. So did Marvel, but from 2008 Dark Horse began interpretations of the unfinished Solomon Kane snippets left when the prolific Howard took his life in 1936. These almost-new adventures offer the modern fan a far darker and more moody glimpse at the driven, doom-laden wanderer.
Kane is a disenfranchised English soldier of fortune whose career bridges the 16th and 17th centuries on a self-appointed mission to roam the Earth doing God’s Work: punishing the wicked and destroying devils and monsters. With no seeming plan, the devout Puritan lets fate guide his footsteps ever towards trouble. Here Scott Allie expands upon Howard’s tantalisingly unfinished fragment The Castle of the Devil.
The drama opens as the surly pilgrim bloodily encounters bandits and a horrific wolf-beast in Germany’s Black Forest, losing his horse in the attack. Proceeding on foot he finds a boy hanging from a gibbet and cuts the near-dead body down. Soon after, he meets mercenary John Silent, another Englishman in search of fortune. From his new companion, Kane learns that local lord, Baron von Staler, has an evil reputation and will not be happy to have his affairs meddled with. The puritan doesn’t care and he wants harsh words with the kind of man who would execute children. What follows consistently surprises, with events rarely as they first seem.
The art is beguiling and emphatically evocative with Mario Guevara’s pencils astonishingly augmented by a painted palette courtesy of colourist Dave Stewart. For lovers of bonus material, the book is packed with artistic extras and behind-the-scenes bonuses such as a gallery of covers and variants and ‘The Art of Solomon Kane’ with sketches and designs by the penciller, architectural shaper Guy Davis and illustrators John Cassaday, Stewart, Laura Martin and Joe Kubert. There’s also a bonus short strip wherein Kane applies his own savage wisdom of Solomon to a troubled village of ghost-bedevilled souls in ‘The Nightcomers’.
Powerful, engaging and satisfactorily spooky, this fantasy fear-fest will delight both fans of the original canon and lovers of darkly dreaming, ghost-busting thrillers. More follows in Death’s Black Riders.