Review by Frank Plowright
All comic material featuring characters created by Robert E. Howard is copyrighted to his estate, and licensed to publishers, which is why Dark Horse are responsible for this collection of stories originally published by Marvel.
Marvel did issue colour comics featuring Solomon Kane, collected as The Chronicles of Solomon Kane, but their more refined work featuring Robert E. Howard’s 17th century Puritan adventurer was found in their black and white magazines. These weren’t governed by the rules of the Comics Code, enabling the occasional naked woman and more horrifically illustrated supernatural encounters.
Howard didn’t actually write many Kane stories, rapidly discovering the libertine Conan was a greater crowd pleaser than a man shackled to a strict religious belief, but almost all are adapted within these 400 pages. The remaining content is original material, enabling Kane to visit both Dracula and Frankenstein, which aren’t the outrageous departures they may seen as Howard had Kane meet vampires in ‘The Hills of the Dead’. That’s very nicely adapted here by Roy Thomas and Alan Weiss, with Neal Adams’ inks adding a final gorgeous flourish (sample spread left).
Thomas has a facility for staging and convincing dialogue, but almost all his contributions fall early in this chronological compilation, with the largest percentage of writing by Don Glut, who isn’t as compelling. His earliest material has no room to breathe, with much over-written, demonstrated by captions and dialogue obscuring too much art, and he’ll sacrifice Kane’s principles too easily for the sake of a plot.
Impressive pin-ups are scattered throughout, with James S. Fletcher going above and beyond, while surprises await among the story artists, beginning with Ralph Reese illustrating the opener, never quite toning down his underground style enough and drawing a stiff Kane. There’s early work from Mike Zeck and Colin MacNeil, while Virgilio Redondo’s illustrations for one of Howard’s poems are gorgeous. Other Filipino artists aren’t quite at home with the atmosphere, supplying illustrations turning Kane into a Hammer horror feature, and Sonny Trinidad’s pages are particularly lurid. No-one draws more stories than David Wenzel, whose layouts are polished, but the finished art is very dependent on who’s inking the pencils, with Wenzel scoring highest when applying the inks himself (sample spread right). Fewer words on Glut’s part and ‘Moon of Skulls’ would be a highlight. Also notable are early Howard Chaykin pages and the work of Steve Carr, first on a succession of full page illustrations adapting a Howard poem, then on John Arcudi’s ‘Shattered Innocence’.
The comic strip content ends with the novelty of Kane meeting Conan in Thomas’ 1994 stirring adventure over the longest story supplied. It has some great MacNeil art over the seventy pages, but plays more to Conan’s strength’s than Kane’s, although adding to Kane’s background.
The Saga of Solomon Kane is patchy. Under Thomas the character comes to life and still provides the stirring adventure Howard intended, and there’s enough of his work to raise the collection above average when taking some good art into account. However, at times it sinks into the mundane.
When the character rights reverted to Marvel they reissued all these stories in Solomon Kane: The Original Marvel Years.