|Thursday, 09 August 2007|
It’s a testosterone trifecta. This week, I’m reviewing three trade
paperbacks. Two of them feature strong,
muscular men who like to get into scraps: Conan the Barbarian and Wolverine the
occasional berserker. The third features
a team known for getting into a few scrapes of their own, Wildcats, and a woman
who’s willing to give these boys a run for their money. So get some popcorn ‘cause the fists, claws
and swords will be flying, slicing and dicing.
by Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Ernie Chan
I’m a big fan of these chronicles, collecting the original
Marvel series from the ‘70s. I was
downright distraught a year or so ago when it looked like Dark Horse might end
the project with volume 10 instead of continuing to the end of Roy Thomas’
run. Fortunately for me, Dark Horse has
come back with volumes 11 and 12, while a 13th is on the schedule
I knew going in that I was probably going to enjoy this
book, yet I wasn’t sure how much. In the
last volume, I had started to tire of the relationship between Conan and the
She-Pirate Belit. Although I wouldn’t go
so far as to call him “domesticated,” Conan was at least starting to feel a
little tied down. To my surprise, “The
Beast King of Abombi” became one of my favorite volumes in the entire series.
It actually didn’t start out that well. For a long time, Belit had talked about her
desire to return to Asgalun, to claim the throne that was rightfully hers and
to seek vengeance on the man that killed her father. Finally, the time had come. Belit was ready to go home and Conan was
ready to go with her. This promised to
be a big story but it started out badly.
Roy Thomas spent so much time explaining the various factions that the
story became bogged down in the minutiae of intrigue. In his after-word (almost worth the price of
admission on its own), Thomas admits as much.
He was trying to reconcile his own earlier depictions of Asgalun with a
version written by L. Sprague de Camp.
The result was a story heavy-handed on exposition and full of confusion
with little action or pace.
The flaws were corrected in the second part of the
story. Thomas made up for the lack of
action in the first part with plenty in the second: swordfights, shifting
allegiances and betrayals. This is the
kind of stuff I want to see in a Conan comic.
Even better, Thomas gave us a surprising conclusion. Having achieved her vengeance and won her
crown, Belit realized that she really only wanted the former. She handed the crown off to a cousin and
returned to her life at sea. It was a
surprising moment and easily one of Belit’s best scenes. I had thought I was getting tired of the
character but Thomas showed me there was something yet to see.
From there, Roy Thomas moved on to a four-part tale- a
fairly lengthy epic for comics of the day.
The story set Conan and Belit up against the aforementioned Beast King
of Abombi. This was one of the best
Conan stories I’d ever read. We see
villages devastated and deserted. We
learn the origin of Ajaga, a man who had conquered Abombi due to his ability to
talk to all manner of beasts and get them to do his bidding. We follow Conan into battle. We see Belit become captured. We read as Conan finds a former ally in the
black lion he had met in an earlier tale.
We watch Belit plan her own escape while Conan recklessly fights his way
to her. The heroes are constantly put
into peril and there’s a real sense that one or the other might actually get
hurt in one of these imbroglios.
Yet as much as Roy Thomas deserves credit for this
particular tale, the real star is artist John Buscema. He manages to capture the likeness of a wide
variety of beasts- not only baboons, lions and snakes but also a velociraptor
After that, we’re given a bit of a break with a one-part
tale: Sea-Woman. The Sea-Woman in the
title is pretty much a siren straight out of Homer, though in this case the
siren comes onto the ship instead of trying to woo the sailors from afar. And again, the real star of the series is
John Buscema. In the afterword, Thomas
mentions that Buscema always preferred drawing sensual women to warrior women
like Red Sonja or Belit. In this story,
he gets to draw both: the alluring sea-woman and the forceful Belit. Though the two women share many features in
common, Buscema shows that he can draw women who are either soft or strong.
Next up is a pretty bad story: Devil-Crabs of the Dark
Cliffs. Thomas even admits that it’s not
very good so we’ll just move along to the story from the 100th issue
super-sized spectacular: Death on the
Belit decides to sail up a dangerous river because she
believes there’s a city hidden inland.
Conan, as always, agrees to go.
The crew, despite their fears, stay by Belit’s side. They survive giant snakes and the general
dangers of the jungle. Yet as they
approach the hidden city, Belit becomes almost fanatical- willing to sacrifice
the lives of her sailors for the promise of treasure within. As the pirates begin to carry the jewels
through the jungle back to the boat, Conan succumbs to the sleep of the lotus
flower (for a pair of Homer references in the space of three issues). He has a horrible dream about a race of
winged men who devolve into demons. When
he awakes, he realizes that the dream was real.
The entire crew is slain. Belit
herself has been hung by a jeweled necklace that she had found in the
treasure. Conan, morose and sullen,
seeks vengeance for his beloved. He
confronts a pack of hyenas, an earthquake and finally, the last of the demons. He is victorious, but he has still lost more
than he cares to lose. He has lost the
love of his life. Conan places Belit on
her boat and turns it into a funeral bier for her. He watches it burn, then sink. And Conan, the
manliest of men, sheds a tear.
It’s a powerful story. My summary doesn’t come close to doing it justice. It gives Conan depth that is rarely attempted, and rarely achieved. Yet it manages to do this without skimping on the sorcery or the swordsmanship. With a finale like that, it’s easy to see why the Beast King of Abombi is one of my favorite volumes in this series.
Nemesis’ name is Charis.
As revealed through the back-story segments, Charis was a member of the
lower caste of Khera (the world from which the Wildcats hail). Due to a heroic rescue on her part and some
liberal ideas of Majestic’s about breaking down caste borders, she was the
first lower caste member to ever be given a place in the Coda Sisterhood. Majestic may have been able to place her in
the Coda but he couldn’t make the Sisters like her. She was ostracized. In spite of that, she proved to be an
exceptional warrior. Charis was included
in the task force sent to fight a Daemonite cell on Earth. However, a member of the Brotherhood of the
Sword betrayed the other Kherans (including the Wildcats) to the
Daemonties. Even worse, he framed Charis
for her crimes. Believed to be a traitor
by her own people, Charis was forced to go underground. Yet her new position gave her knowledge of
Daemonite plots and schemes, allowing her to become a one-woman avenger: hence
the name Nemesis.
Of course, the Wildcats don’t know her side of the
story. They consider her a traitor and a
mass murderer. And they want her
stopped, especially when she apparently tries to kidnap and kill a little
girl. After thousands of years, a simple
explanation isn’t going to stop anything.
And so we follow Nemesis as she fights both the Wildcats and the
Daemonites, while trying to protect the little girl that everyone thinks she’s
trying to kill.
Wildcats: Nemesis is a great fast-paced story. It’s also one full of intrigue. We don’t know Charis’ full history when this
story begins. There are plenty of times
during the tale when we think that Zealot and Majestic may just be right and Nemesis
is a mass murderer. Williams does a
great job of pacing the back-story segments so that Nemesis’ true nature and
real mission are slowly revealed.
Instead of being interruptions, they prove to be essential to the
present day situation, giving background to the battle and depth to all of the
characters involved including many of the Wildcats.
The use of two artists, one for the present day (
And that’s Nemesis- a mini-series I nearly overlooked but
one that turned out to be one of the best Wildcats stories I’ve ever read.
By Peter David and Sam Kieth
Sam Kieth was probably the bigger star at the time. In this story, he’s allowed to cut
loose. The people have exaggerated
proportions, the panels are drawn from obscure angles and the art feels like it
wants to burst right off of the page.
This is the Sam Kieth that I know from “The Maxx.” For the most part that’s a good thing, but
Kieth’s eccentricities sometimes turn into amusing quirks. This is the infamous story in which
Wolverine’s costume becomes so torn and frayed that it looks like he has
telephone cords dangling from his arms.
Blood Hungry is a fun time capsule with art that’s bursting from the scenes. I had a good time, laughing with the jokes, groaning at a few others. But it’s more psychedelic than action-packed. That’s okay if you like that sort of thing, but it’s certainly not an essential Wolverine story and it’s not as good as the other books reviewed in this column.
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 09 August 2007 )|
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