Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Greg Hatcher Legacy Files #140: ‘Cross-Hatchings for Friday, April 8’

[Once again, you can find this post, from 8 April 2011, here, but the images are corrupted and the CBR version doesn’t have them all, so you’ll have to imagine the ones that are missing (and, of course, all text attached to the images is Greg’s) and Greg slags on Schwarzeneggar, which is unfair, I think, although I know a lot of people agree with him. The comments are always fun: “Toozin” is a bit prescient about Jason Momoa’s Conan (although Momoa has done some decent work in his career, apparently Conan was not one of them), and Travis loves the fact that a town in Oregon is called “The” Dalles. This is why comments are fun – you never know where they’re going to go! Enjoy!]

By the time you read this, Julie and I will be on the road again, for a long weekend of bookscouting and goofing off in and around The Dalles, Oregon. (Apparently, just in time for the Cherry Groove Festival. No, really.)

So here’s a bunch of little bits and pieces that have been accumulating in my “Maybe there’s a column there” files to tide you over. For some reason, this time it all seems to fall loosely under the ‘sword-and-sorcery’ banner.


As far as I know, the only official stateside screening of this movie was at Comic-Con in 2009; if there was a follow-up theatrical release, we missed it. But not too long ago we acquired the DVD of Solomon Kane. Finally!

I love Solomon Kane, and as I’ve said in this space before, [Edit: Not yet, but I’ll get to it!] he is actually my favorite of Robert E. Howard’s characters. But the movie left me with mixed feelings.

Now, I’m not one of those fans that goes into a movie adaptation ready to hate everything that deviates from the original text. I thought James Purefoy was inspired casting and everything I’d heard about this movie suggested that these guys were really going to try and do right by the dour Puritan. I was rooting for them and I was prepared to forgive a great deal if I saw a recognizable Kane up there on the screen.

Purefoy was great. Sadly, the script was not.

And, well, I kinda did … and so I kinda liked it.

The big issue I had with it is that writer and director Michael Bassett has fallen into the trap that so many of these adaptations do — he decided to tell the origin story first.

So to begin with, he’s starting from way behind because Howard never did an ‘origin’ for Solomon Kane; Bassett has to invent one. It’s not a bad origin, exactly, but it strikes me as being a little over-complicated.

I just don’t buy Kane as being a sappy romantic.

But my real beef with it is that it starts out with Solomon Kane as a looter and renegade soldier who only turns to the Puritan faith as a sort of last-ditch attempt at a Get-out-of-Hell-FREE card, because he gets on a demon’s bad side. Eventually, of course, Solomon must find the courage to dare the demon again, take the chance of sacrificing his soul to save the life of an innocent girl — and it turns out that there’s been a family connection to the demon ALL ALONG and it’s actually Kane’s DESTINY to fight the Evil of … etc.

My instinctive reaction to this backstory was “No, that’s not right.” Howard wrote Solomon Kane as being so sure, so scary certain of the moral rightness of what he was doing, that it just feels off to see Kane plagued with fear and self-doubt.

The big payoff at the end WAS pretty good.

Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good story and it moves at a good clip — almost too quickly at times, some of the fights are hard to follow, especially with such dark costumes and sets. But the mood and the cinematography are amazing, and Purefoy really sells it.

It’s not bad. I didn’t hate it. I mostly just wasn’t in love with the idea of Solomon Kane as a guy who starts as a jerk that has to fight his way through to redemption, especially since that story is apparently the only origin modern movie people know how to tell any more. (See Daredevil, Iron Man, Batman Begins, Elektra, and so on and so on.)

But apart from my minor quibbles with the story itself, the trouble with doing this kind of an origin is that it takes forever to get to the part with the guy you paid to see. I was all set for a movie about Solomon Kane, the Puritan avenger of evil. Instead, we get Solomon the vicious renegade with daddy issues; Solomon the scared guy trying to be a monk; Solomon the pacifist pilgrim wayfarer who develops a soft spot for the Crowthorn family … it’s not until we’re three-quarters of the way through the movie that we really get a good look at Solomon Kane, Puritan badass. The payoff’s not quite worth the wait.

On the other hand, as I said above, it’s a great-LOOKING movie, and James Purefoy is brilliant. The supporting cast is good too, especially the late Pete Postlethwaite as Crowthorn. It’s certainly worth a rental.

According to Bassett this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy, but I suspect that probably won’t be happening considering we’re still waiting around for a U.S. release. Maybe this upcoming Conan movie with Jason Momoa will kick someone into gear. (After all, it was Solomon Kane coat-tailing on that selfsame barbarian’s Marvel success that got me interested in the original stories, decades ago.)


Speaking of Conan and other things Robert E. Howard related, I was very, very pleased to see this in the comics shop last week. Of all the sword-and-sorcery comics from the 1970s, the original Savage Sword was my favorite. So I picked up Dark Horse’s new iteration of it, Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword, with great interest, completely predisposed to love it.

NOW we’re talkin!

And … well, again, I just kinda liked it.

It’s a nice format, and one that I wish Marvel and DC would look into — 80 pages, squarebound, of various comics all based around a loose theme, retailing for $7.99. Think of it as a sort of baby trade paperback. The lead story is a Conan adventure, naturally, but we also get tales of Bran Mak Morn, Dark Agnes from Sword Woman, and Solomon Kane’s pal John Silent (this one seems like an odd choice.)

The Conan story is just okay, and it’s part one of three so it was mostly setup.

Kind of generic Conan, but that’s still fair-to-middlin’ good if you happen to like Conan.

I’m hoping things pick up in parts two and three, but the opening chapter was kind of ‘meh.’

The backup stories were much more interesting, at least to me. According to Mike Richardson’s editorial, Savage Sword will lead off with a Conan story and everything else will star various other Howard characters done by rotating talents, with an emphasis on the lesser-known Howard heroes like El Borak and Sailor Steve Costigan.

Works for me. Especially if we’re going to get cool stuff like Marc Andreyko on Dark Agnes. That was absolutely my favorite even though, again, this is part one of two and essentially all introduction and setup. But I forgave this much faster than I did the Conan story simply because I always dug Dark Agnes, who as far as I’m concerned has it all over Red Sonja. (There’s a lovely new edition of Sword Woman out now as a matter of fact and I heartily recommend it to all of you that like a little edge in your swashbuckling.) I just love that she’s included in the rotation.

I was especially pleased to see DARK AGNES by Andreyko and Atkins. She was a favorite of mine from the 70s paperback days.

The other entries … well, the John Silent story is all right, but I would much rather have had something else. Something off-genre to change it up … maybe a Howard Western, especially something humorous like Breckinridge Elkins. The grim sword-slinging, no matter which era we jump to, gets a little monotonous. There’s also a nice prose piece about El Borak by Mark Finn.

Then we round out the book with a “colorized” reprint from the original Savage Sword, “Worms of the Earth” by Roy Thomas, Tim Conrad, and Barry Windsor-Smith. So actually the longest piece in the book is a reprint, although I’m sure it’s new to the vast majority of readers out there. Nevertheless, we end up with two starts with no finishes, a prose piece, and a little 8-page short story for the new material, a total that makes up barely half of the book. That made me raise an eyebrow.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see “Worms of the Earth” included. I like that even the oddball Howard adaptations from the 70s Marvel books are finding a reprint home at Dark Horse. And I can understand the reasoning behind presenting it in color for modern readers, although I don’t agree with that choice.

But it’s an awful lot of real estate to take up with a reprint in your first issue. Moreover, the color job essentially buries the linework and turns the whole thing to mud. (That original linework, even on crappy 1970s newsprint, was so gorgeous that it was more than enough to carry the story in black-and-white. I mean, it’s Barry Smith and Tim Conrad for crying out loud.)

Really, this one’s WAY more about the art than the story… so why cover up the gorgeous art with this dark muddy coloring?

So, call it a B-plus overall. I loved the idea but only kinda liked the execution. But that’s enough for me to stick around for a while and give them a chance to get the book into a groove. If you are a Howard fan you’ll probably want to check it out.


Speaking of the upcoming Conan movie (and by the way, can we please stop calling it a ‘remake’, lazy Hollywood press writers? Was Batman Begins a ‘remake’ of the 1966 Adam West movie?) all I know about it is that it stars Jason Momoa, they’re shooting, and images are starting to trickle out. Like this one. [Edit: Look how young he looks!]

I never was a STARGATE guy at all so I have no idea if Momoa can act. Almost anyone would be better than AH-Nuld though.

And this one.

Don’t love the one-sleeve chainmail thing or the kilt, but the pose and the blood are certainly Conan-esque enough to suit me.

So there you go. Now you know as much as I do. (More, if you’ve actually seen Mr. Momoa doing his Stargate thing; I have not.)

I do have a comment about the poster though.

I like the look … but …

On the one hand, I like the Frazetta look of the thing. On the other, I am absolutely convinced that obsessing over the Frazetta/Boris/etc. paintings of Conan in the 1970s was what drove the studio to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first movies, decades ago … a bad decision that led to a host of others, I suspect. In the first John Milius Conan movie, especially, you get the sense that no one involved had ever actually read a Howard story. The dialogue is terrible and the pace is all off.

Robert E. Howard stories — I mean the ones he actually published, not the fragments or rejects or whatever else people have been pulling out of the estate files for years — whether it was Conan or Kull or Bran Mak Morn, westerns or boxing stories or horror, they all had one thing in common. The headlong breakneck pace. They all have incredible narrative drive … about on a level with John D. MacDonald or Mickey Spillane, or Ian Fleming when he was cooking. They were pulp stories for a pulp market. The filmmakers completely missed that. The two 1980s Conan movies, particularly the first one, just sort of plod along. Trying to look Important but mostly coming off as pompous and bloated.

The movies to look at, if you really want to do something in the spirit of Robert E. Howard, aren’t the first two Conan films. They’re things like The Sword and the Sorcerer or Swashbuckler or Captain Blood. Something with a clear through-line and a little zest. Even the Kull movie with Kevin Sorbo got closer to what I think of as Conan than the Arnold version did. (Really, Sorbo’s Kull is just Conan with a name change — the movie essentially swipes the bits of Conan the Conqueror that The Sword and the Sorcerer passed on using.)

So seeing that poster and the clear Frazetta homage in its design, I can’t help but wonder if they are making the same mistake again, obsessing over the look and forgetting the pulpy essence of the thing.

I hope not. Like everything else I’ve talked about this week, I’m rooting for the new Conan film to do well and I’m absolutely predisposed to like the movie. I wish them the best.


And finally, here’s nothing to do with Robert E. Howard at all.

The old Savage Sword lit the fuse for me on this years ago, but really I loved all of Marvel’s black-and-white magazine line. I’m delighted that so much of it is back in print again, in one format or another.

However, several of my favorites have yet to hit the collection stage and probably never will. (Never say never, though. I’d have said that about Doc Savage, and DC is putting out a Showcase Presents edition of the eight Marvel black-and-white magazines in a couple of months, according to solicits.)

But series like Marvel Preview and Planet of the Apes seem like unlikely candidates for the paperback treatment, because of either licensing issues or just because the stuff is too offbeat to build any kind of collection out of at all. Marvel Preview, in particular, was an anthology title that probably will never get an Essential edition or anything like that. Although individual issues do show up in other themed collections.

But some of them are a little too odd ever to be included in anything.

All this is by way of saying that, even though I have pretty much switched to a trades-only lifestyle and am in the process of thinning out the back-issue collection, Marvel Preview is one of the titles I still keep an eye out for in back-issue bins. And I recently stumbled across an amazing hidden gem I hadn’t known about before.

Well, I knew it was MERLIN, but that was all.

This was apparently a dream project for John Buscema, who was a lifelong admirer of Hal Foster’s work on Prince Valiant. In this tale of Camelot, Buscema finally got a chance to get his historical-comics Hal Foster geek on.

And it’s really gorgeous.

The plot is also by Buscema, with the script (and a couple of minor tweaks) by Doug Moench. But the art’s really what it’s all about in this book, with John Buscema obviously having the time of his life penciling and Tom Palmer doing his usual magnificent job on the finishes. It was always a treat to see Palmer in the black-and-white books, because he really brought his A-game to those and the larger size shows the work to its best advantage.

The story itself … well, it’s Merlin and Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, up against An Ancient Supernatural Evil. It’s good without being particularly innovative or anything. The fun of the book is seeing a comic-book master getting to geek out over one of his enthusiasms for a change. It’s infectious.

Anyway, it’s worth picking up if you see it around, and chances are, being the oddball one-off that it is, it won’t set you back a whole lot.


And that’s all I’ve got. Time to hit the road. Back next week … I imagine with another road-trip report. See you then.


  1. Edo Bosnar

    Following up on my comment back then, I never did get around to picking up the Vampire Tales books – mainly because I could never find reasonably priced copies and eventually gave up looking, but also because I *really* hated the fact that they weren’t reprinted in an Essentials-style phonebook instead of those three undersized tpbs. And I’d still love a Marvel Preview/Bizarre Adventures reprint in phonebook format.

    On other topics, I finally got around to seeing the Solomon Kane movie recently (last December) and I pretty much agree with Greg’s assessment: it’s good as a generic sword & sorcery action tale set in the early 17th century, but that’s it. It is definitely *not* a Solomon Kane story, what with the origin and redemption arc, which are completely irrelevant to the character as imagined by Robert E. Howard. Also, Purefoy is just too conventionally handsome to be Kane. If the movie had been a proper adaptation of Howard’s character, the movie’s other stars, like Pete Postlethwaite or even Max von Sydow (who played the main bad guy, Kane’s *heavy sigh* father), would have been better casting choices, although both were already too old at the time. Also, in line with Greg’s shout-out for the supporting cast, I have to highlight the always deceptively alluring Alice Krige (who played Crowthorn’s wife) – she should have gotten more screen time.
    And that leads me to Conan movies. I know the first Conan movie is basically the starting point for Schwarzenegger’s rise to cinematic superstardom, but I’ve always been one of those guys who agrees with Greg that it and, especially, its sequel are not good Conan movies, and not even very good sword & sorcery movies. I keep coming back to a question I know I’ve posed before, either here or back at CSBG: when these studios decide to make a Conan, Solomon Kane, etc., movie, why the hell don’t they just adapt one or more of Howard’s actual stories?!

  2. Hmm, I must look—I may have that Merlin.
    The Sword and the Sorcerer was dreadful, sorry Greg.
    Solomon Kane doesn’t need an origin. He’s an adventurer who rationalizes his adventures by killing evil things. That doesn’t need a backstory.
    Giving him one, in fact, reminds me of the story in which he hunts down a gang of thieves after he finds the girl they’ve murdered. When he confronts the chief of the gang they guy asks “So she was your sweetheart? Your daughter? Your sister?” and can’t believe Kane would hunt her killers across the world simply because they didn’t deserve to live.
    I suspect Hollywood has the same attitude problem.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    I like Arnold’s first Conan, to a point, but Greg is right that it has nothing to do with Howard, at all. Even Milius, in the commentary, admits to throwing out anything that Oliver stone had put in from Howard and just rewrote it as his pseudo-Viking tale. Milius does have a pretty huge ego and is rather pompous, in his work (and director commentaries) and it carries over to the work. He should have just adapted the Ring of the Nibelung, as that was what he was going for. I don’t think he would have done better than Fritz Lang, but, better than Conan was possible.

    Never saw the Momoa movie and had little inclination. I did see Solomon Kane, via Netflix and I thought it was okay, but rather dull until the third act, as Geg mentions. The origin does feel wrong and it misses what made Solomon Kane the more interesting work, to my reading, of the Howard stuff I have read.

    I’d love to see an El Borak film or comic series, done by someone who could do it justice (like a Gary Gianni or Alan Weiss), since that was one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones (though Talbot Mundy’s JimGrim would like a word with El Borak and Robert E Howard.)

    Marvel Preview/Bizarre Adventures was great and I had a near complete run, at one point, though I have it complete, in digital. Really interesting mix of stuff, from an adaptation of Phillip Wylie’s Gladiator, to an Elektra story, to an awesome Paul Gulacy Black Widow, to reprints of Dominic Fortune (from other B&W magazines that were and are too expensive in back issue prices) and an unused Logan’s Run back-up story. Of course, the Starlord issues are more expensive now. I fell into a chunk of them at a warehouse sale, at the Charlotte Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find store, for a song (and a ton of Treasury & DC Limited Editions, the Bill Watterson interview issue of The Comics Journal and a stack of the UK Warrior magazine, with Marvelman and V For Vendetta). I did a review thread, over at the Classic Comics Forum, The Land of Misfit Stories, that included the series, with other Marvel anthology and tryout series.

    As for Sword and the Sorcerer, it might be pulpier; but, it is not a good movie and Albert Pyun has never done a good movie. Nice idea, though.

    In terms of sword and sorcery film adaptations, I still want to see either an HBO-style series or at least a trilogy of films based on Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser.

    1. Oh, god, Pyun directed Nemesis 2 and 3, 1990s movies I had to watch for my book on time-travel films. 3 includes lines referring to “DNA mutants” and describing the protagonist as “the DNA woman.”

    2. daniel

      @Jeff Nettleton
      “Even Milius, in the commentary, admits to throwing out anything that Oliver stone had put in from Howard and just rewrote it as his pseudo-Viking tale.”

      I never read the Stone script, but from what I heard, Stone was a Howard fan, but his script was a cocaine-fueled mess that sounds a bit similar to Albert Pyun’s CYBORG. He wanted to set the movie in a weird, over-budget post apocalyptic world, and that was what Milius mostly cut from the script.

      I think Greg Hatcher and the hosts of the Radio vs. the Martians podcast mention it here:


      I always wanted to watch that Momoa Conan movie, but never got around to it. Saw some bits and pieces on tv, but never the whole thing.

      Saw SOLOMON KANE once. I thought it was ok, but I don’t remember too much from it. I also read the novelization that was written by Ramsey Campbell. From what I remember, it had some additional stuff that was more Howardian and horrorish.

      After CONAN THE BARBARIAN, Momoa did a movie that was based on a Matz and Colin Wilson comic called BULLET TO THE HEAD. He played the villain, and he was pretty great in that.

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