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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Robert E. Howard's King Kull in Comics

Having found several issues of Marvel Comics' “King Kull” from the 1970s, I wanted to see how he started off.  So I ordered The Chronicles of Kull Volume 1 from Barnes & Noble, and dived in when it arrived. 

The volume contains twelve stories, nine from the "King Kull" run, and three shorter ones that originally featured in other titles.  While Roy Thomas guided the series, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, and John Jakes helped out with the writing.  The latter surprised me, as I was mainly aware of John Jakes from his Kent Family Chronicles.  This was a series of historical novels published in the 1970s, which began with the American Revolution, and traced the growth of the United States through eight novels.  (They made TV mini-series based on the first three).  As it happens, John Jakes wrote Science Fiction and Fantasy before he moved to Historical Fiction, including five books about a character called Brak The Barbarian. 

These talented writers pay homage to Kull’s creator, Robert E. Howard.  Six stories are adaptations of original King Kull stories, and a seventh is adapted from a series of Horror stories (the De Montour series) that Howard wrote.  They even throw in a King Kull poem by Howard called “The King and the Oak,” and it’s arguably the most atmospheric of all, as Kull travels through a forest, and the trees begin to move of their own accord.  It was nice to see that, in the beginning of the series, the writers endeavored to preserve the spirit of Howard’s writing, while working equally hard to appeal to contemporary comic book readers.  

In comparison with The Chronicles of Conan, this volume contains the original artwork.  Although I liked the modern colorized versions of Conan, it was nice to read these old stories in their original form.  This seems especially important for Kull, as Gerry Conway has said that he collaborated heavily with colorist Marie Severin, and much of the pacing and structure of those stories was due to her input.  Marie and her brother John, who did the penciling, gave the stories a Middle Ages feel, more like a Prince Valiant story than one set in Conan's Hyborian Age. 

Oh, and they also did some great monsters.

Out of curiosity, I checked the online reviews for The Chronicles of Kull, expecting to find readers heaping praise on the volume for publishing the original artwork.  Strangely, many reviewers complained “Why couldn’t they have digitally recolored it?”  This is the reverse of The Chronicles of Conan, in which most reviewers cried, “Why couldn’t they have given us the original artwork?  This modern recoloring is terrible!” 

As comic book author Brian Michael Bendis has said, you can never make everyone happy.  But I loved reading The Chronicles of Kull Volume 1, and wish I could recommend it to you.  Unfortunately, one problem again reared its head.  

As with The Chronicles of Conan Volume 1, this book also wanted to fall apart on me as I read it.  Although the good folks at again provided me with another copy (completely free of charge), the second one likewise fell apart as I read it.  Hopefully, Dark Horse Books will get its act together soon, for I’d love to read further volumes in the series.  King Kull may be a barbarian, but he shows great wisdom and compassion in ruling his subjects. He never hesitates to risk his own life in defense of his kingdom of Valusia, and successfully fights off foreign invaders, hellish creatures, and of course the evil Thulsa Doom, a wizard so powerful that director John Milius decided to cast him as the villain in his 1982 movie “Conan The Barbarian.” 

By Valka, I swear that if King Kull was in charge, he'd cut the deficit, stop the gridlock in Washington, and secure our borders.  Perhaps if we (and the good folks at Dark Horse Books) paid him greater respect, he might even run for President.  Long live King Kull!  All hail King Kull!

Dragon Dave

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