Loosing barbarians on the page, but only once.

*We talked about diamonds and drugs and all of those wonderful things but we were very mature in


The Black Diamond: On Ramp (first color presentation of AiT/Planet Lar... hope the upcoming book picks up the burden the hype is carrying)

Seven Soldiers - Klarion the Witch Boy #2 (of 4)

Cocaine Comix #1-2 (of 4) (in which Hollywood dads and the underground farm team try not to blow it)

And over at Comic Book Galaxy we've got:

Jenny Finn: Doom (writing by Mike Mignola, but Troy Nixey is the now-absent star)

We were very mature indeed.

*Well, I Guess We Sort of Expected It Dept: Apparently, Seven Soldiers will be nuzzling up to Infinite Crisis and tickling its belly, though I don’t think they’re ready to move in together just yet. Here’s a new Morrison interview (which means you might as well dump the whole shaker of salt into your mouth right now), in which he simultaneously plays coy about whether or not Seven Soldiers takes place in the DCU proper (er, I was always pretty sure it was… in fact I think I recall Morrison saying as much) while insinuating that events in later Seven Soldiers books will reference various points in the post-Infinite Crisis status quo. I think this only means much of anything to the heavy-continuity crowd, or folks who simply can‘t live without seeing every last strand of the DCU getting tied up into one of those delightfully complex knots you always see the sailors making in the movies. Unless, of course, Morrison simply starts having characters acting like idiots and throwing nonsense plot points around in an effort to tie everything in, a la the finale of Adam Strange (which had been assigned a similar character revamping task schedule for much of its page count; Andy Diggle, however, is not Grant Morrison). Which I trust he won’t. Do be sure to check out the comments afterwards, if only to be reminded that some folks are apparently still miffed over ‘the Seaguy incident.’

This does, however, probably limit the possibility of much creator-owned Morrison work in the foreseeable future, unless he's feeling extra prolific.

Conan and the Jewels of Gwahlur #1-3 (of 3)

I’ve a confession: if I were to ask you to name the top three greatest talents at translating works from other mediums to the comics page, I’d really expect the name of P. Craig Russell to show up somewhere (I don't even know who else to expect, honestly). Though Russell is certainly notable enough for his gorgeous, unmistakable mix of fine-line elegance and rigorously constructed sequences of square and rectangular panels, occasionally breaking off into borderless quasi-vistas or dripping out into liquid gutter jewelry. His is not a fixed line; his character art can become heavier, more burnished with the demands of the narrative, or it can lighten into frizzy, dancing caricature, manic simplicity. His look is always unquestionably his, and his people always unquestionably beautiful.

And there’s quite a lot of words in some of his work.

Not in all of it, of course, but a good portion of it. Russell has done more work than most in terms of sequential adaptation; he’s done a lot of fairy tales (Oscar Wilde) and short stories (Lovecraft, O. Henry), and he utilizes a lot of the original text. He often knows the best way of doing it; perhaps one cannot hope to escape a certain burden of prose to be added to typical comics fare when handed the task of incarnating a classic work of Form A to the home court of Form B. It's not just accepted classics or works by canonized wits: pulpier texts get this specialized treatment too, this preference for the word. Witness Russell’s 1997 work on Michael Moorcock’s Elric: Stormbringer, one of several Moorcock adaptations by Russell, of which I own exactly one issue (unless you count the excellent Neil Gaiman adaptation of One Life). Huge dialogue balloons. Seven rectangular panels across one particular page, each constricted window no less than half-full with words. Narration covers the landscape, like clouds. And yet - occasionally, perfectly placed wordless views. Geometric sound effects. Vivid, pulsing color by Lovern Kindzierski, and decent enough lettering by Galen Showman. It looks marvelous, and the pace crackles, text or no text, just another finely wrought page element.

That Elric book was co-published by Dark Horse, now sole publishers of a very successful revival of the aged Conan property, a very different sword-swinging fantasy epic. Surely it would make sense to unleash the very same team on this re-budding franchise; so it goes, Opus 61, for those keeping track on your handy dandy scorecards. But why does it suddenly feel so dry, so weighted?

Maybe it’s the fault of Robert E. Howard’s prose; it’s an easy target, considering how much of it seems to have ended up on the page. Or maybe it’s the use of it. This miniseries is an adaptation of the 1935 short story of the same title; Howard wanted his story to be titled Teeth of Gwahlur, after the colloquial title given to the eponymous precious gems in the context of the story itself, but apparently someone nixed that idea before publication. Did they think it’d be too confusing? I’d hope not; given the beasts lurking around within those pages, ‘teeth’ would make for a lovely double meaning. But no, a more direct name would win the day. And faithful to the end, Russell’s adaptation retains the simplified title. Along with much of Howard’s descriptive language.

Russell has his own language to work with; the language of sequential art. And yet there’s a surprising amount of redundancy here, tales told twice (once in word and once in picture), all of it detracting from Russell’s usually elegant styling.

To wit:

We see Conan searching a once-hidden alcove behind a mysterious throne in an abandoned palace, old rags having rotted away, revealing the secret spot. Conan then moves off to the left to look at a big door.

Behind the throne is a doorway, no doubt once masked by hangings. It leads into an alcove, empty, and with a low, narrow corridor leading off at right angles. To the left of the dais is another door… nor is it any common door.”

On the next page, Conan is seen tapping around at the wall.

He begins to tap along the walls and presently his taps ring hollow.”

Same page. Conan is looking through a cluster of peepholes. He looks satisfied.

But then, leaning into the niche, he sees a system of tiny holes in the wall and grunts understandingly.”

A few pages later, Conan falls down a pit is seen whisked away by a whirlpool.

With appalling suddenness, Conan drops down into utter darkness. Then icy black water grips him and whirls him away with breathless speed.”

Are you getting the picture? It goes on like this for the whole series, no tableaux complete without the helpful narrator piping in and explaining to us precisely what we can quite plainly see for ourselves, thank you. It’s inefficiency. It’s distraction. And Russell has done a bit of this in many of his prior works, but here it’s to the point of annoyance. Perhaps largely descriptive prose (and I’m no expert on Howard, so maybe Russell’s cherry-picking of passages is what’s really off) needs a less dominating presence in the already visually descriptive format of narrative comics, at least in terms of adaptation? There’s something to be said for fidelity, but there’s something to be said for smoothness of narrative as well.

As for the plot, it’s decent pulp material. You all know Conan. Here, he gets mixed up in court intrigue in a far-off barbarian kingdom, a land of religious superstition, as well as a massive treasure which Our Hero desires. Along the way there’s plenty of covert scheming, helpless dancing girls who need a strapping barbarian to help them out of tight spots, magics both real and fake, garish and subtle, and even a horde of flesh-eating man-beasts. It’s decent pulpy fun.

But telling the story twice does not equal twice the fun. For once, Russell’s approach saps the proceedings of energy, and his formidable visual powers can’t conjure up enough visual dazzle to compensate. Even Kindzierski’s colors seem slightly tired, the brown and slate of temple and cave walls dominating at first, then giving way to a film of subterranean green. It’s attractive, yes. But a little dogged.

There’s one moment in the third and final issue where everything suddenly snaps into place, and the book jerks to life on the operating table. A pack of monsters leap out and ambush a cadre of hapless priests; the creatures are rendered in a slightly off-kilter style, their eyes thin and blank, their teeth stubby and their mouths pure red. They’re almost like children’s book beasties. But then, in a large rectangular panel subdivided into fifteen small panels of varying size and shape, the creatures rip the priests to shreds. Some of it’s in silhouette. Some of it’s in extreme close-up. Some of it shows violent action in progress. Some of it only bears details of eyeballs flying or teeth gnashing. Unlike the rest of the surrounding story, this mosaic of gore is washed in bright crimson. There are two captions in this mass of panels.

On top:

“…and there is slaughter, grim and appalling.”

Near the bottom, though not quite at the end:

The massacre is short and devastating.”

As is the telling. For too short a while.