Review of CONAN RED SONJA by Gail Simone, Jim Zub, Dan Panosian, Randy Green, Rick Ketcham, and Dave Stewart

August 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Dark Horse Comics - Conan Red Sonja (Hardcover)

Conan Red Sonja
By Gail Simone, Jim Zub, Dan Panosian, Randy Green, Rick Ketcham, and Dave Stewart
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Published: July 2015
ISBN: 9781616556518

Conan Red Sonja is a hardcover collecting issues 1-4 of a limited series of floppies put out by Dark Horse Comics.

I was prompted to review this comic, a trade hardcover actually, after re-reading the review snippets on the back of the book. SciFiPulse, Kabooooom, Geeked Out Nation, and Doomrocket all praised Conan Red Sonja (I think I may have heard of one of these websites before).

And, after reading it myself, I’m thinking it might be time for another opinion on Conan Red Sonja.

I didn’t hate it. But I am very disappointed with it.

I think Conan Red Sonja would make an fine book for a preteen who has not read many comics, or maybe someone a little older who needs a bit of distraction while waiting at an airport, or any someone who needed to get an idea who and what Conan and Red Sonja were but didn’t really want to know any the specifics (for some reason). Conan Red Sonja would make a suitable book for one of these persons.

There are some things Conan Red Sonja has going for it. It isn’t completely disjointed, despite having large time jumps between issues. It contains some good artwork. Some good colouring. It is printed on great paper. It is bound very well.

I also think I like what writers Gail Simone and Jim Zub were aiming at. And to be fair they don’t completely miss the mark. This book has a some nice set pieces. Individual panels here and there can be quite pretty. The splash pages are well composed. The whole package is there. Unfortunately its just lacking in all the little polished details that would have made Conan Red Sonja something really good.

In essence what’s wrong with Conan Red Sonja is that it is just not smart enough.

Now I bet most people who haven’t read a lot of Conan comics wouldn’t expect you’d go to Conan or Red Sonja comics for smartness, but I do.

It used to be that Conan’s stories were based on short stories by Robert E. Howard (and a few other authors). That tended to smarten things up quite a bit. And Conan comics, unlike the superhero comics, had real deaths, people would die and – get this – not just come back a few issues down the road. That was smart too. Trust me, I know whereof I speak on this whole issue. I’ve been reading comics since the mid 1980s. I grew up collecting and reading Savage Sword, Conan The Barbarian, King Kull, Red Sonja and pretty much every other Robert E. Howard character they’d do a comic about. So I know Conan and Red Sonja pretty damn well – and it can be very smart stuff.

This comic isn’t very smart.

I’ll point to five very specific problems:

Conan Red Sonja page 29 "Always"

1. NO GUNS. Despite the drawing above, there are no cannons in the Hyborian age. Maybe this wasn’t actually in the script, maybe this is just a slip-up by an enthusiastic artist who, thinking “this is a pirate ship” and “pirate ships have cannons” drew some cannons. They don’t have cannons, not in the Hyborian Age.

Conan Red Sonja pages 30-31 "Attack"

2. INVERSE RACISM. The pirate ship on the right. Do you see what’s missing? You can’t make racism go away by avoiding situations that might look controversial. Bêlit’s crew is supposed to black, made up exclusively of “ebony-skinned warriors.” Bêlit’s crew, in Conan Red Sonja don’t look ebony to me. Yes, Howard was racist, but Bêlit isn’t racist. She is selfish. Wanton. Cruel. But not racist. Having Bêlit not have a black crew is a stupid way to avoid looking like being racist. It’s like having the Kents of Smallville be Chinese for the purposes of racial diversity, but keeping Clark Kent white – he’s a fucking alien! – So, suffice it to say, I don’t get the point of the change here – it just makes me think yeahhh, they’re afraid to deal with the fact that the creator of this character was racist, so lets pretend everyone is white in the Hyborian Age. Howard specifically sets up this image in Queen Of The Black Coast. Bêlit is an “ivory” skinned warrior woman leading a crew of “ebony” skinned pirates. Deal with it.

Conan Red Sonja page 45 "Unsheathed"

3. NO FUCKING WAY! No, Thoth Amon is not responsible for the poisoning of the Zarkheba River, nor, as we are probably supposed to infer, the subsequent death of Bêlit. Bêlit is responsible for her own death. Despite what writers Gail Simone and Jim Zub have Thoth Amon saying above, there’s no reason at all to have him say it – other than it is something for him to say.

First of all, Thoth Amon isn’t the be-all and end-all of evil in the Hyborian Age – he isn’t the evil behind every evil. He isn’t anything close to being the Professor Moriarty of Hyborian Age (and neither was Moriarty, actually). That’s just lazy, lazy writing.

Thoth Amon shows up in exactly one Robert E. Howard story, The Phoenix On The Sword, and the two characters never actually meet. Or as the Wikipedia page for Thoth Amon puts it “[Thoth Amon] is often used as Conan’s arch enemy in derivative works.” Well, here’s another derivative work to add to the list, Conan Red Sonja.

Moreover, Thoth Amon’s explanation for why he supposedly poisoned the Zarkheba River doesn’t hold water. There were no ruins of a coastal town at the mouth of the river! There was a ruined city upriver, that’s the setting for the climax of Queen Of The Black Coast, but that city was ancient, and had very different reasons for going bad. Again, shitty lazy writing.

Maybe there are excuses for this sort of thing, maybe the folks at Conan Properties International and Red Sonja, LLC, are so worried about protecting the characters they invented claim to own that they are micromanaging the writing team – telling them what can and cannot be written. I don’t know.

Conan Red Sonja - page 56 "A Beaten Hound"

4. ART. When not occasionally looking drugged, sometimes, just from panel to panel, Conan will look like a different dude. He will rapidly grow and then lose abdominal hair. Weird right? Too weird. I could buy a version of Conan with abdominal hair, or a version with chest hair, or a version with hair everywhere, or a Conan with a completely hairless torso (the traditional look). What I can’t buy is the growing and mowing I’m being asked to do between panels. Pick a fucking hair pattern.

Conan Red Sonja - page 81 "I Feed You This Impossibility"

5. LOGIC. While The overall plot McGuffin isn’t bad – I like the idea of a red seed (from space) – one that sprouts a red-thorned vine that infects and chokes all the life out of everything in a land – it’s not a new idea of course, its from H.G. Well’s The War Of The Worlds – I like it! Yet I don’t think this book uses it very well. For example, we’re told it kills absolutely everything it gets close to, and so when Conan, after getting infected somehow (the book doesn’t show us how) – after getting infected Conan has the red thorny vines growing out of the muscle on his left forearm. His cure for this infection is fire (which is cool) but when the red thorny vine grows back Conan just pulls it out by the root – and that cures it?!? WTF!? What about all the other people and animals and plants that were killed by this invasive red alien plant? You’re expecting me to accept that this burn it then pull it technique will work for Conan but didn’t work for anyone else?

And that again is the problem with Conan Red Sonja, this book doesn’t expect anything of me. It certainly doesn’t respect the rules and patterns of the Hyborian Age and so it can’t and doesn’t respect itself.

I’ve seen this happen with a lot with corporate controlled franchises. They turn a character with whom an author told stories into fan service machines – telling us more about the character and forgetting what made the original writing so compelling.

Don’t give us more backstory, don’t give us prequels, do something awesome.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The Travels Of Conan And Belit – AN ANNOTATED CHART OF THE BLACK COAST

June 19, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: News 

SFFaudio News

I’m still of the opinion, many many years after first reading it, that The Queen Of The Black Coast is Robert E. Howard’s very best story. It’s an epic fantasy romance adventure tragedy.

I love it. How can you not love a passage like this:

Belit shuddered. “Life, bad as it is, is better than such a destiny.
What do you believe, Conan?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I have known many gods. He who denies them
is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death.
It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s
realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the
Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep
while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging
wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation
of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content.
Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of
reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no
less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live,
I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

We’ve done two podcasts of it:

One was the audiobook, HERE. And one the other was the audio drama, HERE.

But the story, as I first encountered it, was a different adaptation, a serialized and expanded comics version published from the mid to late 1970s. Indeed, Marvel Comics’ Roy Thomas thought there must have been good material in there as he played out that story, expanding upon this paragraph:

The Tigress ranged the sea, and the black villages shuddered. Tomtoms
beat in the night, with a tale that the she-devil of the sea had found
a mate, an iron man whose wrath was as that of a wounded lion. And
survivors of butchered Stygian ships named Belit with curses, and a
white warrior with fierce blue eyes; so the Stygian princes remembered
this man long and long, and their memory was a bitter tree which bore
crimson fruit in the years to come.

And it ran for three years and 40 issues – from issue #58 (January, 1976) to issue #100 (July, 1979) and in those years Belit and Conan adventured.*

I spent much of the 1980s finding, collecting, and reading those back issues. After years I had a complete run of the comic. But only this week, approximately 30 years later, did I find this, an oversized two-page map chronicling the travels of Conan and Belit in those comics!

Behold, and click through to see the 1979 map published only in the Marvel Treasury Edition #23 (words by Roy Thomas, cartography by Mark Rogan):

The Travels Of Conan And Belit

[*still available in Volumes 8 – 12 of Dark Horse’s The Chronicles of Conan]

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #160 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Red Nails by Robert E. Howard

May 14, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #160 – Jesse, Tamahome, and Brian Murphy (of The Silver Key and Black Gate) talk about Red Nails by Robert E. Howard (read by Gregg Margarite for LibriVox). The audiobook runs 3 Hours 21 minutes and the discussion begins after that.

Talked about on today’s show:
Comics, the comic adaptation of Red Nails, Conan Saga, Savage Tales, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Storyteller, Wolverine, the REH Comics Yahoo! Group, Beyond The Black River, Tower Of The Elephant, Karl Edward Wagner, Queen Of The Black Coast, grimness, pirates, torture, lesbianism, happy endings, “so much for that decades old gang war”, it’s Red Nails is like a Tom Baker Doctor Who serial, haunted city, a feud culture, Tolkemec’s laser, “if it bleeds we can kill it”, Conan the chauvinist, Valeria kicks ass, is the story told from Valeria’s POV?, it begins like a mystery, the “dragon” is a dinosaur (sort of), Techotl, writer shorthand, Star Trek (Let That Be Your Last Battlefield), Techotl is Gollum-like, Red Nails as a gang war, why didn’t they all get rickets and starve, Howard was the original locavore, a roofed city vs. a domed city, Hatfields vs. McCoys, the black pillar of vengeance, ConanRedNails.com, HBO can do no wrong, copyright vs. trademark, Dark Horse’s Chronicles Of Conan #4, colour and colouring, Howard as a stylist, Book X of The Odyssey, The Land of the Lotus Eaters, The Dark Man: The Journal Of Robert E. Howard Studies, using digital copies to research (control-f), Aztec, Toltecs, cannibalism, Jack London, Harold Lamb, William Morris, J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, sword and sorcery, horror, The Black Stone, Worms Of The Earth by Robert E. Howard, Tantor Media’s tantalizing collection Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, condemn Howard’s racism praise his writing, Orson Scott Card, Al Harron of The Blog That Time Forgot, Apparition In The Prize Ring by Robert E. Howard, Ace Jessel, Solomon Kane, what will we do after?, just an average weekend with laser beams, the gonzo ending of Red Nails, BrokenSea’s The Queen Of The Black Coast audio drama, Bill Hollweg, legal trouble, Sherlock Holmes, Disney’s John Carter vs. Dynamite Entertainment‘s Warlord Of Mars.

Red Nails - interior fold out art by Ken Kelly

Red Nails - Ending - art by Barry Windsor-Smith

Red Nails by Robert E. Howard

Red Nails illustration by Margaret Brundage from Weird Tales, July 1936

Red Nails illustration by Harold S. De Lay from Weird Tales, July 1936

Red Nails illustration by Harold S. De Lay from Weird Tales, August September 1936

Red Nails illustration by Harold S. De Lay from Weird Tales, October 1936

Posted by Jesse Willis

Where To Start With Conan Comics

December 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio News

After listening The SFFaudio Podcast #133 (which features Beyond The Black River by Robert E. Howard), a listener named Bunny wrote in to inquire about “collector’s editions” of Conan comics, where to get them and what to start with. I’ve made this video, which I’ve titled, Where To Start With Conan Comics, as a reply.

Posted by Jesse Willis