When you think of Robert E. Howard, you probably go straight to Conan, arguably his most famous character. But Howard, like most authors, had many more characters and stories beyond Conan. Dark Horse Comics brings many of those characters together in their new graphic novel, Savage Sword: Volume One.
Not too long ago, here at the Kirkus Reviews blog, I talked about Once Upon A Time Machine, an anthology of short stories in comic form. Savage Sword is in that same vein. It collects original stories featuring Howard's characters, many of whom you may not be familiar with. Yes, Conan is there, but so are John Silent, Dark Agnes and The Sonara Kid, to name just a few. Let's take a look at the full list of stories:
- “Conan and the Jewels of Hesterm” by Paul Tobin with art from Wellington Alves
- “John Silent: The Earthbound Dead” by Scott Allie with art by Ben Dewey
- “Six Guns and Scimitars: The Wild West in the Middle East” by Mark Finn with art by Tim Bradstreet
- “El Borak: The Incident at Hakim's Rest” by Mark Finn with art by Greg Scott
- “Dark Agnes: Storytelling” by Marc Andreyko with art by Robert Atkins
- “Sailor Steve Costigan: A New Game for Costigan” by Joe Casey with art by Pop Mhan
- “Sea Cruise” by Robert E. Howard with art by Tim Seeley
- “The Sonora Kid: Knife, Bullet and Noose” by Jeremy Barlow with art byTony Parker
- “Brule: The Spear and the Siren” by David Lapham with art by Fabio Copiaco
- “Steve Harrison: Pinot Noir” by Joshua Williamson with art by Patrick Reynolds
- “The Thing on the Roof” by David Land with art by M.S. Corley
- “Conan: White Death” by Peter Doree with art by Sean Philips
The Conan stories bookending this collection deliver exactly what you'd expect from a Conan story, so I want to look at the other pieces to show you some of the width and breadth of the collection. Stand outs include: the Lovecraft-inspired “The Thing on the Roof” by David Land, which feels like it's set in the Victorian Era and teaches “some things should not be disturbed”; “El Borak: The Incident at Hakim's Rest” by Mark Finn, which is a journal-style re-telling of events as witnessed by an officer in the British Army in Afghanistan, 1903; and “The Sonora Kid: Knife, Bullet and Noose” by Jeremy Barlow, a roaring Western featuring the title character who is trying to escape a town full of people looking to end his life.
Probably my favorites of the bunch are the El Borak piece, which feels like Laurence of Arabia meets Indiana Jones, and “Dark Agnes: Storytelling” by Marc Andreyko. The latter tells the history/origin of the character in just five panels, which is impressive, and gives us a quick glimpse into her life and the forces trying to stop her. I also liked how the tale of Dark Agnes, as shown on the very last page, is completely different depending on who—mercenary or serf—is telling it.
I do want to point out that the last story, “Conan: White Death” by Peter Doree with art by Sean Philips, has the best overall art in the book. The watercolor style is fierce, yet the entire piece is done in these muted whites and grays in tune with the tone, set in a frigid wasteland. Starkly different from the art throughout the rest of the book, Phillips' work really stands out and is a nice end-cap for the collection.
Savage Sword: Volume One will appeal to longtime fans of Howard's work, and Conan specifically, but given the violence and sex, I can't recommend it for the youngsters in the family.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host who lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award. He writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.