Friday 26 March 2010

Good Scot, Bad Scot: What New Comic Should Dark Horse Do Next?

Good ol' Strom over at the Official Robert E. Howard Forums poses the question.
At the risk of being labelled a big fat jerk, I'm going to discuss some of the above, using my much-touted and delayed Good Scot/Bad Scot system. Shocking, I know. I haven't really gotten into my long-standing problems with Dark Horse's adaptations, but I'll let Bad Scot do the talking, while I play Devil's Advocate with Good Scot.

Well, I won't just leave it at that, but explain why I don't.

King Conan Ongoing Series
Good Scot: The King Conan stories offer a clear direction and setting. Conan is King, he has a cast of regular characters (Prospero, Pallantides, the Priest of Mitra, Servius Gallanus), and the possibility for characters to have their roles expanded. Ascalante, Rinaldo, Volmana, Gromel and Dion could have their roles expanded prior to "The Phoenix on the Sword." So could Arpello before "The Scarlet Citadel," and Thespius & Valerius before The Hour of the Dragon. Post Hour of the Dragon, characters like Zenobia, Zelata, Hadrathus and Albiona could be promoted to regulars. Then you have the many possibilities for further adventure hinted by Howard to pull from.
Bad Scot: The previous King Conan stories from Dark Horse - Demons of Khitai, The Midnight God and The Sorrow of Akivasha - don't bode well for a Dark Horse take on King Conan. The persistent Aquiromans of Marvel and now Dark Horse are one of my biggest pet peeves about Conan comics: having an entire series where I couldn't escape from them is an easy pass from me. Then you throw in Uberboreans, Thoth-Amon, Otakhitai, and the like...

Conan One Shot Schedule
Good Scot: Some of the one-shots weren't too bad. The Weight of the Crown had many problems, but at least it tried. There are many stories alluded to in the Conan tales that could make for nice one-shots, and enough gaps in there to take advantage of longer storylines.
Bad Scot: The Sorrow of Akivasha. That is all.

Age of Conan Series (Non-Conan Stories in Hyborian Age)
Good Scot: There are many, many characters of the Hyborian Age that would benefit from a one-shot or even mini-series of their own. Taurus and Shevatas' daring heists and thieving escapades. Astreas and Alcemides exploring the Hyborian continent and its peoples. The legendary plundering of Bloody Tranicos and his fleet, the raids of Strom, Red Ortho and Zaporavo. The adventures of Prospero, Sakumbe, Tuthmes and Valerius across the world. So many possibilities!
Bad Scot: Sure, they could do actual Robert E. Howard characters. But do you know who they would do? Kern, Anok, Nermesa, Alanya and Kral. Or their dull and contradictory interpretations of Kalanthes and Pallantides. Or Janissa.

Valeria Ongoing Series
Good Scot: This has potential. Very little is really known of Valeria's past, and it would be brilliant to have a warrior woman who doesn't have some sort of magical reason for her skills coupled with a moronic rape backstory. Wouldn't it be great for Valeria to be a great swordswoman by virtue of innate skill and practise, without some misogynistic excuse for them? (Why yes, I do happen to have a very low opinion of Janissa, whatever gave you that impression?)
Bad Scot: Of course, that would imply that I have faith in Dark Horse not to muck it up somehow. At worst, they'd make some sort of "traumatic origin story" where she had a bad experience with a lover, or her family was killed, or something like that. There's also the fact that she's an Aquilonian, which raises the spectre of the Aquiromans. I'd be perfectly happy to be proven wrong, though.

Bêlit Ongoing Series
Good Scot: Most of the nations and peoples that would be in a Bêlit series - Shemites, Zingarans, Argosseans, Black Kingdomers - have not thus far been messed up too badly. Stygia has problems resulting from The Book of Thoth, but even they aren't as bad as the Aquiromans or Uberboreans. Plus there's plenty of scope for adventures in time-lost islands and cities. If Dark Horse decides to go with Bêlit, then I'd really like them to distinguish from the Marvel version.
Bad Scot: I have problems with the depiction of Bêlit as a warrior-woman. Roy Thomas did an admirable enough job, but frankly, I find Bêlit more interesting as a schemer, strategist and commander than a warrior-woman. This way, Conan complements her perfectly. Brains and brawn, as it were. By having them both roughly equal in martial prowess, something is lost in the process, and it's a dynamic that separates Conan/Bêlit from Conan/Valeria, as well as from Conan/Zenobia. Making Bêlit (and Zenobia) into real warrior-women dilutes the impact of Valeria, and simplifies their characters at the same time.

Thoth-Amon Ongoing Series
Good Scot: Thoth-Amon is probably one of the most iconic characters in the Conan comics outside of Conan himself, so he'd pull in the interest and the readers. It would offer different narrative styles from Conan, seeing as the main character is an evil sorcerer instead of an amoral barbarian.
Bad Scot: The Book of Thoth, plus any and every appearance of Thoth-Amon in the main comic. I hate Dark Horse's take on Thoth-Amon, and I have no interest in his further adventures. Plus, we already have Dynamite's Fool's Doom: do we really need another Howard villain comic?

Mini- Series Return
Good Scot: Hey, it can't be worse than Songs of the Dead.
Bad Scot: Don't be daft, of course it could be worse than Songs of the Dead!

Young Conan Ongoing Series
Good Scot: It'd be set in Cimmeria. There's a lot of stuff to do in Cimmeria: fighting Vanir & Aesir, beating back Picts, battling rival tribes, uniting against invaders. There's also a lot of Cimmerian mythology to take advantage of, as well as the shadow of Acheron & the Atlanteans.
Bad Scot: Born on the Battlefield and Cimmeria has poisoned the well irrevocably for me. It's possible they could undo some of the damage - make Cimmerian women into actual warriors, get rid of the impoliteness, make Cimmeria into something resembling Howard's creation more - but I doubt they will. Plus, the idea of codifying young Conan's life removes a lot of the mystique of the character. Need I even mention the horrors that could arise from a "Teen Conan" standpoint?

Anthology Ongoing
Good Scot: Not sure what this would mean, but if it means different REH tales...
Bad Scot: Not sure what this would mean, but if it means different REH tales...

Nothing - Keep it with Just Conan the Cimmerian
Good Scot: At least this way, they keep all their stuff in one series.
Bad Scot: Agreed.


  1. My attempt at brief responses.

    King Conan-I love the idea, but yes the heretofore execution left me disapointed, I had high hopes for Demons of Khitai and Midnight God and found them rather forgetable in comparison to even my previously mention Marvel King Conan fav's-Issue 28-36. I haven't even read Sorrow of Akivasha.

    I would probably like GOOD one shots or mini-series best-I liked P. Craig Russel's Jewels of Gwahlur (Servants of Bit-Yakin) alright.

    Age of Conan tales-if it ain't a REH character why even bother?
    I would welcome a great Valeria series-IF-they had a great writer behind it-who could flesh out a true to REH Valeria, without the BS type origin/motivation you mentioned.

    I like Belit, but don't know how much I would like a Belit comic sans Conan, for precisely the reasons you listed above.

    The Book of Thoth is about the only Dark Horse:Conan I didn't buy-guess why.

    Mini-series-kinda already mentioned this-Dark Horse have said they don't want to do anymore Howard stories-(like Russels)so they can save them for the series-but IF it's gonna be so far away in time-I say let somebody tackle Beyond the Black River now, let some great artist do People of the Black Circle now. I would love a mini-series of Black Stranger right now!

    I do not want to see a young Conan series-too much room for absolute lameness.

    Anthology ongoing-I'd at least bite for a Bran Mak Morn mini-series or a Cormac Mac Art mini-heck even a Black Turlough one shot would hook me.

  2. I too love the idea of a King Conan series, especially one that explores the other characters, gives them a chance to kick ass. However, I just hate the Aquiromans too much.

    Russell's Jewels of Gwahlur is pretty cool, I don't really mind it too much. Even if it really reminded me of Herge. Come to think of it, I'd love a Conan/Tintin crossover...

    I can see an interesting story for Belit, personally: flesh out N'Gora and N'Yaga, show some of the bloody battles to show why she's Queen of the Black Coast. Maybe show prospective mates who failed the test one way or another. The whole seas of the Hyborian Age are open for exploration and excitement. Then finish up with her Conan years.

    I totally want someone to do Black Stranger, and crucially, there's less "mandatory muck-ups". No Aquiromans to spoil the mood. Though, of course, they could always shoehorn dreaded Thoth back in.

    Agreed on Young Conan. I can't really think of a "young" hero that wasn't utterly dire apart from Young Indiana Jones and Young Sherlock Holmes (and even that last one was pretty bad).

    For anthologies, I'd quite like to see some of REH's lesser-known heroes get a shot too. Let's see Pyrrhas, Cororuc or Helen Tavrel get a shot at the limelight. El Borak would be cool too. Dark Agnes could do with the publicity for the upcoming film/collection.

  3. short tales of hyborian people, not Conan, heroes and villains, common people of that time. Mercenaries, pirates, aquilonians colonists in Cimmeria before Venarium or in the Pictland, political struggles in Turan, catfights in the serrallio, diplomacy in Aquilonia and Nemedia,jungles adventures in the black kingdoms...
    there is a whole world of possibilities without Conan...

  4. What's so wrong with Aquilonians being presented as proto-Romans?

    I've read somewhere that one of the genius things about Hyboria was that it served as a great pseudo-historical setting that mixed elements from several historical eras, ancient and medieval. In that context, there's no problem with Stygians dressed up like 2000 BC Egyptians (while there's always a problem when they do the same in Cleopatra movies), or with buildings that have Corinthian columns.

    If the Zingarans are presented as Spaniards and the Stygians as Egyptians, with the Turanians having some btatantly Turkish-sounding first names, I see no problem with the Aquilonians having Roman elements. After all, Howard himself used in more than one instance Roman names for some characters (Valerius is the first that comes to mind).

    Not to mention, Alcatena's art in those simple stories at the Aquiloian frontier was Marvel-lous! :)

  5. The problem with the Aquilonians being Proto-Roman is that it ignores many descriptions Howard made of the kingdom's people, military and culture. One cannot rely on just the names to get an idea of the culture of a Hyborian nation. The only overtly Roman elements are one or two references to "legions" and "imperial squadrons" in "The Phoenix on the Sword," and the Greco-Latin names - which themselves are found in many post-Roman countries, what with Latin being one of the dominant languages, and being continued well into Medieval times. Every Hyborian nation has examples of Greco-Latin names - by using the names as standard, all Hyborian Nations would be Roman. Even Khoraja, who dresses their general in "gorget, sollerets, cuirass, pauldrons, jambes, cuisses, and sallet."

    The setup of the kingdom is staunchly feudal: the king rules all, with the king's right-hand man being the Seneschal, there is a council led by the high councillor, along with various princes, counts, barons, knights, peers, ladies, men-at-arms, squires. All are distinctly feudal, and none of the emperors, senators, praetorian guard, magistrates, tribunes or consuls that would indicate a Roman flair. Aquilonian fashion includes "silk hose," a "richly embroidered doublet," "fur-trimmed jupon" and "jagged silk jupon." No togas, stolas, pteruges, or sagums.

    The Aquilonian army is more reminiscent of a Medieval one than a Roman one. The Aquilonian army was primarily based around heavy cavalry composed of nobility and their retainers, with spear infantry and archers either commoners or mercenaries working as support. The heavy calvary have "burnished helmets, gilt-worked mail, silver breastplates," and wield lances, and we see a classic (and lethal) "joust" in The Hour of the Dragon. The infantry wear leather jerkins and wield pikes and steel caps, with the Gundermen being "the mightiest infantry in the world" - again, spear-wielders. There is nothing even remotely like the famous Roman cohort in Howard's descriptions.

    The archers wore "steel caps and leather jerkins." The Bossonian Archers, with their "brigandines," "steel caps" and "longbows" are clearly Welsh/English Longbowmen rather than, say, Syrian archers. The "steel-clad" knights of Poitain with "terrible two-handed swords" and "burnished armor" are typical feudal knights, and not Roman cavalrymen.

    Conan himself wore "black plate-mail, with the vizored salade, and the dark plumes nodding over the wivern crest," and a "silken surcoat with the royal lion worked in gold upon the breast" - again, exactly what a Feudal king would wear, and not at all like a Roman General. Prospero, too, wore a silk surcoat over his mail.

    These are just the ones that spring to mind: there are lots more I've missed. It's all about Howard's descriptions, and frankly, there is nothing to suggest that Aquilonia - or any Hyborian nation - is proto-Roman, and plenty to suggest Medieval. This is something which has plagued Howardian illustration since even Weird Tales, so it's persistent - but it just doesn't square with the text. Indeed, if any Hyborian nation resembles Rome, it would be Acheron, not Aquilonia. However, that's a whole 'nother argument.