This pulpy anthology finally delivers another issue, nearly half a year later, and the wait has been well worth it. The first outing was near perfect fare and this installment delivers more of the exact sort of thing you expect and desire from a title with such a name. The success of this book continues to be the variety of characters represented, even if the tone and grit are still confluent with the man from which all inspiration springs.
El Borak, the middle eastern gunslinger of old, kicks things off with a tale that’s standard and well put together but surely no way to kick off a magazine as magnificent as this. The tale of power over the land and men within it is captivating in parts but then can lose you within mere panels. It feels slightly overwritten, as if the tale should have been simplified for easier consumption. The art from Greg Scott is easy enough so as not to get in the way but it doesn’t bring a true eye to the proceedings, it simply offers up what is there.
Marc Andreyko and Robert Atkins return with another segment of Dark Agnes. While the first episode might not have been a jawdropper, this one certainly is. Andreyko finds a perfect balance of having Agnes using her steel and her mind. These pages zing along with the whirr of deathly blades but also razor sharp intentions. There is a plan to everything that happens and it manages to horrify, amuse, and inspire all at once. This also does a magnificent job of standing on its own and still holding true merit. These pages are the best original part of this entire issue.
Sailor Steve Costigan is a character many might not know from Howard’s repertoire, but with Joe Casey handling the plotting and dialogue I think people are going to want to know more. This tale is done-in-one and it manages to be well wrought as well as two-fisted fun. Costigan is a fighter and so it’s only right he should bust a few jaws on his knuckles. Yet the plot machinations behind it all provide easy fun with a great tangent that resolves so smoothly as to be just as funny as it wants to be. This is how you bring a character like Costigan in front of the eyes of a new generation with a great punch per page ratio and a heaping dose of knock out fun.
Finding an original Robert E Howard prose piece in the middle of the magazine is exactly what should be happening. As much as this is entertainment, this is a historical document. This is a means to preserve what was written decades ago. It’s also a great way to segue the audience from adaptations to the real words. This tale, “Sea Curse,” is another of Howard’s twisted tales of the supernatural. Without a mainstream character to hang onto, this sort of thing is easily forgotten and overlooked. Stick around for Tim Seeley’s art but also delve into the rich language of curses and very unattractive ladies.
Another reprint from the old “Savage Sword” days graces this book in great volume, and this time we get “The Valley of the Worm.” It’s man versus man, then sabretooth tiger, then giant serpent, then creepy moss creature, and then finally a very large and mystical worm beast. The progression of battles and bloodshed is impressive for only so many pages – you don’t need to worry about too many plot pieces weighing this one down. The first serpent fight is a proto-“Predator” tale. It satisfies on its own so having our hero, Niord, travel further to take on the big boss is just gravy. Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway clearly had fun with the language but it is Gil Kane who gets to delight us all with a whole new world and wonders to marvel at. The language is grand and the story matches it. A great, and surprisingly easy, read.
The final segment of this issue is the second Conan installment where we see him invading the temple where a jewel and a lady prize lay waiting. This section isn’t as strong as the first one in the last issue but it sets up the massive metal clash for the next part very well. Conan shows off his ability to scale walls and ruthlessly murder those who foolishly get in his way. It’s what you expect, but not transcendent.
“Robert E Howard’s Savage Sword” anthology continues to be the best collection of material put onto the stands today. It’s all relatively similar in style and tone and yet each tale is able to find new corners of the Howard mythos to plumb and turn into four color gold. If you like Howard you should definitely be here. If you like good comics you should also show your support for some great examples in a presentation model that needs your money to survive. Be a champ and show your love on this book; it’ll love you back.