'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Hawks of Outremer (2010)

I hope everyone in the US and Canada had good holiday weekends. Today i've got something a little different for you. A review of an older title. I learned about this book when the cover came across my Facebook feed through one of the many Conan groups I monitor. I initially thought it might be a new title, but as it turns out it was released in 2010 physically and in 2014 digitally.

Hawks of Outremer was published as a 4 part miniseries by BOOM! I picked it up on Comixology on Sunday to give it a read with my coffee. I picked it up as the compiled trade book.

Adaption: Michael Alan Nelson
Writer: Robert E Howard
Artist: Damian Couceiro
Colorist: Juan Manuel Tumburus
Letterer: Johhny Lowe
Cover Artist: Joe Jusko

Cover Price: $6.99
Pages: 90+

As usual, the cover of these books is the easiest place to start. Joe Jusko is maybe best known for his John Carter of Mars, Conan or Tarzan depictions. No matter how you know his work, it is generally of high quality. He is without a doubt one of the Masters of fantasy painting working today. These covers are good and fit the narratives well, although I am not sure they are Joe's best work. Whether it is or not they are all good and all evocative of the narrative found within the pages.

The 90 pages of panels and story drawn by Damian Couceiro and colored by Juan Manel Tumburus are excellent and fit the story being told quite well. From the small panels to the epic, from the mundane to the violent, this book does not disappoint.

I had not read the story by Robert E Howard when I picked up the comic, so all I had to go on was the comic itself. This means the comic got a fair shake regardless of what I thought of Howard's writing. In the end, I quite enjoyed the book and would recommend it to people interested in Howard, pulp fiction or action tales.

Arriving at the end of the book, which I devoured in a single sitting (100 comic pages doesn't take that long), I found an afterword by Mark Finn. I didn't read all of Mark's words, but he seemed to be suggesting this was a good adaption. He even makes the comment that Michael Alan Nelson had quite often used Howard's own words within the pages instead of trying to do it better. You can find the story online at Gutenberg and also in Del Rey's "Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures".

I have since picked the story up and read a little of it to see how I felt it seemed to match and I can tell you the opening scenes are well done.

The story itself is a fairly straight forward tale of vengeance with a slight mystery about what is going on. It is an action-packed romp set against the crusades. On the surface, Cormac is similar to Conan. Both are forces of nature, skilled at combat and very definitely their own man. If we had more time to develop and explore the character I am sure we would see many, many differences between the two.

Normally I would talk about how well I think the story hits the Sword and Sorcery notes for me, but this isn't a sword and sorcery tale, it is historical fiction. So instead of the weird, we will talk of the mundane. The historical flavor of this piece is good. Crusaders and Moslems and the peace of Saladin. We have iron-clad men of Europe in battle against each other as well as the Moslems of the holy land. Besides the art lending the historical flavor of the setting, the use of actual places all lend to bring the reader into a time of European powers carving small kingdoms into the holy land.

Without further discussion, let's see how many skulls of my enemies I think the warrior of the grinning skull deserves!




Historical Flavor:

A solid 4.5 out 5 skulls!

I really liked this adaption. It felt good to me and was a fun read. I was happy to find it was a solid adaption of Howard's work. If you are a fan of Howard and haven't read Hawks, in either this form or in the prose form, I recommend getting out and finding a copy. If you use Comixology in the US, it is available under the Unlimited level.

One final note, after reading this tale I went and found a copy at AbeBooks at the Book Depository and ordered a physical copy of it.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Riders of Steel and Silk and Gold: An adventure for Conan 2d20!

CONAN!? Why would I want to play "THAT!?"

Isn't "Conan" people running around wearing almost nothing, fighting and uh....doing other things? In this modern world, why would I want to play that? Aren't we just going to be rehashing an old tired stereotype that modern tales are avoiding now?

NO! That is NOT Conan, this is not the Hyborian Age. Or at least it's not Robert E Howard's Hyborian Age.

I fully understand why people might shy away from a Sword and Sorcery game and the aspects of it due to how it has been portrayed in popular culture as well as certain members of the fan base.

The name of Conan and Sword and Sorcery tend to be mixed strongly any number of images painted by the Legendary Frank Frazetta used as covers to a number of re-published stories. The good of this is to be associated with some excellent paintings by one of the modern masters of Fantasy. The bad of it is these images are often of men and women who are represented as the ideal male and female form, often with the man rescuing the woman, and neither of them wearing very much while this all occurs. As masterful as they are they can easily portray the male power fantasy idea which tends to turn a lot of people off.

This interpretation isn't really the truth of the Hyborian Age. Certainly, Howard described his heroic men as "masculine" and likewise his women, whether damsels in distress, or bad ass warriors, as "feminine", all through the lens of the 1930s.

Take the introduction of Valeria as an example.

She was tall, full-bosomed, and large-limbed, with compact shoulders. Her whole figure reflected an unusual strength, without detracting from the femininity of her appearance. She was all woman, in spite of her bearing and her garments. The latter were incongruous, in view of her present environs. Instead of a skirt she wore short, wide-legged silk breeches, which ceased a hand's breadth short of her knees, and were upheld by a wide silken sash worn as a girdle. Flaring-topped boots of soft leather came almost to her knees, and a low-necked, wide-collared, wide-sleeved silk shirt completed her costume. On one shapely hip she wore a straight double-edged sword, and on the other a long dirk. Her unruly golden hair, cut square at her shoulders, was confined by a band of crimson satin.

-Robert E Howard
Red Nails.

Howard clearly defines her as strong but as feminine as Conan is masculine, but she isn't scantily clad. She wears the standard fair of a pirate and carries with her a sword and dagger, and the will to use them.

That isn't to say Howard never wrote a scantily clad man or woman, he certainly did. He was after all writing for a magazine that wasn't viewed as "proper" in the 30s. I can guarantee though that I can find examples of stories that did way more of this than Howard ever did.

For my iteration of the Hyborian Age, I try and look through it as much as I can with my eyes firmly rooted in the modern age. What does that mean to the potential player?

  • Heroic Characters of many descriptions: Any Gender, Any Sexual Preference.
  • Character "relations" are always off screen if they occur at all. Romantic connections are generally not a huge thing due to the shortness of the adventure.
  • Races portrayed as culturally different, but not inferior.
  • Avoiding the hypersexualized imagery of Frazetta.
  • Avoiding the popular image of the D&D Barbarian.
  • High Action.
  • Sword and Sorcery. No fireballs, no goblins.
  • The goal to create a game and an environment that is fun and engaging for a diverse group of people that I have never met before.
  • The use of X cards to support the above.

If you are turning away from CONAN as an idea I encourage you to take a look at the original works, keeping in mind they are written in a different time. Howard's work on fantasy is groundbreaking, he is truly one of the influencers of modern fantasy and is credited as the father of Sword and Sorcery.

Riders of Steel and Silk and Gold

Hopefully, you are convinced enough to give the genre and setting a shot. Either because of the above ideas, or because of your interest in Conan or your desire to try 2d20. Either way you made it this far!

Convention: RPG ALLIANCE CON 2019
When: October 20, 2019
Where: Calgary
Player Experience Required: NONE
Number of players: 5
Pre-generated characters: YES
Years I've been playing Conan 2d20: 2.5
Convention games I have run in the past: 3 (RPG Alliance and Calgary Expo)

He was taken to the East, a GREAT prize! Where the war masters would teach him the deepest secrets! Join me and a host of brave souls as we venture back to the Hyborian Age of Robert E Howard. On the Northern Borders of Khitai a bloody dance has taken place since time immemorial. Each year the warlords of Hyrkania push into the northern reaches of Khitai raiding and taking what they believe is theirs. Each year the Generals of Khitai work their political games to pit one warlord against the other to hold the power of the steppe at a manageable level. All that is changing with the rise of a single great warrior king on the steppe. His charisma and intelligence have bound many of the tribes under his banner and his horde stands ready to push deeper into Khitai than ever before.

Now, as the invasion grows near, the Khan's Shamans have told him about an ancient fortress said to hold a weapon of immeasurable power. Something said to be able to surely turn the tide against the Khitai.

Your group is some of the Khan's greatest and most trusted warriors, sent to recover the weapon. After weeks of hard travel into the mountains, you have made camp on a small stone plain flanked by rocks and boulders, the wind howls across the land bringing the first touches of winter. Dominating the scene is a square opening, that seems hewn into the living rock of the mountain itself.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Conan the Barbarian: Issue #7 (2019) "Barbarian Love"

Another Wednesday morning relaxing before work with a black cup of coffee and the newest issue of Conan the Barbarian! That's right, The Barbarian is back after a little bit of a break!

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: Esar Ribic

Cover Price: $3.99

It is no secret that I have liked Mahmud's run on this book. This issue is no exception. As before we have some lovely art colored by Matt Wilson, sprinkled with a few epic images of Conan kicking ass. We have had this formula all the way back to #1 with Conan fighting in the pit. I have yet to grow weary of flipping the page to find a full page of the Cimmerian doing what he does best.

Esad's cover is likewise exceptional and in the flavor of the story, which is a win for me. I feel the cover helps to bring the reader initially into the story, so having one that is part of that story is critical to me. I would be remiss to not mention that several people in the social media world have commented on Conan's face in this cover looks like either a caveman, a troll, or something similar. I do agree this isn't my favorite rendering of our hero, but certainly not trollish, but I can see where they get neanderthal from.

I feel the story is a little out of canon timeline wise, but can't directly address why without leaving spoilers. In addition this is another tale without anything weird in it. It is simply a basic story of Conan plotting and executing revenge.

I know some people will dislike this story for various reasons, I didn't dislike it. It moved at a fairly steady pace, although they could have added some weirdness and cut out the aspects that place it out of timeline for me and had a story I loved a lot more. Either way in this new line of comics with basic non-weird stuff in it, it is a fine issue.




Sword & Sorcery:

My rating this month is 3.5 out of 5 Skulls of My Enemies!

This issue had many of the hallmarks of Conan: strong women, swordplay, and treasure. It was lacking anything to fill the sorcery aspect of the genre (I feel like a broken record here), but overall told a decently fun story if somewhat out of Howard canon for me. I'll note that being out of the timeline isn't the end of the world. Howard's timeline isn't set in stone and there are many many plausible reasons that stories might not all fit together neatly.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Savage Sword of Conan: Issue #6 (2019)

It has been *QUITE* awhile since the last Savage Sword was released AND quite awhile since I have made a post. The last issue of Savage Sword saw the end of the initial story arc, and so I was quite looking forward to see where we went with this new issue to see where we went with this title.

Writer: Meredith Finch
Artist: Luke Ross
Colorist: Nolan Woodard
Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: David Finch & Frank D'Armata

Cover Price: $3.99

The cover this time is more like a standard cover and not a call back to the original Savage Swords. As beautiful as Alex Ross's covers were I never really felt they fit the book. This one is more in line with what we are seeing on the cover of "Barbarian", where it feels like the artist is given a basic story outline and they compose their idea, which is similar to what we see in the pages but still quite different. For me this is a pretty large improvement

This issue contains 20 pages of Conan goodness for the reader to take in. The style of interior art we see from Luke Ross is much cleaner than we saw from the original 5 books. This will make some people happy, for others it will just be different.

We are lacking anything really weird, something I think is fairly central to such a pivotal Sword and Sorcery character. That doesn't make the story bad, it simply means, for me at least, that it is missing a key element of S&S

Enough Talk, let us see how many skulls!




Sword & Sorcery:

And with that, this issue lands at 4 skulls.

Despite the lack of "Sorcery", this issue has a simple enough story with a LOT of "Sword", so I have a hard time judging it too harshly. It checks a lot of boxes in terms of it being a fairly fun, quick romp in a story that fits into the the Hyborian Age.

Unlike the previous 5 issues, this Savage Sword is much more stand alone. Perhaps we will see a mix of stand alone and longer story arcs within the pages of the SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN!

If you have been on the fence with Savage Sword or have decided it wasn't for you, perhaps you should check out this issue and see if the new team working on it is more to your taste.

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Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!