Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Vico, Vico

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian Archives Volume 1: written by Roy Thomas, Lin Carter, and Robert E. Howard; illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Tony DeZuniga, Pablo Marcos, Tim Conrad, Jim Starlin, and others (1971, 1973-75; collected 2007): This first reprint volume of Marvel's black-and-white Conan comics magazines that started in the 1970's peaks right at the beginning, with quintessential Conan comic-book artist Barry Windsor-Smith illustrating several tales. He's terrific on what's almost a vignette about a teen-aged Conan, "The Frost Giant's Daughter." And he hits an all-time high with an adaptation of the Conan novella "Red Nails." There's a reprint volume devoted entirely to Windsor-Smith's colour and black-and-white Conan work for Marvel, if you're so inclined.

The rest of the volume, almost entirely written by long-time Conan scribe/adapter Roy Thomas, is mostly high quality as well. Thomas' Conan was always more stereotypically heroic than Robert E. Howard's original, but he can still be a bit of a jerk at times. Highlights include the oft-imitated crucifixion of Conan from an adaptation of Howard's "A Witch Shall Be Born" and an original team-up with Howard's female barbarian Red Sonya. John Buscema, who penciled more Conan stories at Marvel than anyone else, gives us his older-looking Conan throughout, with Tony DeZuniga and others ably inking Buscema or drawing him themselves. It's too bad these volumes weren't reprinted at their original magazine-page size, though -- the art and lettering can get a bit cramped at points in the comic-book-page dimensions of the collection. Recommended.

Dr. Spektor Volume 1: written by Mark Waid; illustrated by Neal Edwards and Christian Ward (2014): Enjoyable reboot of a Silver Age Gold Key hero about whom I know absolutely nothing. Veteran scribe Mark Waid gives us a master of the mystic arts who's also a TV personality and a bit of a knob. The art is competent, though never particularly mystical or surreal. It's a book about a magician that could use an injection of the surreal and the non-representational on the artistic side. Lightly recommended.

Superman: Camelot Falls Vol. 1 and 2: written by Kurt Busiek; illustrated by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino (2006-2007; collected 2009): Lengthy Superman story that appeared intermittently in about a year-and-a-half's worth of Superman comics gets collected here, with art primarily by Carlos Pacheco and story by Kurt Busiek. It's among the finest Superman stories of the last 25 years in both art and story. Pacheco is a clean, dynamic penciler with just the right hint of whimsy in his art. Busiek's Superman is forthright and stalwart though occasionally plagued by doubt. 

Busiek riffs on a Superman story from the early 1970's, "Must There Be A Superman?", as Superman discovers that the presence of he and his fellow heroes will ultimately lead to the destruction of all human life on Earth. Or will it? 

Busiek brings back Atlantean super-magician Arion to present a superhero-tinged version of Vico's cyclical view of history. There will always be a Rise, there will always be a Fall, there will always be another Rise, and so on, but the prevention of that Fall by Superman and friends will cause the Fall to build in power until when it comes, there will be no subsequent Rise again. Humanity will perish in the turbo-charged wave of darkness. Arion wants Superman to retire intentionally so this future won't come to pass. But if Superman won't retire, Arion will retire him forcibly and then start the next wave of darkness himself before it builds any further. To Arion, the ends justify the means, no matter how many billions must die to ensure humanity's survival.

It may sound grim, but Busiek keeps things hopeful throughout: Arion may be wrong. And Superman remains heroic and dedicated to preserving life, as he should. Busiek introduces a new villain for Superman, Khyber, who grows on one over the course of the story. He is in many ways an attempt to give Superman his own Ra's Al Ghul, an immortal enemy with designs on global domination and a patience born of immortality. Only the name, which seems to be an attempt to meld the historic and ongoing importance of the Khyber Pass with the sounds-similar 'Cyber,' is a bit vexing. Well, unless Busiek is playing with the Cockney rhyming slang construction of "Khyber Pass" as a stand-in for "Ass" (or "Arse"), which would be hilarious. In all, recommended.

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