Saturday, 18 September 2010

Kull the Destroyer #18. Lost in the swamps.

Marvel Comics Kull the Destroyer #18Not that I was prejudiced but it always seemed a bit redundant to me for Marvel to give Robert E Howard’s Kull a comic of his own. Bearing in mind Kull just seemed to be an earlier, less successful version of Conan, why would the world want to read his adventures when there were already two Conan mags regularly hitting the news stands?

But Marvel were never ones to spot a bandwagon without flinging everything on it and so, give him his own comic they did.

I only ever had one issue and it’s a sign of the lack of impact it made on me that I didn’t even remember having owned it until I spotted its cover on eBay and had the nagging feeling it had once been mine.

It’s odd then that, reading it now, it’s surprisingly good. I couldn’t claim to have the slightest clue what’s going on but that’s a whole other matter.

This is what I do know. There’s a city. Every night it gets attacked by some flying monsters. So, Kull - who’s no longer king - leads a small army into the swamps to confront whoever’s behind the attacks.

That’s when it gets confusing as they bump into a bunch of talking man-apes who tell them they’re up against a god who’s also a dead man. Except they’re also up against a big monster that killed the god who’s a dead man. Except they’re also up against a sorcerer who controls both the big monster and the god who’s a dead man. Then a woman turns up on a flying horse and turns into a man who apparently hates Kull even though in his female form he likes Kull. Frankly, I don’t by this point have any idea what’s going on or who any of these people are.

Marvel Comics Kull the Destroyer #18The strange thing is it’s actually quite nice to not know what’s going on. It creates the impression of an involved and complex tale that’s been spread over a number of issues, with a detailed back-story. A contrast to Conan the Barbarian which mostly eschewed an overall story arc and would diligently, and sometimes superfluously, give us flashback sequences to ward off all possible confusion. This comic simply assumes we’ve read previous issues and therefore know what anyone’s talking about.

Disorienting though the approach is, it does give a sense of greater depth and involvement than we got from Conan the Barbarian. Most importantly, it serves to create a noticeably different reader experience from that mag, thus disposing of the sense of duplication and redundancy the strip threatened to have.

It also doesn’t hurt that the thing looks good, drawn as it is by Ed Hannigan in a vaguely John Buscema-esque manner but inked by the always lush Alfredo Alcala.

Overall, it just goes to show that, like most of Kull’s foes, the human memory’s a strange beast, having left me with strong recollections of disastrous fare like Ironjaw while denying me all recall of much stronger offerings like this.

Then again, in this issue it’s established that someone’s tampering with Kull’s mind to make him forget things. Could it be that I too am prey to vile and arcane sorcery? Tarim's Blood! Hand me my broadsword! I wager a magician will be losing his head afore this night is through!

6 comments:

Taranaich said...

"Not that I was prejudiced but it always seemed a bit redundant to me for Marvel to give Robert E Howard’s Kull a comic of his own. Bearing in mind Kull just seemed to be an earlier, less successful version of Conan, why would the world want to read his adventures when there were already two Conan mags regularly hitting the news stands?"

Kull was only less successful because Farnsworth Wright didn't know a good thing when he saw it. The Kull stories that did appear in Weird Tales were very popular, and even up to Howard's death, there were letters asking for more stories of Kull. Not bad for a character that only appeared in three stories! Farnsworth would reject great Howard stories, even Conan tales like "The God in the Bowl," "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" and "The Black Stranger" while accepting run-of-the-mill (for Howard) adventures like "Iron Shadows in the Moon," "Xuthal of the Dusk" and "The Devil in Iron."

Besides, there are a lot of differences between Kull and Conan to take into account. Though the central idea of a barbarian who becomes king of a civilized nation is obviously shared, Kull's more than simply "proto-Conan." Where Conan would only occassionally delve into philosophy and existentialism, Kull practically dived into intellectual musings, to the point where he would be engrossed for days. Where Conan was clearly a lady's man, Kull was completely uninterested in sex, and may even have been a virgin. Where Conan left Cimmeria of his own volition to seek adventure, Kull was exiled for breaking tribal laws. Where Conan seemed to have a normal Cimmerian life, Kull's people were wiped out in a flood, and he was raised by tigers. Conan was never a slave or gladitor, but Kull was. There are many other, smaller differences, but they add up, and Marvel clearly took those into account with their new series.

Steve said...

Hi, Taranaich.

I can only cite childhood ignorance as my one excuse.

Aaron said...

If it's got talking man-apes, sign me up!

Steve said...

The talking man-apes were the highlight for me. Having seen Conan fight a million-and-one man-apes over the years, when they showed up, my heart sank at the sight of yet more of the things. But when they started speaking, suddenly it was like the sun had come out because of the change from what I was used to. As you can see, I'm easily impressed.

Anonymous said...

How much is it worth 1976 kull from the creator of conn

Steve W. said...

Sadly, Anon, most 1970s comics don't go for a lot of money and Kull wasn't one of the most in-demand characters of the era, so you'd be unlikely to get more than a dollar or so for a 1970s Kull comic.

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