Monday, September 14, 2009

One Who Walked Alone: Solomon Kane Preview

If you were to take a random sample of Americans and ask them to name a hero created by Robert E Howard, arguably the creator of the Sword and Sorcery genre, their most likely answer would be Conan the Barbarian. For the past forty years, since Lin Carter and L. Sprague De Camp resurrected the hero for mass consumption, Howard's man of gigantic mirth and gigantic melancholies has appeared in a wide variety of media for public consumption. People have encountered Conan, or some approximation, in film, video games, comic books, television shows, and numerous pastiches written by more recent authors. Never mind the fact that the Conan of popular culture bears only passing resemblance to Howard's barbarian, the character has become a deeply ingrained part of the American Mythos.

From time to time some devoted soul, will attempt to resurrect another of Howard's heroes in the hopes that they too will become a part of the American psyche.

A little over a decade ago we saw the release of Kull the Conquerer starring Kevin Sorbo. Kull was a proto-Conan and the first published Conan stories is a re-writing of a Kull tale. The film meandered between the swashbuckling stylings of a Harryhausen Sinbad film and the camp of the Batman television series, and in doing so failed to capture the character or any real audience.

There have also been attempts to bring Howard's dour and deadly Puritan, Solomon Kane. In the 70s, Marvel Comics released a number of Solomon Kane comics, recently Dark Horse has done the same. In fact, Dark Horse is publishing the reprint trades of the Marvel books. In the 90s, Baen Books released a collection of Howard's Solomon Kane stories with and introduction by Ramsey Campbell. Campbell also used the Bael edition as an opportunity to "collaborate" with Howard in a manner similar to de Camp and the Conan tales. Del Rey released a beautiful edition of the Solomon Kane tales, with wonderful artwork by Gary Gianni, in 2004 -- an edition still in print -- that collects all of the original tales with a few exclusive story fragments. The Del Rey edition is Kane as Howard wrote him. Solomon Kane has even been the subject of the excellent The Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane role playing game by Pinnacle Entertainment.

Kane is among my favorite Sword and Sorcery heroes. His combination of a forthright pursuit of justice and his unforgiving personality makes for an interesting take on the "religiously motivated" hero. Howard describes him as, "a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more than a touch of the pagan...A hunger in his soul drove him on an on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things...Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect -- he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane." Like so many of Howard's heroes, Kane was -- like Howard himself -- One Who Waled Alone.

Kane's star is certainly rising in the popular psyche, but how great a place the Puritan will hold will greatly depend on the upcoming film starring James Purefoy as the title character. If the preview is any indication, the character of the film will not be Howard's character "made flesh," but Purefoy's Kane might just be Howard's character in spirit.

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