With Conan Vol.1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories, Dark Horse embarked on a bold strategy where the classic Conan stories were shaped anew, with writer Kurt Busiek putting together a continuous narrative that charted the rise of Conan from a simple Cimmerian warrior to the King of Aquilonia. With the addition of fantastic artists like Cary Nord and Dave Stewart, the series began well with the first volume, establishing a clear frame of reference for the characters and his adventures in a way that would always leave you wanting more.
In Conan Vol.2: The God In The Bowl and Other Stories we see more of the same as Conan now sets out for the Nemedian city-state to learn more of the world, to hone his skills as a thief and see more of what the world at large could offer someone like him. Kurt’s writing is very much on point in this volume, as it was in the previous one, and now that the Cimmerian is in more familiar circumstances, the story becomes all the more enjoyable. And along the way, artists Tom Mandrake, Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates and Dave Stewart add a particular vividness to the visual aspect, enhancing the story in every way possible.
Of all the heroes over the years who have left their mark on the wider world of fiction, few if any come close to the pedigree of Conan the Barbarian. Multiple movies, hundreds of comics, numerous novels and short stories. Decade after decade goes by and he is always there in some form. Dark Horse Comics, who have held the license for the comics on the character for several years now have done a great job of shepherding Conan through various iterations, whether as a young warrior first stepping out in the world, or as an aged king. That is where we start with here.
Conan Vol.1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories is a collection of some of the earliest Conan stories, chronologically speaking, where we meet Conan as a young adventurer who barely knows of the world outside of Cimmeria but is eager and willing to explore. Writer Kurt Busiek weaves the many stories together into a stunning narrative that is enhanced by artists Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates, Dave Stewart and others. The story is a little fuzzy here and there, but the creatives here have captured the essence of Conan really well and delivered a stunning package.
The Teen Titans are one of the most prominent of DC’s superhero teams, primarily because it is based around legacy superheroes such as Wonder Girl and Robin and other young heroes like Starfire and Beast Boy. Over the years, the Teen Titans have carved out quite a niche for themselves, even transcending the comics with shows like Young Justice and Teen Titans Go! which have proven to be popular as well. So it was no surprise that when DC began to roll out its series of Earth One storylines for its premier heroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, that they’d delve into the Teen Titans as well.
Teen Titans: Earth One Vol.1 repositions the team in a timeline that is very different from the current comics storyline. This is a trend that follows on from the other Earth One graphic novels, where the characters and their stories are reinvented and have their own continuity separate from the main comics-verse. Written by Jeff Lemire and art by the Dodson Duo, it is an interesting read that brings together some classic characters such as Raven, Cyborg, Beast Boy and others, but it also falls short by a significant margin because the story can be incomprehensible at times.
Stjepan Sejic released his BDSM-centric OGN Sunstone Volume 1 a few months ago and it was pretty much a hit. Having seen some success with the material on his DeviantArt page, he went a bit further and put it out through Top Cow/Image to a much wider audience. And I have to say that the story really changed my mind about the value of the story contained therein. Sunstone isn’t a pornographic comic by any means. Sure, it has a few racy scenes, but they deserve to be looked at through the context of the story in entirety, which is about two young women coming to terms with their wilder side and maturing into a healthy relationship.
This is where Stjepan picks up in the recently-released Sunstone Volume 2, which takes the story of Ally and Lisa even further. In the previous arc, we met with them as they discovered each other, experimented sexually, opened up about their past and present, and settled down into their budding relationship. Now, we see matters progress further as Lisa is exposed to the wider world of BDSM through Ally’s friends, and she learns some of the more tragic aspects of her history as well. Once again, the story and art are both superb here, and I think that Stjepan does a great job yet again of presenting the material in a way that neither offends the reader, nor belittles the subject.
Erotic Fiction isn’t really my deal. I’ve never dabbled in it outside of some really lame urban fantasy romance novels, and it is not a genre that interests me at all. But Stjepan Sejic, yes, I’m a huge fan of the artist. I got into his work through Artifacts for Top Cow and that quickly spiraled into an obsession with his work on Witchblade with all those gorgeous covers of his most of all, and then this year into full-blown fan-gasming with his original series Death Vigil from Image Comics, the fifth issue of which I put up as my top comic of 2014 just last week.
When I heard that Stjepan was putting out another OGN, Sunstone, a BDSM erotica that dealt with the lives of two young women, I was initially hesitant. I love Stjepan’s work, but erotica, not my cup of tea at all. But I decided to give the book a try anyway, to see what kind of a story and characters Stjepan had cooked up. Sunstone has seemingly been a huge hit for him on his DeviantArt page, one of the many reasons why it has eventually gotten a print release, and having read it, I think I can see why. Stjepan deals with the subject matter in a very natural way that puts you at your ease and is never discomfiting. The characters are superb, the story is superb, the art is absolutely gorgeous.
In 2012 we saw the relaunch of the He-Man comics franchise under DC, with a limited series that was also supported by several digital one-shots, most of which have since then been collected into trades. While the relaunch got off to a rough start at first, it quickly picked up steam, leading to DC giving the franchise an ongoing series in mid-2013, a series that culminated a few weeks ago in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #19, though not before we got a new series that took the series forward, He-Man: The Eternity War.
This collection should actually be titled as Volume 2, but DC’s numbering counts the limited-series as volume 1 and volume 2 contains the various origin one-shots that have come out in the last couple years. So everything follows on from there, with Volume 3 containing the first six issues of the ongoing series. In this trade version, collecting issues #7 through #12 of writer Dan Abnett’s run on the title, we find out what happens to our heroes in the wake of the revelations about Despara really being Princess Adora of Eternia, and the fact that with the Sorceress’ death previously, Eternia needs a new guardian. This is where King Randor hits upon the idea of journeying to one of Eternia’s deepest and most mystical realms, and we get a great story about the heroes facing up to some really weird and fantastical challenges.
Note: The trade collection will be released in March this year.
As I’ve mentioned in several places this year, Zenescope’s Age of Darkness crossover event has been really good from all that I’ve read and it continues to be so as the event progresses. Going on for almost a year now, with a lot of prep before that, we’ve seen how the Realms have come under attack from all sides and how the heroes have been tested by their before enemies and how, for the moment, that villains have gained the upper hand. I jumped into the story in the middle of everything back in with the Grimm Fairy Tales #0 FCBD issue, and then carried on with some of the specials that came along, but I didn’t go back to read the whole story from the beginning until much later.
Age of Darkness Volume 1 collects issues 94-98 of Grimm Fairy Tales and also the Dark Queen: Age of Darkness one-shot that preceded the first of those, back in January. While the lead-up to the event had been happening before that, it wasn’t until the Dark Queen: Age of Darkness one-shot that things really kicked off when the Dark Queen made herself known to the Realm Knights. What followed after that in the flagship Grimm Fairy Tales was basically a bunch of one-shots that touched on many of the different things happening in the Realms as the heroes and villains made their moves and countermoves against each other. And in all of this, one thing was a constant: Lucinda is an insane evil queen and she wants what she wants, no matter who or what she has to destroy. Kind of fun!
Witchblade is one of Top Cow’s biggest IPs, by far. Unless I am mistaken, it is one of the publisher’s only two titles to have made it past the landmark 100th issue, and the only one to have made it past the landmark 175th issue as well. And one writer who has shaped this incredible run, more than others I’d reckon, is Ron Marz, who enjoyed a seventy-plus issue tenure before he got back on the title with issue #170 last year. Of all the Witchblade stories I’ve read to date, Ron Marz’s scripts have been the most consistent and engaging and my current read-through of his run has been a very rewarding experience.
Witchblade Volume 2 continues everything that Ron Marz setup in Witchblade Volume 1, taking the Witchblade’s bearer Sara Pezzini into new environs and with new supporting cast members. Unlike the previous volume, this one contains many one-shots that slowly build-up a larger story continuing the plot threads that Ron introduced at the start of his run. If anything, I enjoyed this volume even more than the first, though it should be said that sometimes the stories can be a bit too much by-the-numbers. Like Phil Hester says in the introduction to this volume, Ron defies expectations and notions of genre limitations.
In the last couple years Top Cow’s Witchblade IP has become one of my favourite reads in comics. Whether it is Witchblade/Sara Pezzini in the pages of Artifacts or Witchblade or in any crossovers here and there, I’ve always loved her as a character. Sara Pezzini to me is one of the best female characters in comics, by far, easily a match for the greats such as Wonder Woman or Storm or Batgirl or Black Widow. And if there is one man out there who has shaped my experience of Sara Pezzini, it is Ron Marz, who has written more Witchblade than any other writer and has had a long run on the core title as well.
Witchblade Volume 1, from my understanding of things, marks a new phase in the life of the protagonist Sara Pezzini as she continues to bear the heavy burden of being the bearer of the Witchblade, a mysterious artifact that has bonded itself to her and has allowed her to face criminals of all stripes and even the more supernatural of individuals. This was Ron’s first arc on the title, and for me it proved to be some of his best work to date, not to mention that the artwork by Mike Choi and others was great as well, capturing the feel of the city and the dark tones of the story.
As the current holder of the comics license for most Conan properties, Dark Horse Comics has done much to delve into this rich world of swords and sorcery where the heroic Conan fights against threats both magical and mundane, and sometimes both. Where tales of his heroism and his barbarity and his savagery and his vengeance are told far and wide. In addition to the various ongoings and mini-series that have been put out by DHC, their Dark Horse Books imprint has also published a fair few graphic novels and adaptations, a few of which I’ve read and been more and more interested in the source material with each.
When I read Brian Wood’s Conan the Barbarian #1-6 last year, I was really struck with the passion of the romance between Conan and his lover Bêlit. And it appears that their romance is one of the cornerstones of Conan’s legends and mythology, developed over the years first by Robert E. Howard and then by many of the writers who have followed him, be it in the novel medium or in comics. In The Phantoms of The Black Coast, Conan is haunted by her restless spirit, unable to pass blissfully into the afterlife and so Conan the King goes on an epic journey to the depths of the world itself to free her, for his love for her is undying and a strength and motivation for him as well.
With Disney’s transfer of all comics fiction rights for Star Wars from Dark Horse Comics to Marvel Comics confirmed a few months ago, things are winding down for the former, who’ve been putting out Star Wars comics and encylopedias and artbooks for several years now. One of the publisher’s more recent efforts was the continuation of the Star Wars: Legacy series in a follow-up that trailed the adventures of Ania Solo and a Jedi named Jao Assam as they discovered and fought against a Sith known as Darth Wredd in Legacy II Book 1: Prisoners of a Floating World. The series is to end soon, but if Legacy II Book 2: Outcasts of the Broken Ring is any indication, then the series is going out with a bang.
This graphic novel collects issues #6-10 of the series and is being released today. I’ve read the issues separately as I bought them some time back, and decided to wait on the review since the release was so close. I loved Book 1 and I have to say that Book 2 is every bit as good, if not more. Ania Solo and Jao Assam make for some really awesome, three-dimensional characters who are not locked down in any particular roles and the overall story of their continued hunt for Darth Wredd is pure Star Wars, almost classic in its approach and tone and mystery.
Unless you are completely divorced from the internet and any and all news sources, you know that at the end of the year Dark Horse will lose the license for any and all new Star Wars fiction/non-fiction. That’s because the new owners of the license, Disney, are moving the production of all such material to their own publisher, Marvel Comics. And I find that to be a very saddening move because Dark Horse has given so many incredible tales over the years and I just can’t see the same being done at Marvel. Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s Star Wars: Legacy II is one of the finest examples of that.
Set in galaxy almost a century and a half after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, this new timeline tells the story of Ania Solo, the distant descendant of Leia and Han as she and her friends make their way in a galaxy very different from the one we know so well. Like any great classic Star Wars story, their first arc Prisoners of the Floating World, involves reluctant heroes, Sith, political drama, high-speed chases, great twists and more. And it helps that the art is so damn cinematic and fun.