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.
Magic the Gathering Prereleases for me are always an awesome and fun experience. I haven’t attended as many as I would like ever since I started playing, only 3 not counting this past weekend, and I have fond memories of all of them. Opening the first packs of a new set, the anticipation of pulling a cool new card, building your sealed deck, figuring out all the synergies you have at hand, and then battling it out against your opponents. More than Drafts, I really enjoy playing Sealed, and the Prereleases are the best time to be playing Sealed I feel.
This past weekend, I was really fortunate to attend two Prereleases after a really long time, not since Fate Reforged Prerelease actually, and I had a ton of fun. I attended the midnight session at the LGS closest to my home since the group meets in my building complex, and then the following day I went to the big LGS about 10 minutes drive-away, and both sessions were great. The anticipation of pulling Zendikar Expeditions, not to mention several of the cool rares and mythics, it was good this time, and it delivered as well, which was certainly great!
A couple days ago I talked about how I would update my existing Abzan Aggro to fit the new Standard format once Battle For Zendikar releases on October 2nd, just about 10 days or so away. I’ve been playing the archetype since I got into Magic last October, almost a year now, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it. But, I also like to play other decks, and in the last several months I’ve experimented with archetypes like Sultai Midrange, UW/Jeskai Heroic and also GW ORB, the latter of which is a GW aggro deck utilizing the Outlast, Renown and Bolster mechanics from the Khans of Tarkir block and Magic Origins.
With the new post-rotation format however, I want to experiment with something a bit different, such as Naya Aggro. I’m a GW player at heart, so branching out to other colours such as red or blue isn’t so comfortable for me, but with the spoiling of certain cards from Battle For Zendikar, red is looking very appealing on several different levels. Gideon’s Reproach, Scythe Leopard, Outnumber, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and the new fetchable dual lands are a great reason to branch out I think and that Naya provides a really nice shell for these and other existing cards that fit into this archetype.
On October 2nd, Battle For Zendikar will be released in the wild, and we will all then be experimenting with the new Standard Format, trying to come up with the best new brew to take down a tournament, whether at a competitive level or even just for casual play at local stores. One of the decks in the last year that has proven to be a major contender at both levels of play with incredibly consistent results is Abzan Aggro, which became a force with the release of Khans of Tarkir and with the help of cards such as Anafenza, the Foremost and Siege Rhino, the latter of which has truly changed the Standard format in a short time and has also made inroads into Modern.
With every new set release, the first thing people do is look at updating existing deck archetypes. With Theros, Born of the Gods, Journey Into Nyx and Magic 2015 going out of Standard in 10 days, Abzan decks are losing quite a few toys such as the Scrylands, Fleecemane Lion and Thoughtseize. It is a big change of course, and with all the new fancy things we are getting in Battle For Zendikar, here’s my take on how a new Abzan Aggro deck would look like for the first few wees, until someone breaks out a radical list at the upcoming Pro Tour or a Star City Games Open or a Grand Prix.
DC’s Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman got off to a really great start last year, but somewhere along the way, it kind of lost its momentum with some really odd stories that seemed to be shoehorned in, for no reason at all. And that’s kind of why I felt turned off from the experience of reading the comics, and even writing the reviews, because I didn’t want to review what I saw as less-than-expected. There were some good stories in the middle, sure, but mostly, it was all just rather boring.
Thankfully, issues #33 through #35 provide something of a revival in that respect. Some of the recent stories have been really good, and I think that it is this arc, Vendetta, that puts it all into perspective. Written by Josh Elder, this arc is all about a fateful encounter between Diana and Ares, set against the backdrop of a racial civil war in a war-torn African country. It feels simplistic at first, but it has a great message, and that’s the true value of it. The art by Jamal Igle, Juan Castro, Wendy Broome and Deron Bennett is also fairly decent, though it could use some improvements.
It has been a good long while since we’ve had a Death Vigil release. Stjepan Sejic ended the sixth issue on a very grim note, with events heading completely downhill for the Vigil, especially Bernie, and it was a really, really bleak moment for the entire crew, especially once there was a betrayal from within. It was a grim story, but at the same time, a lot of Stjepan’s comic timing really made its presence felt as well, and that kept me chugging along. And it kept me foaming at the mouth for the next release, which was unfortunately delayed until recently.
Some personal problems for Stjepan meant that we didn’t get Death Vigil #7 until last week, and that too through his own blog rather than through the regular distribution. I won’t go into the specifics as they are kind of irrelevant to matters at hand, but suffice to say that the new issue is well worth the long wait since mid-January. Stjepan launches straight into the story and picks up the beats from where he left off, and the new issue proves to be one hell of a ride, keeping up a fine tradition that began in Death Vigil #1 last year.
Jim Zub and Steve Cummings’ Wayward from Image has been one of the best new titles I’ve read in the last year or so. The series hit the ground running back in August, and seemed to kick all sorts of ass as it progressed through to the conclusion of its first arc. And that final arc was certainly quite explosive too, in more ways than one, and it was also an unexpected one. Jim Zub took some pretty big chances with that finale, and I think it served the series well, and of course the art by Steve & Co has been up to showing off those chances in as great a light as possible.
Issues 6 & 7 of Wayward start off a new storyline with a new central character. This time we get to spend some time with Rori’s classmate Ohara Emi who develops some powers of her own and ends up hooking up with Ayane and Nikaido, who have become… freelancers of sorts. Following the end of Wayward #5 they have been taking the fight to the demons as best as they can, and Emi’s journey as part of their team really helps shine a light on the new direction that the series is taking, and that’s pretty darn great too!
There haven’t been any “Comics Picks of the Week” articles for a while, and the major reason for that is because I’ve just been too caught up with other stuff and I just can’t be… well bothered. It just takes too much out of my time to keep these titles going, especially when Wednesdays also see me trying to get through two TV shows and doing reviews for them. Though, that situation has kind of abated now.
Anyway, this week’s surprise hits were Batman: Arkham Knight #2 and Gotham Central Book 1 from DC. It was a relatively small week for me since I didn’t read all that many new titles and most of those were middling. Ongoing greats were Django/Zorro #4, John Carter: Warlord of Mars #4, Fantastic Four #643 , Inhuman #12, Aquaman #39 , Catwoman #39 , and He-Man: The Eternity War #3 among others .
As I have said before, my “25 Series To Read In 201x” reading challenge is meant to allow me to touch base with trilogies (and longer series) that are out in publication currently and have proven to be big successes while also going back to read some classics, especially a few favourites that I have not revisited in the longest time. For this year’s challenge, one of the series that found its way to my list is the Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, a trilogy that stands as one of the best fantasy series I’ve read to date, for far too many reasons. And going back to it last month proved to be a blast.
The Empire trilogy is set on the world of Kelewan in the Empire of Tsuranuanni. In his Riftwar Saga trilogy, Raymond introduced us to the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan which became locked in a grand war across time and space. In this particular trilogy with Janny, he tells us of the events happening on the other side of the conflict, as the Riftwar novels mostly focus on Midkemia. The books focus on young Mara of the Acoma, the last scion of her family as she struggles to rebuild her family’s fortunes and carves out her own political identity in a world of strict social mores and ruthlessly cunning rivals.