Recently I picked up #4 of Dark Horse Comics’ Kull. Robert E. Howard’s very first heroic character, Kull is a refugee from Atlantis turned galley slave, corsair, gladiator and king. Residing in the same world as Conan and Red Sonja (though in an earlier age) Kull rules the nation of Valusia through brawn and cunning.
#1-6 of Dark Horse’s series consists of a retelling of The Shadow Kingdom, one of only two Kull stories to be published in Howard’s lifetime. Upon taking over Valusia, Kull realizes his new city is swarming with disguised serpent-men — paranoia, skullduggery and swordplay ensue.
(For parents considering letting their kids read this comic, I’d rate it PG for typical comic book carnage and sexy princesses wearing next to nothing.)
The comics are quick-paced and bold, as well as bloody but not excessively so. The art is beautiful and dramatic and the story is clear and understandable. Dark Horse peppers the narrative with hints at compelling back stories that hopefully will be explored. I liked the comic immediately, and went back for #5 and #6 in the store and bought the first three off eBay. When I finally sat down and read all six end-to-end, I realized my first impression was right — King Kull consists of pure awesomeness.
First of all, the title character rocks. He’s as daring and heroic as any self-made king ought to be. Kull shows different qualities than Conan — he’s also a mighty warrior, of course, but he’s more cerebral and less impulsive. He comes across like a warrior forcing himself to behave like a monarch. Even so, his advisor Tu is always nagging him to take less risks.
However, my favorite character is Brule the Spear-Slayer, an agent of the Pictish ambassador. Interestingly, while Howard imagined the Picts to be a race of savage pre-Scottish barbarians, this comic depicts them as being more African in appearance and fairly civilized. Brule is nearly as tough as Kull, and much more sneaky as well as completely lacking the kingly skills of discretion and responsibility that Kull is trying to manage. And though the Pict-hating Kull isn’t willing to admit that he and Brule are more than mere allies, it’s obvious that Brule is one of thew people Kull trusts.
In addition to Kull and Brule, there are some fantastic minor characters like Ka-Nu, the portly and cunning Pict ambassador, Kull’s oft-neglected queen, as well as the aforementioned advisor Tu, who desperately tries to make Kull act like a king.
Beyond the characters, the writer and artists simply did a great job of evoking the unique Robert E. Howard feel. Anyone who’s read the original Howard books knows it at once — such tepid flicks as Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja, not to mention the Kevin Sorbo Kull the Conquerer movie — lacked it, but the Marvel Conan comics of the’70s and ’80s, as well as Dark Horse’s Howard properties, have it in spades.
Awesome, awesome, awesome.
But with #6, it’s done. Dark Horse has only created a run of 6 Kull comics. But… but… but… will the story continue? It’s gotta. These 6-book runs happen all the time, and often lead into a longer series if the first run sells well. I’d definitely recommend anyone interested in Howard’s works to check out the comics, and for those unable to scrape up the individual issues, check out the graphic novel, Kull Volume 1: The Shadow Kingdom which is available for pre-order on Amazon.