Tag Archives: Kull of Atlantis

The Shadow Kingdom

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Kull, Volume 1: The Shadow Kingdom [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Arvid Nelson, Will Conrad, José Villarrubia, & al, foreword Mark Finn.

Nelson Conrad Villarrubia Howard Kull of Atlantis The Shadow Kingdom

Arvid Nelson returns to the original Robert E. Howard stories to build a 21st-century Kull comic that far outshines its 1970s Marvel predecessor. Certainly, Will Conrad’s art benefits from the improvements in comics production: full-process color and finer printing throughout, with compositions planned for glossy white pages instead of newsprint. But writer Nelson does an altogether better job of adapting the seminal REH piece “The Shadow Kingdom.” A few examples: Nelson adds an artful scene in the Room of Kings in the Tower of Splendor, both to provide background for the later appearance of King Eallal’s ghost, and to serve as a setting to articulate the “Kull … the fool!” mutterings which are here ambiguously attributable to Kull’s animated conscience (as in the REH original) or to lurking serpent priests. Also, where the Marvel writers chose to interpret the REH statement that Kull “had never known … the love of women” by simply avoiding any attention to Kull’s sexual consciousness, Nelson chooses the more sophisticated approach of representing the king in a frosty political marriage. Finally, this newer version returns to Kull’s companion Brule a critical pronouncement during the climactic confrontation with a mass of monsters disguised as the king’s councilors.

The distinctive facial scar that characterized the Marvel Kull is abandoned here, but several panels show Kull’s massively scarred back — no doubt a legacy of his widely-rumored time as a galley slave. The Pict warrior Brule really looks fierce in these comics, while he often looked somewhat silly in the old Marvel numbers. Likewise, Conrad captures the joviality of the Pictish ambassador Ka-nu much better than the Severins ever did. The Serpent Men are altogether more inhuman and menacing, and Valusia itself seems more monumental and ancient than it did in the rather medieval Marvel vision. There is plenty of gore, in keeping with the spirit of the REH original, and an appropriately dark tone pervades the stories. 

The new version of “The Shadow Kingdom” forms the central bulk of this volume, complemented by a warm-up “The Iron Fortress” and the epilogue “The Eye of Terror.” My only complaint about the adaptation was that the very last panel of “The Shadow Kingdom” proper (less than an eighth of the page at the lower right) was a mildly humorous undercutting of the heavy finish of this somber tale. Even so, it did “work” narratively in the larger plot frame that Nelson had constructed in order to expand on Howard’s original.

REH scholar Mark Finn provides a foreword here, as he does for the Dark Horse reprint of the early Marvel Kull stories. But where he focuses on the comics in the Marvel case, this essay is really trained on Howard and the genesis of the Kull character. Likewise, a concluding essay by Nelson reflects on the character and his relationship to the better-known and more “successful” Conan, explaining distinctions between them and his preference for the former.

A King Comes Riding and Other Stories

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Chronicles of Kull: A King Comes Riding and Other Stories [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher, Local Library] by Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, John Jakes, & al., based on Kull of Atlantis of Robert E Howard, volume 1 of the The Chronicles of Kull series.

Howard Thomas The Chronicles of Kull Atlantis A King Comes Riding and Other Stories

This trade paper comics volume collects the earliest Marvel comics featuring Robert E. Howard’s Kull of Atlantis, from the early 1970s. It’s a very full book, containing about ten individual comics worth of material. 

Kull is king of Valusia in the pre-Hyborian age of the far antiquity of Howard’s imagination. In these stories (some of them based on REH originals), he is continually subjected to court intrigues, sorcerous impersonations, assassination attempts, and the like. The narrative tone is dark, verging on paranoid. 

The art, meanwhile, though often providing moments of violence, tends toward light. Marie Severin’s four-color treatments would look better on old-fashioned newsprint, but they come out jarringly bright on the glossy white stock of this reprint volume. The visual design of Valusia is not so exotic (as Mark Finn points out in the foreword). Instead, it has a decidedly medieval European look, crossing the blood-and-guts REH concept with something of the style of Prince Valiant. Kull’s costuming varies quite a bit; he often runs about in what appears to be little more than briefs, owing perhaps to his barbarian origins.

While most of the inhabitants of his kingdom seem to be unreliable if not inimical, Kull’s best pal — the only other character for whom he shows actual affection, in fact — is Brule, who is a Pict and thus a hereditary enemy of the Atlantean savage Kull, though he plays the Robin to King Kull’s Batman. Not only does the lead character show a surprising shortage of libido (if we discount lust for battle), there aren’t many women in evidence in these stories at all. The few who do appear are inevitably high-born, and serving as pawns in a larger game. 

On the whole, these pieces from the first heyday of sword and sorcery color comics aren’t awful, but they do show their age.