Pullbox Reviews Conan: Serpent War- What is best in life? A Moon Knight/Conan/Solomon Kane crossover, that’s what!

Solomon Kane, Dark Agnes, and Conan T. Barbarian created by Robert E. Howard

You said it, fella!

THE WRATH OF THE SERPENT GOD! JAMES ALLISON will soon die. But it’s not his first death. He’s lived many lives, in many places – lives he can recall in vivid detail. But when an Elder God called the WYRM reaches across time to James, an ages-spanning quest begins! The serpent god SET plans to usher in an eternity of darkness, and only the chosen warriors across time and space have a hope of stopping him: CONAN THE BARBARIAN, SOLOMON KANE, DARK AGNES, and the man known as MOON KNIGHT!

Cross Plains, Texas. 1936

James Allison lies in his deathbed, fever dreams showing him the many lives he’s lived over the course of the centuries. His clearest vision shows him as Niord, a mighty warrior and cunning hunter, leading his tribe through perilous lands.

Westchester, New York. Current time.

Marc Spector dreams of when he was first called to the service of Khonshu. He wakes to find a vision of the Egyptian god hovering in his room, summoning him to serve once more.

Dunbar Castle, Northumberland. 1584

Solomon Kane investigates rumors of a great evil. Sixteen villagers have been killed, and all trails lead to a seemingly abandoned castle. The devout Puritan intends to root out the forces of darkness where they live rather than allow them to see another day under God’s sky.

Poitou-Charentes, France. 1522

Set upon by assassins, the swordswoman known as Dark Agnes and her companion Etienne fight for their lives. When the melee ends, Agnes’s enemies lie dead but with Etienne badly injured. Seeking aid and shelter in a nearby village, they find more enemies lying in wait.

Village of Mona, near the Karpash Mountains. An age undreamed of.

Waking up after a particularly intense revel, a certain youthful barbarian of chiseled visage, destined to trod the kingdoms of the world beneath his sandaled feet and wear a crown upon a troubled brow, is troubled by strange visions. Seemingly trapped in a waking fever dream, Conan seeks respite from enemies past.

Four very different warriors from for different times. What power could bring them together? What force would it take to unite them under a common cause? Who is behind the visions of James Allison, beckoning him to call out to these heroes across time?

Marvel Comics and Jim friggin Zub, that’s who!

I know, I know… Marvel hardly falls under the indie publisher umbrella we work to maintain here at thePullbox, but every now and then you just gotta break the rules. When writer Jim Zub is handed a crossover that goes beyond time and space to team Moon Knight with the heroic creations of Robert E.  Howard, those rules go right out the window.

Ever since friend and fellow Pullboxer Andy more or less shoved a copy of Skullkickers into my hands and ordered, “Don’t talk, just read it!” Jim Zub has been one of the writers I’ll pick up without really paying attention to what kind of story it is that he’s writing. I’m not sure where the guy finds the time, as he’s currently working on projects for IDW (Rick & Morty vs Dungeons and Dragons 2, and Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides), and Marvel (Agents of Wakanda) as well as tackling D&D source material for Wizards of the Coast. You’d think that a person would be ready for something involving a little less heavy lifting, but instead Zub goes all in to unite as crazy a selection of fictional heroes and anit-heroes as will ever be found on the page. He manages it, and I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised. If you haven’t read it, check out Skullkickers. It’s a great tongue in cheek fantasy series that starts out playing it pretty loose and wild, seeming to poke fun at every fantasy trope and archetype you can think of, but then turns into a ridiculously complex ride that dives into literary tropes in general and culminates in the brawl to literally (and literarily) end all brawls.

The artwork, being shared by a full coterie of talent, bounces between sequences of the dying James Allison and the warriors being gathered for the coming battle. Vanesa R. Del Rey is handling the Allison segments, and they are haunting. Del Rey creates some of the most unearthly scenes I’ve seen in a comicbook, showing James on his deathbed as he flashes back over his many incarnations. Some of her panels gave me some uneasy feels as they played on one of my personal phobias… and no, I’m not gonna tell you what that may be. Read the book.

The rest of the story, the gathering of our motley band of antagonistic protagonists, is rendered by Scot Eaton. In short, his work reminded me a lot of the old Conan & Red Sonja comics from Marvel back in the 80’s. I see a lot of Buscema & Romita Sr. in his style, and given the subject matter he’s working with that’s totally fitting and right. Eaton has a great eye for composing some dramatic scenes on the page, giving a sense of tension where needed. Some of the action scenes seemed a little bit crowded (after reading Zub’s script and seeing how much he was asking for in every panel, I can’t be surprised), making it a little tougher to pick out what was happening in places, and the perspective looked a little bit off to me in a couple shots. Specifically with the weapons, it almost looked like a scene was penciled and then the weapon was Photoshopped in. Most of the time it worked well, but every now and then it looked like a character was holding his/her sword/flintlock pistol just a bit awkwardly or it didn’t quite fit the pose (a rapier is a finesse weapon, not versatile, and shouldn’t be swung two-handed).

On the colors, the team couldn’t have been firing on any more cylinders than they are for Serpent War… Del Rey’s scenes dealing with Allison’s nightmarish flashbacks are just hazy enough to be off-putting (took me a second to realize that I didn’t need to clean my glasses). Meanwhile the rest of the book benefitted from sharp lines and stark contrasts, laid down by Frank D’Armata. The shifts in style worked across the board, lending each scene the appropriate sense of clarity (or lack of), and easing a reader through the changes in perspective. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if D’Armata handled all of the colors across the board, or if he was just working with Scot Eaton’s lines. In either case, it was an outstanding job, regardless of who was wielding the proverbial crayon at the time, and there’s plenty of credit to go around.

Another pretty cool feature was found in the “director’s cut” of the issue I got through ComiXology. It included full artistic breakdowns, from pencils to inks to colors, for the entire book. Also, Jim Zub’s script was on display for all to see, and it gave pretty sweet insights into some of his creative choices. For instance he asked for an Easter Egg to be included in the book by using Robert E. Howard’s home as the visual reference for James Allison’s house. Sure, everyone may not be as excited by behind the scenes reveals like that, but I thought it was a pretty slick addition.

Given that this issue is dedicated to establishing the who, what and how, without ever really filling in the why, there’s still a lot waiting to be revealed. I’ll be following along, and looking forward to seeing how these characters interact… I’ve been a fan of them all over the years, having read much of Robert E. Howard’s work in my youth, and being a fan of Moon Knight since the Marc Spector, Fist of Khonshu miniseries.

Yeah… this one was a pretty easy sell.

Final Score: 10

Alternate cover by Neal Adams
Alternate cover by Inhyuk Lee
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