Friday, July 10, 2009

Fresh Lobster With a Side of Barbarian

Looking for a symbolic creature to take on as persona, one that will strike fear into the evil and corrupt? A bat or spider, perhaps? A shadow? How about a lobster? I went on and on about the pulps, comicdom’s gritty, hero-packed progenitors, a few months ago (here to be exact). I mentioned, among other things, Lobster Johnson, a character who originally appeared in the pages of Hellboy and, though he never actually existed in the time of the pulps (the 1920s-early 1940s), captures the spirit of that era and brand of adventure with more panache than anything since the originals.

The homage is expanded with Lobster Johnson: the Satan Factory (by Sniegoski), a paperback adventure in prose made to read like a yarn lifted right out of an ancient, dog-eared original. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I have not read the whole book yet (it hits the bookstore shelves July 22nd). However, there is a generous 30 page preview at the Dark Horse website, and I have read that and I was so excited I couldn't hold back. We see Dr. Jonas Chapel's fall into the world of crime and the supernatural, and a chapter with a James Bond-style pre-credits sequence as the Lobster engages in combat with a distinctly unpleasant gorilla (this guy fights gorillas quite a bit, actually). So the stage is set for a clash between the mysterious crime fighter and the doctor gone wrong. I've read a lot of pulps in my day and, with its dark and moody settings and fast-paced action, rings with authenticity like the echoing roar of a .45.

Speaking of pulp characters, you couldn’t find a more quintessential example of the breed than Conan the Barbarian. From Robert E. Howard’s original, massively atmospheric adventures to Frank Frazetta’s latter day visuals drenched in menace and masculinity, sword and sorcery owes the character as a great a debt a
s it does the hobbits and Elves of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The adventures were never better re-interpreted than in Marvel’s original 1970’s Conan series which, of late, have been collected by Dark Horse in their the Chronicles of Conan series. Take Volume 7 (by Thomas and Buscema) for example. It’s packed with double-crossing sorcerers, wicked sword fights, voluptuous, fiery female companions (perhaps the very archetype of these: Red Sonja) and most importantly, the grim-eyed, iron-thewed, barbarian anti-hero with the indomitable will. Best moment in a collection of nine issues filled with good moments: a toss up between Conan’s underwater battle with an ancient, tentacled monstrosity right out of Lovecraft (Howard’s good pen pal, as it happened) and Conan’s escape after being tied down nearly naked to be gnawed on by an army of rats. Whatever your taste in barbarian action, this is the ideal book to top off your foray into the frenzied, sinister world of pulp.


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