"Rattle of Bones"
Roy Thomas-Howard Chaykin
You know what I like? A solid recommendation from a trusted source that turns out just the way said source intended. That's what we have here today, kids. On Twitter, I was remarking a few weeks ago that one of my summer "projects" was to reread some Robert E. Howard Conan tales in prose. My friend Pete Doree, he of The Bronze Age of Blogs fame, recommended reading two of Howard's other famous characters, King Kull and Solomon Kane. But it was Kane Pete enthusiastically pushed. So I set about downloading some REH material to my Kindle, and then prowling around used book sources on the Web to see what I could scare up. Well, what if I told you I came across a copy of the out-of-print The Saga of Solomon Kane reprint volume from Dark Horse? And that due to a mail snafu that delayed delivery almost a month I got it for free? For. Free. That's right...
I've read 2-3 Solomon Kane tales and have enjoyed them. Kane's certainly different from Conan, and the more modern settings - and multiple settings - increase the sense of adventure. But one thing those two REH heroes (and Kull, too, for that matter) share is a sullenness that lives right alongside their sense of justice. All three heroes mete out that justice quickly and decisively. Howard was adept, too, and making the reader think the story was about over and then Waitaminnit! More story. I love it - keeps me on my toes.
As is typical around here, let me give you a brief plot summary and then we'll dive into some analysis of "Rattle of Bones" - one of the Solomon Kane stories I read first in its written form.
Solomon Kane arrived with a traveling companion to a tavern nestled deep in the Black Forest. An ominous-looking caretaker greeted them, and Kane seemed justified in his feelings of uneasiness. After dining, Kane and his “friend” were shown to a room, where they found security lacking. Spying about for a beam with which to seal their door, they discovered the bones of a body in an adjacent chamber. At that point, Kane’s companion attacked him, but was immediately done in by another. Kane now stood face-to-face with the proprietor, whose paranoia and ill-intent now took center stage.The Good: I liked this in both forms - comic and prose. It's funny in a way, because Solomon Kane doesn't really do anything in this story. He shows up, has some suspicions, gets attacked, saved, threatened, and then is witness to the end of the story. In no way does he affect the outcome of the story. But what a story! The plot is exciting, with a few twists and turns to keep the tension high. I enjoyed the setting as well - deep in a forest, not many people around, the tavern... good stuff.
Howard Chaykin's art is perfect for this story. I'm not the biggest fan of Chaykin's work, although I do like it. He just generally does not make any list in my head of favorite creators. To my eye, and pleasure, he's sort of like the Hippocratic Oath - do no harm. But his storytelling here is imaginative - see above: the panel with the reveal of the skeleton is a nice camera angle, and the slight tipping of center adds to the shock of the characters.
I've had a nice enough time reading today's story, as well as the aforementioned short stories, that I'll return to the character at some point.
The Bad: Solomon Kane is a bad man, that's what's bad. I like the character - sort of a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. I've yet to discover his origin story, but he's a fun sort of dark antihero. He's definitely a character whose way you'd like to stay out of - especially if you are of the unsavory variety. Kane holds many of the same characteristics as Conan, but lust is not one of them. Hence, Howard (and Roy Thomas) leave that element from the stories and create tension in other ways.
The Ugly: Apparently this story was created using the Marvel method and either Roy or Howard didn't read the plot synopsis. Check out the first text box on the splash page, and then Chaykin's rendering of the tavern in the succeeding panels. Oops!