Friday, May 25, 2007

Cyb(e)orian Age...?

Once upon a time, Conan was real literature...
Along with Kull, Kane and others, Conan was the brainchild of Robert E. Howard (in much the same therapeutic way that saw, say, Ian Fleming beget James Bond, Blofeld and 1001 Bond Girls...)

Then, a new/old medium saw it as its duty to pillage that property - and add to it... a lot. Granted, it eventually reached new heights for a different medium and became a personal favorite of mine (under the penmanship of Roy Thomas and the art skills of John Buscema, for the most part) - still, it was not the same thing as the original tales committed to paper by R.E.Howard himself.

Fortunately, Marvel "Entertainment" lost its license and decided not to renew (being bankrupt most of the time, these days, anyway) and thus the (so-called) creative pilfering was halted - by mere economics. However, now, another company (creatively bankrupt themselves) has picked it up - Dark Horse. And so the wretched process starts anew...

Dark Horse was once vying to be all-original and a true "number 3" to the Big Two, roughly two decades ago, that is. They had "plans" - they created a whole lot of new characters and series, all with the objective of competing with their bigger competitors (DC & Marvel) and cutting for themselves a piece of their pie... Said pie has been getting smaller and smaller with each passing year, though, and so Dark Horse got cold feet and went for only "sure values" - a strict "licensed properties development only" program was enforced and this strict program endures to this very day. Gone forever were their "all-new, all-original creations" such as Titan, Ghost, The Vortex, CATALYST: Agents of Change, the unforgettable "Hero Zero" (sic) as well as "X" and even Barb Wire, who did get the movie adaptation treatment so early in life, thanks to Pamela Anderson, something even the classic Barbarella could not accomplish. The movie bombed though and Pamela went on to voice the cartoon (spoof) "Stripperella" instead of making sequel after sequel with her new "franchise role" there; quite ironically - but that is another story and probably too much information, also! So, in short, gone was the "DH Universe" so soon after being born (it was still-born or downright aborted, you could say) and in came a plethora of known properties -some outrageously well-known, in fact- like Star Wars, Alien, Predator and... Conan, eventually.

And the pillaging of the Hyborian Age started anew indeed.

Inspiration and, allegedly, entire tales from the fictional era in which Conan trode the Earth came to R.E.Howard in dream... (Whereas Ian Fleming merely committed to paper his many fantasies and daydreams, at the bequest of his psychanalyst - see the difference in methodology? But that is another story also...)
All that the scribes who have been commissioned to continue the scavenging of our dear barbarian's era since 1970 have done, so very consciously on their part and even meticulously, has been done, it appears, to effectively siphon every last quick-buck opportunity the now-recognized name of "Conan" can bring to their bosses... For Conan has quickly become as saleable as Tarzan himself - and, to be truthful, the King of the Jungle has completely lost his appeal nowadays, while Conan still has some mileage in him... Not much, mind you - but some!

Thus, with all that in mind, Dark Horse has commissioned the likes of veteran scribes Tim Truman and Kurt Busiek to work on this latest wave of pillaging. Truman was no longer able to make his own character, Scout, saleable in today's market. A warrior shaman - not cool stuff nowadays, nope.
(Dark Horse surely wouldn't go for it! An original character - that is against company policy, remember? Well, it is now, after the pathetic failures of all of their ''original characters'' there...!)
Hence, Truman was "transfered over" to this project, where his skills can be used potentially to far greater PROFIT, really... (Never mind the "art" part...)
This is the exact same reason why the likes of Alan Davis, prodigious artist and scribe in his own right, cannot do some AQUAMAN or even his own babies, THE CLAN DESTINE, when he wants to work for either DC or Marvel - either company would rather assign to him something they deem to be a "surefire, can't miss project." And that is either an umpteenth boring Batman book or something very inconsequential and repetitive, with either Wolverine or Spider-Man in it... But I am digressing.

Hence, Tim Truman was "plugged" into the Conan project - by force really.
However, we can immediately see that he brought a lot of Scout to his Conan - the arrows in the back are sooooo Native American...! And as for Busiek; his own characters being all down in the gutter or six feet under (Archer & Armstrong, Samaritan, The Liberty Project, Hawkeye) working on licensed properties like Conan seems like the way to go for him, too... He was even hired mercenary-style (Have Quill, Will Travel?) to turn AQUAMAN into a Conan type all over again; but he wound up, quite inexplicably too, abandoning his "Sword of Atlantis" ship way too early... Just as well, I'd say, but I'd be digressing again!
Busiek left Aquaman high and dry, allegedly due to company policy too (...)
But not before restrengthening the ties between the characters of Conan and Aquaman though...! But that, too, is another story...

Elsewhere, Conan clones are resurfacing as well, as if to signal a "renaissance of the sword & sorcery subgenre" - of sorts! But the fiery Red Sonja is seen teaming up with CLAW The Unconquered nowadays, since she split with Conan due to the fact that they have DIFFERENT PUBLISHERS now! (What - you thought it was because of that looooong tryst Conan had with the Queen of the Black Coast, that feisty brunette named Bélit? Sonja couldn't have cared less - Conan is not her type! *LOL* No; the Conan-Red Sonja split is something akin to the 1970s split of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, when the latter found herself on another network too - mere business, nothing personal...!)

Mercifully, the resurgent CLAW has beefed up some since he was last seen in the 1970s himself - that is, back when he was drawn by one Keith Giffen (the antithesis to John Buscema for this sort of art style, aye... Giffen's style is not much for super-heroics either - really, he should stick to his two pet creations instead: The Heckler and Ambush Bug!)
DC has ressuscitated The Warlord also, in the wake of all this burstling barbaric activity - and how long will it be before we see again the likes of Arak, Son of Thunder and either Stalker, Tor, Anthro or Gnaark...?!?
Maybe I exaggerate just a tad there... :!

Not sure what Marvel's got to counter all this with - probably deevolving Thor will do it? (Thor should team up with Astérix! They like the same type of head gear; and besides, if Superman met an Astérix clone more than once -in the dreaded Cary Bates years; and I don't mean the character named "Valdemar" specifically- surely the fake god of thunder could, also... I mean, the Norse god Thor could hang with the Gauls for a while too! It would make more sense than seeing him hang out with the misleadingly-named Avengers again! (He is not wanted at Avengers Mansion anymore anyhow - not since he lost his match with Superman!) What's more, with all these films and video games (Beowulf... 10,000 BC... to name but two) making some noise now, this genre is on the rise indeed. Nothing less than "Thor & The Gauls" could make Thor SELL again, anyway! He is dead meat these days, otherwise. Of course, this sort of sad state can quickly be reversed in these volatile times that we live in - but that is another story too...)

Personally, I'd like to see a return of the little-remembered SKULL THE SLAYER - but that's just me; and I am NOT a "Marvel Zombie"... (Meaning that, even if you'd bring it back, Marvel, I wouldn't be buying it! I am merely nostalgic about the *STS* that I remember from yesteryear... Equal parts Snake Plissken and Machiste! Quite a guy - even had a bit of Nick Fury or Sgt Rock in there, didn't he? An AMALGAM hero before his time! A trendsetter, hence... I am sure a new book would fail to recapture all that flavor, all those nuances, though - unless I am at the helm of it! Yes, I can easily see myself WRITING IT; although I am not holding my breath FOR THAT! I just couldn't, see; it would be suicidal to the dumbest degree! Marvel is not going to make me a contractual offer - not when they look exclusively towards over-the-hill Hollywood pencil-pushers, no...! That is Joe Quesada's policy - and he is that company, embodied and distorted, like it or not! Some "house of ideas" it is now... But back to the actual topic of this piece here: barbarians back in vogue!)

Marvel is considering lots of heroes of this ilk - if not Skull The Slayer himself.

All this activity has clearly stemmed out of the success those film adaptations of Tolkien's classic epic tale garnered for both themselves and this genre overall.
L.O.T.R. is an EXCEPTION though - don't they see that?
Just like STAR WARS did not guarantee success for ALL of its imitators and derivatives; likewise, releasing the umpteenth "saga" of a sword-swinging fearless warrior in a savage era and equally untamed setting is NOT a guarantee of instant impact upon an audience who has already seen it all in this field...

Besides, truth be told, my favorite of the Robert E. Howard brutes would have to be Solomon Kane - he, at least, had one saving grace: his faith! All the others did not even have that lone trait of character to be salvaged with...!  But I'm on my preacher binge now, all of a sudden...?

He sucked in his comic-book adaptations, though. How deplorable. 
And it is no secret that comic-bookies are sucking royally all over the place, these days...

You might as well give them ALL away for free, guys - for comic-books are rapidly becoming obsolete. I'm surprised trading cards are so safe as they are...! Must be due to that oddest of things called gaming...! Most collectibles are going by the wayside though - to the profit of multi-media sensations! Fanboys want to have ALL of their senses overwhelmed, and not necessarily be "stuck" in a genre or subgenre...! Nor be stuck with their collections afterwards either... We live in a society of consuming and throwing it right away afterwards!

And I understand them!
(Seems like I do better than you guys can, anyway!)

I always wanted my entertainment to be as unbound and limitless as my imagination is. And, NOW, the technology is available to make it so!
(Heck, I build my BLOGS so that they cover all the gaps - something to read, to listen to, to watch... If I could, I'd add scratch-and-sniff "SENSE-O-RAMA" technology, so that you could smell the roses too, pals! *LOL*)  

And tmy audience won't be stuck with my little gems - as long as they pay the admission fee, they can just watch them, not touch them, and leave afterwards! My little gems remain MINE! But we're getting side-tracked now...

What I'm getting at here is that it just makes no sense to give them "less" - when they want MORE!
"Less is more," only in some very precise and particular cases, dudes!
Minimalism and "low-key" can be artistic statements as well; but writing a tale of significance will always have more impact.
And you can have your moralistic lessons AND big extravaganza too - both at the same time, absolutely! But all this has to be delivered with the MAXIMUM impact, in this day and age; the days of so-so tales printed on cheap paper are long gone now! Just understand what I am talking about here; it is not of "foil-embossed glow-in-the-dark holographic covers" that I speak of!
You tried that trick years ago, way too many times, and all it did is sink the overall comic-book industry further more!

No, really - all I see as a solution for this sorry situation the entire industry is mired in, is a migration to another medium.
"Web comics" and their like - that is the future for this struggling business.
And for the traditionalist - a printed version, for a limited time? 

Print-On-Demand - only?
Likely free of charge - after *that* many paid downloads?
Now there's a business plan that could work!
Let EVERY DAY -potentially- be FREE COMIC-BOOK DAY!
And then and only then every hour, planet-wide, there can be a "webcomic" sold!

But make it a story worth telling - not just something about a lumbering barbarian who fights off an army of rugged troglodytes for the umpteenth unbelievable time - FOR NO GOOD REASON AT ALL, AT THAT!

Now, then, for the CONTENT of these things -
you need to stop pillaging other works (that's Tinseltown's thing!) and begin to TRULY exploit the limitless qualities of this medium - which are UNIQUE to it, pretty much!

So very few have ever truly done that - Moebius... Steve Skeates... Jack Kirby... to name but a few names that readily pop into my head...!
And even they were held back by the P-T-Bs...

But that is another story as well.



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