Conan: The Phenomenon from Dark Horse is a treasure trove of all things Conan, and once you’ve finished the book, you will feel like a regular “Howard Head” or Conan scholar, and believe me, both of these titles exist. The author, Paul Sammon, considers himself a “Howard Head,” which is someone who has a deep affection, connection, and respect for Conan creator Robert E. Howard and for his original Conan stories, of which it turns out there were only twenty-one, which included one serialized novel. Seventeen of these stories first appeared in the popular pulp magazine Weird Tales from 1932-1936, and Howard only ever saw his work, from Conan and Solomon Kane to his lesser-known western stories appear in the pulps, as he committed suicide on June 11, 1936, at the age of thirty. Indeed, I knew next to nothing about Conan’s creator, and Sammon sheds an amazing amount of light and pathos on the troubled life and mind of Robert E. Howard, affectionately known as REH by his admirers.
Welcome to the world of Smoke/Ashes, two series, separated by eight years in real time and five years in story time, that comprise of writer and creator Alex de Campi’s comics masterwork, being released by Dark Horse in one glorious, gorgeous package. Don’t know who Alex de Campi is? I didn’t either, but, thankfully, writer Kieron Gillen provides a background on de Campi in his foreword, while also prepping us for the scope of her storytelling. Smoke tells the story of British secret agent turned government assassin Rupert Cain and on-the-cusp journalist Katie Shah and their involvement with the highest echelons of power in Britain, both secret and known. Smoke reveals itself in layers, and pulls you down into a maze of past, present, and future, where everything becomes so much more intricate and complex than it at first seems, and that is the beauty of de Campi’s writing.
If you are just now joining Dark Horse’s Dream Thief with this issue, then you have missed out on four previous and superb issues. But, if you have been following this great, new series from the beginning, then you are ready to see some events come to a head in issue #5, the last in the miniseries . . . or is it? In this final issue, some mysteries come into the light, while others still remain cloaked in darkness, and this is probably the most John Lincoln has been himself in quite a while, though that self has changed dramatically from when we first met him.
Prepare yourself for a bizarre, intellectual, violent, comical, absurd, and surreal trip into the eighties and nineties' burgeoning mindscape of two comics revolutionaries in Dark Horse’s hardcover collection The Best of Milligan & McCarthy. Those initial adjectives only scratch the surface of the enigmatic creativity, subversive chicanery, and working-class empathy that are found in the early work of writer Peter Milligan and artist Brendan McCarthy. Both Brits, their writing, story, and art styles combine to create many a comic the likes of which I had never experienced before. For me, the closest I had come to this kind of cerebral complexity and aloofness in structure was in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, and so this was a trip into the unknown for me, a step off a cliff into sheer, unadulterated imagination and artistic freedom. At over 200 pages, I was sucked into the mind-bending, heady world of Milligan and McCarthy’s creations, living amongst the pages of these concepts, characters, and comics from the early eighties and nineties, and my mind was blown open more than once, both by the creators’ innate grasp of surrealism and absurdity, and the pure versatility in their abilities.
Psychic battles, mysterious assailants and motives, and an all-knowing, jerk hero named Matt Price. This is the first issue of Brain Boy, a revamping of a six-issue comic from 1962 called – you guessed it – Brain Boy, and it delivers a funny, action-packed wallop straight to your cerebral cortex. The truth of it is, you immediately like, don’t like, and want to be Matt Price, the psychic mind reader who has it all, or so it seems. When anyone’s mind is your oyster, things come easily, and coasting through life is a breeze. Even if you’re a super-secret agent for the United States Secret Service, as Price is, on loan from Albright Industries’ Bio-vancement Division, for his talents and expertise in being able to see what is inside the mind’s eye, with or without your knowledge or consent.
The Halloween Legion: The Great Goblin Invasion is an entertaining all-ages book from Dark Horse and Sequential Pulp Comics that combines humor, horror, and science fiction into a story that relates a positive message for kids with hints of nostalgia for adults, all presented with just the right amount of subtle melancholy. The Halloween Legion, created by Martin Powell and Diana Leto, is comprised of classic Halloween characters – The Skeleton, The Devil, The Witch, and The Ghost, but each is unique, and there is a rich, emotional depth to their characters and their relationships. They may be the “World’s Weirdest Heroes,” but they are also friends, brought together by their powers, their desire to help people, and the fact that they don’t quite fit into regular society.
G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files is the newest title in IDW’s impressive line of G.I. Joe comics. Written by Mike Costa and with art by Antonio Fuso, both of whom have worked with the Joes before, Cobra Files centers on an elite team of Joes tasked with hunting down and eliminating Cobra-centric schemes and individuals, a high-risk undertaking, indeed. An integral part of this team is Chameleon, once a Cobra agent who has defected to the other side. Her history is relayed quickly and efficiently, so as to bring any readers up to speed who haven’t been closely following the G.I. Joe comics, which included me. There are various characters and information that come from earlier stories in other recent Joe comics, but there is enough explanation that you get the picture, and the story quickly moves on into new and exciting territory.
Dark Horse Archives does such a spookily fantastic job of recapturing the past with their third volume of American Comics Groups’ Adventures into the Unknown! that the more you read of the horror anthology, the more you feel as if you are being transported back to the 1950s, and for many of us, that is an adventure into the unknown! In his excellent forward, comics historian Michael T. Gilbert paints a picture of the difference between pre- and post-Comics Code stories, and how delectable and exciting it was for a kid to get his hands on any of these early horror comics, before the most terrifying thing became the industry’s zealous censorship.
Dark Horse continues to collect stellar stories from their critically acclaimed Dark Horse Presents anthology stories into one-shots, and Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s Station to Station is no exception. Originally appearing in three parts in Issues #19, 20, and 21 of the anthology series, this is a self-contained story that also lays the groundwork for further adventures in the world Bechko and Hardman have created, which is essentially our world, just with the addition of monsters from a plethora of other dimensions, parallel worlds, and alternate timelines – where exactly the monsters are from, we do not know, the more pressing concern is that they are now in our world. While the scope of the story is huge, the action is played out on a small, intimate scale, as the scientists who unwittingly unleashed these monsters must race to solve the problem before the monsters cause irreparable damage.
Eponymous is a modern-day superhero story from the monthly digital anthology VS Comics, written by Mike Garley, with art by Martin Simmonds, and lettered by Mike Stock. The story takes place in a time when super-powered individuals no longer permeate the population, though there are definite hints that they used to, and that they became something of a problem. So, when the superhero Eponymous comes onto the scene, we know it is a big deal, though it is not exactly clear why. There is a secret organization that believes Eponymous may be responsible for a horrible tragedy in the future and is determined to take her down at any cost, including sacrificing the life of Lucy, a young girl who has nightmares of horrible catastrophes that eventually come true.