Sunday, September 27, 2015

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #42: Marvel Premiere #33

By Professor Gilbert Colon, P.M.P

“The Mark of Kane!”
Script: Roy Thomas
Art: Howard Chaykin

The first of a two-part adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Red Shadows,” originally published in the August 1928 issue of Weird Tales (and available today in definitive form in Del Rey’s The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane).  

After doing battle with “werewolf and moor-monster and a severed hand” (in Savage Sword of Conan #14, Monsters Unleashed #1, and Savage Sword of Conan #13, respectively), the 16th-century roving Puritan named Solomon Kane comes to the rescue of a “dying priest” sieged by “men with heads like animals.”  Kane’s “dagger...plunge[s] deep into the back of one of them--,” but “too late” to save the priest whose breath curses “La Costa--!,” the man in command of them.  It is true that Kane cares not for “men of the Church of England[,] persecutors of his own kind,” but nevertheless they share the same “Father, who art in his heaven-- while beast-men such as this can worship no deity-- unless it be his majesty, the devil!”  

There are too many, even for Kane, and because they “do...not stay fallen when struck thru,” he hurls his sword instead at La Costa, who dies impaled.  After that, “the beast-heads” vanish into fog and smoke, proving Kane’s instincts true.  (“I fought a master of illusions...!”)  

The priest, not quite dead, asks why Kane risked his life to save a man from a Church that “abhors you Puritans-- drives you from England’s shores-- aye, even imprisons you!”  He does not live long enough to hear Kane, slayer of evildoers, answer that this is the way he worships the One True God.  Kane reverently buries the priest in a shallow grave with the epitaph: “HERE LIES A MAN OF GOD Died 16 September 1553.”  

Pressing onward, Kane finds another soul who lies dying, a girl waylaid by the bandit chief Le Loup and his men.  She expires, prompting no “wild reckless...oath by saints or devils” from Kane, but only his memorable words: “Men shall die for this.”  

Days pass, and in the bandit lair, Le Loup’s men tremble at how many of their band, starting with La Costa, have perished by Kane’s rapier.  One by one Kane is hunting them, and soon their fellow Gaston winds up dead on their doorstep, leaving only three.  Le Loup, rather than split the treasure three ways, double-crosses his remaining men when Kane barges in, asking, “Are you prepared to meet your God?”  

Le Loup “admir[es this] brave and shrewd foeman,” but does not exactly know why Kane is his sworn foe.  “There was a girl...a mere child.”  Le Loup “had not thought [Kane] an amorous man,” but assures him “there are many more wenches in the world.”  The enraged Kane grits his teeth: “I have never yet done a man to death by tortureBut, by God, sir -- you tempt me!”  

What appalls Le Loup is that the girl was not Kane’s wife, or anyone he ever knew.  “Nom d’un nom!  What sort of man are you, m’sieu-- who takes up a feud of this [sort] merely to avenge a wench unknown to you?”  

Still not understanding what he is up against, “the decadent Frenchman!” tries bribing Kane with a portion of the treasure.  Their blades flash, thrust, and parry, and “even the hardened Le Loup is taken aback by [Kane’s] very savagery!”  Kane is likewise surprised by his opponent, having “never before...faced a swordsman as skilled as Le Loup!”  

The two evenly matched, Le Loup makes his escape, little knowing that the zealot Kane will follow him to the ends of the earth: “Now I make my vow aloud ... I shall hound you, till the foul deeds you have done are avenged-- so help me God!”  “NEXT: THE GORILLA GOD!”  

Chaykin’s illustration is not as detailed as the Kane adventures from the black-and-whites, but his interpretation of Kane beats some of the more effeminate renderings from those issues.  Chaykin captures “grim,” “dour,” “determined,” but his style feels oftentimes sloppy and unfinished, and not in a good way as you might see in roughly-rendered sketchbook-work, or in a Walt Simonson with his craggy woodcut stylings.  “The Mark of Kane!” was not long ago reprinted in the Dark Horse compilation The Chronicles of Solomon Kane, but “meticulously recolored” – “Chaykin, Colorist” has been replaced by “Jackson, Colorist,” partly undermining Chaykin-as-selling-point.  

As this issue’s “Introductory Note on Solomon Kane” by Roy Thomas notes, “The Mark of Kane!” officially “marks both his debut in color—and the first time he has starred in his own magazine.”  Thomas is even bolder in his assertion than he was in “Of Swords, Sorcery – and Science” (in Kull and the Barbarians #2) when he states: “Solomon Kane [is] in many ways the first true sword-and-sorcery hero of all time, pre-dating even King Kull and Conan the Cimmerian.”  And Kane was definitely, as this issue’s Fred Blosser points out, “the first of Howard’s great series heroes.”  

Thomas invents an unnecessary prelude to REH’s original tale, presumably to get the story off to an action start that lives up to the burst on the cover: “Night of the Man-Beasts!”  There are no “man-beasts” in “Red Shadows,” and Kane clears the deck of this “simpering Spawn of Hell!” before the real Howard yarn begins.  (The cover depicts Kane as coming between the maid and minotaur-like monsters, but she is dead at the hands of Le Loup on page 11, never having encountered any “beast-headed men.”)  

Chaykin’s “minions of hell” attacking Kane on the cover look like minotaur-men (except for one horse-headed monster-man).  But the inside offers an assortment of Island of Doctor Moreau half-men with elephant, boar, pig, dog, and other heads, not all of them equally menacing.  We also witness La Costa’s demise at Kane’s hands, whereas in the short story Le Loup’s men merely come across “his sword-pierced corpse upon a cliff.”  

In the Weird Tales story, “the Spaniard Juan” is the only one specifically identified as hailing from the Iberian peninsula, though Thomas’ adaptation adds “the Spaniard La Costa, in whose master illusions we put our trust--”  “Jean, Juan and La Costa” are part of Le Loup’s bandit band, but the short story lists “La Costa, a swordsman second only to yourself [Le Loup],” not an illusionist.  As stated, “the slavering Spaniard” has charge over the “beast men,” even though there are no such creatures in the original story.  

Another discrepancy is that in the original text it is not only La Costa they discover dead, but before him “Jean, the most desperate bandit unhung.”  Jean is found “nailed to a tree with his own dagger through his breast, and the letters S.L.K. carved upon his dead cheeks” very early in the story.  On page 14 of Thomas’ adaptation, Jean is mentioned in passing, along with Jacque and La Costa, as “slain by [Kane], this past fortnight!”  La Mon and “the Rat” feature in Howard’s story, “the Rat” called “Raton” here, with note by Thomas on 15 that reads “*Raton is French for ‘Rat.’-- R.” (just as Howard sometimes called Le Loup “the Wolf”).  However Jacque and Gaston do not feature, at least not by name.  There is, though, a Gaston l’Armon in REH’s Kane story “Rattle of Bones.”  

In “Hawk of Basti” – a story fragment published posthumously in a 1968 anthology Red Shadows from Donald M. Grant – Jeremy Hawk says “[t]here was a French rogue named La Costa who opposed me – well, I hanged La Costa to the main-yards...”  If this is the same La Costa from “Red Shadows,” perhaps he did not die at Hawk’s hands.  This is assuming “Hawk of Basti” precedes “Red Shadows” in the chronology of Solomon Kane’s adventures.  If not, it would have to be a different “La Costa.”  

There is no Church of England priest in Howard either, but one of Le Loup’s henchmen does casually confess a similar past misdeed: “I knew no good would come from hanging that friar a moon ago.”  The addition of a Puritan coming to the aid of an Anglican gives readers a chance to know Kane as an ecumenical fanatic who punishes criminal deeds, not doctrinal differences.  This is in keeping with Kane’s disillusionment over Europe’s religious wars in which he once served (as cited in Fred Blosser’s “seminal essay” “The Trail of Solomon Kane,” the “informal biography of...the Puritan swashbuckler,” abridged from Kull and the Barbarians #3).  Kane retained an intact Christian faith, but rejected all sectarian strife.  

A frightened Raton cries, “But, Le Loup-- this Solomon Kane is a demon from Hell!”  Then a dying Gaston describes Kane as “a tall man clad all in black--  He looked like--like—Satannnnn…”  Raton agrees, calling “Kane...the Horned One himself!”  This almost supernatural fear that Kane strikes into malefactors calls to mind Batman when, in Detective Comics #33, he famously says, “Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.  I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible ..”  As for Le Loup, Howard says, “The superstitions of his followers affected him not at all.”  

The issue’s entire “Men call it: The MARK of KANE!” motif, that “invisible mark upon him - - the mark of the man of action, to whom tranquility and stagnation are as loathsome as death itself,” is found nowhere in the “Red Shadows” source material.  It almost goes out of its way to suggest a connection to the marked wanderer Cain from the Book of Genesis, something Karl Edward Wagner explicitly did with his Kane who really is Cain.  It is a flimsy association made too hard since Solomon Kane, while nomadic, is no fratricide.  

The splash page that lays out this analogy, and Kane’s overall wanderlust, is the juncture dividing Thomas’ prologue from all that follows, namely the first part of the actual “Red Shadows” which originally flowed from…“the powerful pen of Robert E. Howard”!  

—Professor Gilbert

Professor Gilbert serves up even more Solomon in this very space on November 1st.
In the meantime, be here next Sunday for the Moldy Pulpster's take on the one and only Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction Giant-Size Special!

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