Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane has always traveled a different road from his spiritual brothers. Unlike Conan, Kull or others such as Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane was a spiritual man on a religious journey – a purification of the world from evil. Set in the late 16th and early 17th century in Europe, Solomon Kane swore by the tenants of Puritanism and carried out his mission armed with two swords – a rapier and a cutlass – and his steady flintlock pistols. His pulp stories have been adapted and inspired comics on several occasions, going from the current Dark Horse series as well as stories for Marvel in the mid-80s.
In a new Dark Horse miniseries, legendary comics scribe Bruce Jones takes on Howard's sullen hero – and adapts the character's two earliest stories. Beginning in April, Solomon Kane: Red Shadows will adapt both the short story "Skull In The Stars" and "Red Shadows" with Jones joined by artist Rahsan Ekedel. Jones has a lot in common with Robert E. Howard – in addition to working on several Howard characters like Conan, Kull and Red Sonja, Jones worked on pulp magazines like Howard – albeit comic pulp – with Twisted Tales, Web of Horror, Creepy and Eerie. As it turns out, Solomon Kane is a character that Bruce Jones has had his eye on for years – going back to his own childhood. And now in 2011, Jones has his chance.
Newsarama: The solicits for the first issue of Solomon Kane: Red Shadows promise a tale of Kane navigating roads on the moors. What can you tell us about this story?
Bruce Jones: This is one of my all-time favorite Howard stories, "Skull in the Stars". First published in Weird Tales in 1929, it’s among the best Robert E. Howard short horror pieces. It brims with all manner of clutching fear and other-worldly verisimilitude: Kane all alone at night on the wind-blown moors with this thing lurking out there somewhere in the dark, howling above the screams of its victims. Howard’s superb writing makes you hear it—makes you feel it pummeling toward you out of the dank mist. It must have been a hell of an experience for readers in the late twenties coming upon this piece in Weird Tales-- sitting in bed at night poring over this vaporous nightmare creature hunting Kane through the fog-enshrouded grasslands bordering the great swamp on the way to Torkertown! I envy those first-time Howard readers. Yet the story is as fresh today as when written. Little wonder Howard became one of the pulp’s most popular writers. "Skull In The Stars" is a stand-alone story in issue #1 of the four-part Solomon Kane: Red Shadows miniseries I’m doing for Dark Horse. The "Red Shadows" story will be three parts and told in issues #2, #3 and #4.
Nrama: After the standalone story in #1, one of Kane’s big foes, the French criminal Le Loup, is scheduled to show up in the story for the rest of the issues. For those that don’t know the wolf, how would you describe him?
Jones: Le Loup is the central villain of Solomon Kane: Red Shadows, the infamous French brigand and libertine who becomes Solomon Kane’s ongoing foil in this tour de force chase story. It begins in the nighttime countryside of France circa 1579 when Kane comes upon the sacked village and dying figure of a young girl who met her end at the hands of The Wolf and his men. Kane vows to avenge her over the girl’s grave. The story ends miles later and oceans apart in the superstition-haunted jungles of Africa. Kane has single-handedly hunted down Le Loup there in an act of almost maniacal vengeance. In between are sword fights, horse chases and cliff hangers galore. All this made more tension-filled in that the pompously deadly Le Loup is one of Kane’s few equals with a rapier.
Nrama It seems Le Loup and Solomon Kane are polar opposites, but the best heroes are defined by their villains. Can you describe their pairing?
Jones: When steel hits steel, at the conclusion, the sparks really fly. It’s one of Howard’s most doggedly relentless works. The contrast in personality between the two characters, how they goad each other, parry and thrust both verbally and with sword, what it reveals about Kane’s own dark inner self, make for classic fare. This was Howard’s first story for Weird Tales and one of his best.
Nrama: You’re taking up this character after two volumes by Scott Allie – how did that come about?
Jones: Dark Horse editor Philip Simon and I have wanted to work together for some time so when this chance came along I was flat out thrilled. I’ve penned the majority of the Howard heroes over the years including a steady run on Conan at Marvel in both comic and magazine form ( I loved the old magazine format—where did that go!) Kane was the one hold out for me so I was champing at the bit to get at him.
Nrama: And what were your goals? I remember most, if not all, of your comics work had you coming in with something specific in mind.
Jones: For my goals, it’s always the same tricky ride. You try to retain as much of the original’s flavor as possible while realizing that comics—like film--is basically a visual, not a written medium. So inevitably you both lose something and gain something. Contemporary audiences demand action and movement. Yet so much of Howard that’s powerful is his gift for eerie, atmospheric moments-- so you have to walk a fine line. It’s a challenge. But a very rewarding one.
Nrama: So is this full series an adaptation of Howard stories?
Jones: If these first tales are successful, hopefully we’ll go onto the remaining Solomon Kane stories. I’d like nothing better. Howard was a big part of my reading youth.
Nrama: You’ve done adaptations before, but it seems like the ideas that sprung out of Robert E. Howard’s mind are built for a visual take as in comics. Why do you think that is?
Jones: He’s certainly justifiably famous for his matchless action sequences. But I think he’s just as skilled with his sense of time and place, his ability to conjure mood and the more subtle aspects of the human condition. In some ways there was an almost musical quality to the tone of Howard’s violence and outré as well as his more pastoral passages. If, as an adapter, you can find the doorway into replicating that in graphic story form you have a terrific piece of entertainment.
Nrama: We’ve seen you write other Howard creations like Conan, Kull and Red Sonja, but taking on a puritan demon-hunter like Solomon Kane seems like a big shift. What was it like getting to know the character well enough to write him?
Jones: In many ways Kane has become my favorite Howard character, probably because he’s the most introspective and dark, and in that sense the most humanistic, at least to me. It gives a writer the chance to dig into the hero’s psyche, while at the same complimenting the introspection with the more overt action scenes. I love the way some of Kane’s quiet moments build tension then erupt into a sequence of horror and violence; Howard was really unequalled at that. From what I’ve seen of Rashan Ekedal art we’re in for a very exciting ride!