ADVANCE REVIEW! Kull: The Cat and the Skull #3 will go on sale Wednesday, December 14, 2011.
This is the first time I have been really disappointed with the liberties taken with David Lapham and Gabriel Guzman’s adaptations of Robert E. Howard’s King Kull story The Cat and the Skull.
I realize that it is a difficult story to adapt. Howard changed his mind about what kind of story he was writing midway through, and the linking sections of the story — the mystery of the ancient cat Saremes and Kull’s adventure under the waters of the forbidden lake — seem like two unconnected halves. The sudden twist at the end and the introduction of one of the most famous villains in the Howard Cannon makes The Cat and the Skull an important story, if not one of Howard’s best.
So I appreciate Lapham’s efforts to pad out the story, adding the subplot of the lizard men and some foreshadowing about the true identity of the slave Kuthulos. But in this issue he breaks one of the cardinal rules of adapting a Howard property:
He makes King Kull act out of character.
This third issue has King Kull — the brooding, dark-faced deep thinker — prancing through his castle, arms splayed wide with a goofy grin on his face exclaiming “Tu, my friend, today is a glorious day, is it not?” Kull is so happy and full of joy, I half expected him to break out into song like the opening of some musical, skip down the streets of Valusia and have pretty peasant girls swinging straw baskets and join him on the chorus.
He doesn’t dance, but Kull is so excited he killed a bunch of serpent men and is convinced his kingdom is finally snake-free, that he goes running to Sarames like a kid on Christmas to tell her the good news. Instead of celebrating, Sarames sends Kull off to the forbidden lake to rescue his friend Brule, who has decided to take a refreshing dip in a haunted swimming hole. Kull goes running off, having entirely surrendered his judgment and authority to the cat.
King Kull, in other words, is made to look like a colossal fool.
And not just Kull. His wife, Igraine, is plotting behind Kull’s back Delcardes in her plan to marry Kulra Thoom. Now I know that Igraine is not a Howard character so there is a lot more leeway, but I just can’t imagine Kull being married to someone who would dare to intrigue. It just seems wrong.
In the original story, Kull does get played, but he isn’t such a buffoon about at. He survives with some dignity intact, and the real story takes place under the water. Here, the aquatic adventure is downplayed — he gets to fight the octopus man, but doesn’t make it into the cave yet — and Lapham’s subplot’s take center stage.
For what it is worth, Gabriel Guzman’s art is excellent, and we finally get some serpent men that actually look like serpent men instead of rejects from some goblin flick. They don’t get a lot of screen time, but they are there. The underwater scenes are fantastic. Guzman did an exceptional job of portraying the underwater battle in complete silence. Even though I disagree with some of the character designs, this whole series has been beautifully drawn.
O David Lapham! Why did you do it? I was enjoying this series! I have to be honest and say you really dropped the ball with this issue. Here’s hoping you can pick it back up for the conclusion next issue.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the ’90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.