3 out of 5
An adaptation of the Robert E. Howard story into comic form, kicking off the ‘The Cimmerian’ series.
Ideally, I’m reviewing this as a standalone story and not, necessarily, how it stacks up next to the original, but Ablaze publishing has divvied up the source short story into halves in the back of each issue, so it’s really hard not to compare.
The comparison isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though: writer Regis Hautiere rather smartly expands and compresses certain elements of the tale, though artists Olivier Vatine and Didier Cassegrain bring back some of the cheesecake we were spared, via overflowing bosoms and lots of naked flesh. Fairly enough, this matches the sword & sorcery tone of Red Nails, although it would’ve been nice if the co-lead’s pirate outfit had been maintained, instead of her skimpy leather getup.
Across these two issues, Conan and Valeria – a female adventurer – run across one another in a forest, and then, escaping from a dinosaur-like beast, take refuge in a seemingly vacated castle. The castle’s construction is very odd – lit from within, without any windows – and eventually the two find that it’s been converted into permanent living quarters for two warring tribes: the Xotalancs, with some type of supernatural powers, and the Tecuhltli, with whom our warriors find themselves partnered. Things kick off in full force while they’re there, and we get brief snippets of the history of the tribes’ animosities along the way.
That “brief” aspect is one of the pluses and minuses: while Robert E. Howard’s exploration of the Xotalanc / Tecuhltli history is a little cluttered and more extended in the original, it helps to flesh out the supporting characters somewhat, and makes the giant castle into a realized environment instead of just a backdrop. Hautiere did a good job of cleaning the text up a bit so that the tale is much more linear seeming, but in doing so, the stakes of the ensuing battle never really become clear, and the various tribespeople are just faces in a crowd. Interestingly, Regis dedicates the entire first issue to the stretch before the castle, and really massages the material to fit the comic book format; the first issue is great. But squeezing the rest into one further issue cuts off some of the horror aspects from Howard’s story, has the limitations mentioned above, and furthermore prevents Valeria from getting to seem like more than a damsel – she’s a pretty strong character in the original – and Conan more than the monosyllabic stereotype he generally is. It’s good and entertaining, but adding another issue likely would’ve allowed Hautiere to properly pace the second half of the story, and flesh it out with more emotion.
The inclusion of the text version of the tale is a much appreciated extra, I should add, even if it’s been printed in teeny-tiny text to fit.