Seven Soldiers of Victory Volumes 1-4, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Doug Mahnke, Simone Bianchi, Fraser Irving, J.H. Williams III and many others (2006): The original Seven Soldiers of Victory were a super-hero team of the 1940’s whose members were pretty much all non-powered superheroes of the masked vigilante school of crime-fighting. Indeed, DC’s gun-slinging Western superhero of the time, The Vigilante, was a charter member.
Morrison’s modern reconfiguration of the team turns the Soldiers into a fairly powerful lot who manage to be the only super-team in history whose members almost never meet one another. Yes, they’re the post-modern Justice League. Two framing issues surround 7 different miniseries, each focused on one hero. Put together, this somewhat odd configuration follows the Soldiers as they defeat an ancient enemy of humanity, the Sheeda, who periodically destroy all civilization on Earth. Why? Because they’re hungry. And dinks.
Prophecy says that the Sheeda can only be defeated by a superhero team comprising seven members, so the Sheeda side-project involves tracking down seven-person teams and eliminating them. The bizarre nature of the new Seven Soldiers pretty much makes this Sheeda strategy unworkable, and while things look crazy for awhile, the Seven Soldiers remain cool in the face of a super-powered army of what initially appear to be evil, blue-skinned elves (Sheeda = Sidhe, get it?) but which actually aren’t. Elves, that is. They are blue-skinned and they are pretty evil. Even the original Vigilante has to come out of retirement to help in the fight. Twice!
Among other things, this maxi-series was a run-up to Morrison’s Final Crisis of a couple years later — his reconfiguration of The New Gods will play into that series, as will mysterious government agency SHADE and SHADE operative Frankenstein. Well, the creature Frankenstein created, who also now goes by the name Frankenstein and is a mighty, sword-wielding force for Good. Frankenstein is joined by The Bulleteer, Zatanna, Klarion the Witch-boy, The Manhattan Guardian, Mister Miracle and The Shining Knight in the Seven Soldiers. I think it’s a great series with great art, but your results may vary depending on how many obscure DC heroes and villains you know (Mind-Grabber Man? Really?). Highly recommended.
The Essential Conan: The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard (1935), edited and with commentary by Karl Edward Wagner (1977): This is the only Conan novel written by Conan’s doomed creator, Texan Robert E. Howard, before his suicide in 1936 at the age of 30. And for a first novel, it’s surprisingly well-constructed and tight. Howard would write several more Conan adventures after this one, but in Conan’s chronology, this is the last adventure (though not The Last Adventure — Conan is in his mid-40’s and hale and hearty when we leave him).
Here, we find Conan as the King of Aquilonia, Aquilonia being one of Howard’s imaginary pre-Ice Age European countries during the time called The Hyborian Age. Conan is a surprisingly fair and just king, but that doesn’t stop intrigue against him, as several native and foreign enemies bring an uber-powerful wizard back from the dead in order to further their political aims. Conan’s army falls in battle to the magically aided enemies, Conan is captured, and soon the wizard’s plans put the entire world in danger of being plunged into a second age of darkness. Only a mysterious magical item linked to the wizard can be used to defeat him.
In a lot of ways, this novel resembles the later Lord of the Rings, only with Conan and a lot shorter. Howard excels in the creation of oddly imagined supernatural threats, bloody battle scenes and, of course, the character of Conan himself — alternately morose and jovial, fatalistic but unbowed. Howard’s Conan was always more like a hardboiled detective than a traditional fantasy hero. Editor Karl Edward Wagner did the admirable job of restoring available Conan texts to their original published form with some emendations derived from Howard’s own final drafts, and with period illustrations throughout. Highly recommended.