Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Book Review: THE DEAD MAN #3 Hell in Heaven

One of Robert E. Howard's original Conan stories was "The Phoenix on the Sword", and this story was later re-written into a Kull story called "By This Axe I Rule". The basic gist of both stories is that Conan (or Kull), having slain the former King and usurped the throne, is now stuck with the task of ruling over a bunch of petty, scheming jerks who keep trying to manipulate him into making decisions that only further their personal agendas. Essentially, lobbyists.

In the Kull story, Kull gets fed up with all this "civilized" nonsense, because his chamberlain or seneschal or whatever keeps telling him he needs to rule according to the laws written down on some ancient stone tablets gathering moss and dust in the corner. After some lobbyist jerks try killing him in his bedchamber (he doesn't like pork-barrel politics much), Kull is sick to death of these laws because they keep staying his hand from making decisions as he sees fit. So, being the sort of "to the point" guy who usurps thrones for a laugh, Kull calls for one of the tablets (that which forbids slaves to marry) and then smashes the tablet into bits with his axe, declaring "By this axe I rule!". If he's the king, then he makes up the rules, period, end of discussion.

So yeah, what the hell am I getting to by talking about Conan and Kull? Am I one of those reviewer jerks who just rambles on but doesn't actually review the book? Well, what I'm getting to is, THE DEAD MAN #3: Hell in Heaven is a direct spiritual descendant of the sorts of awesome pulp action adventure tales that the greats like Robert E. Howard loved to write. Its got magic, its got evil, its got murder, its got beautiful women and grotesque violent freaks out for our hero's blood. It's even got axe-fighting and law-giving and a general tone of complete badassery. I won't give away any plot spoilers, but I will say the story ends in a much different way than you might expect when you read the first couple of pages.

After I received my review copy from Lee Goldberg, I burned through this story in one sitting and was grooving on the Sword & Sorcery vibe the entire time. The direct Conan references the main character makes, rather than coming off as corny or annoyingly self-referential, just make you nod and say "Hell yeah, dude!" and as I write this, I have not one, but two Conan Frazetta prints hanging over my writing desk. That's just how we roll here in Chez Badelaire.

By tapping into the sort of stories written by Howard and Leiber that I feel defined the 30's Sword & Sorcery pulps, and a generation later the post-modern pulps of such writers as Gardner Fox and Karl Wagner, Hell in Heaven further cements THE DEAD MAN series as a crossroads of pulp action, a storyline open and flexible enough to accommodate any niches or sub-genres. This means that as each new author comes in to write the next volume in the series, they have the artistic license to approach the story from the angle they find the most comfortable, ensuring a lot of variety and quality in these stories for a long time to come.

1 comment:

William Rabkin said...

Thank you so much for your kind words. You've captured exactly what we're going for with this series.

Bill Rabkin