War of Kings is a blog dedicated to my favourite comic books, books, games and movies.

Friday, February 6, 2009

War Correspondence: Solomon Kane and the Priests of Bast

Today I went to the Central Lending Library in Durban to look at a book that is a collection of Robert E. Howard stories about Solomon Kane. You will recognise Howard as the creator of Conan, which led to stuff like Red Sonja and chainmail bikinis. I wanted to see what Howard had to say about the Staff of Solomon, as the Wikipedia article is…strange, and the rest of the internet appears to be silent on the matter. Yes, I did not think that was possible either, but it is.

When Solomon Kane was in Africa, he was given a cat-headed staff by the juju man N'Longa. A juju man is a highly racist version of a witchdoctor, but I won't blame Howard for that. Even H. Rider Haggard was guilty of that sort of thing. It’s a product of the times they lived in. Kane, being a Puritan, suspects that the staff is an Object of Dark Magic, but for some reason, he finds himself unwilling to get rid of it. This is fortunate, as it helps him fight of evil sorcerers and monsters. This reinforces Kane's suspicion that its is an Object of Dark Magic. But then he is captured by Arab slave traders, and is told by an elderly Arab named Yussef that it is the Staff of Solmon. King Solomon of Israel.

The staff has an incredible history - being first wielded by people who's kingdoms now lie under the sea, then by the Priests of Bast in Egypt, then by Moses, and the by King David and Solomon. In all cases it was used to fight of evil creatures and perform miraculous wonders. Then they run across some ancient ruins with a sealed door. Yussef warns his leader not to open the door, as this is likely a prison built by King Solomon to house an evil creature. (Because, of course, all ancient ruins in Africa were built by the Egyptians, Atlanteans or King Solomon.) But the Arab leader thinks that there is a great treasue behind the door. He orders his men to open it, and they do. Out rushes a demonic creature, who attacks and kills the Arab leader, and the rest of them flee, leaving behind Kane and the staff. Kane breaks his bonds, grabs the staff, and uses it to kill the creature. Looking at the staff, he realises that it is not a Object of Dark Magic, but an Object of Light.

I thought Howard invented the staff, but apparently does actually exist in legends. Unless the writer of the Wikipedia article on the Staff of Solomon is making things up. That is possible, as the article lists only one source, which is a description of the adaze(s) of Wepwawet being used in the opening of the mouth ceremony, part of the burial of a Pharaoh. The article claims that the staff is one of these objects. Wepwawet is a wolf-headed god often confused with Anubis - both were said to lead the dead into the underworld. Try as I might, I cannot find a link between Wepwawet and Bast. But apparently the makers of Age of Mythology could, as if you choose to follow Bast, you gain a technology called Adaze of Wepwawet which allows you to cut down trees faster.

Bast is, unfortunately, a very misunderstood goddess. The same can be said about Horus, Osiris, Isis, Set… well, just about any of the Egyptian gods. This problem stems partly from the fact that Ancient Egypt spanned a period of about 3000 years, and over time their beliefs about various gods changed drastically. They also had a habit of combining two gods into one. A further complication is added by the Greeks, who had an annoying habit of taking the gods of other cultures and identifying them with their own gods, and then projecting aspects of their own gods back onto the other gods, and then telling us about those attributes, despite the fact that the other gods never had them to begin with. Confusing enough? Bast was originally a solar lion goddess. Over time, Bast became associated with cats. But she was not the goddess of cats. She was a goddess with a cat head, who sometimes appeared in the form of a cat. She was regarded as a goddess of protection - but she would probably agree the best way to protect yourself is to go out and disembowel all of your enemies. It seems the Greeks decided she was like Artemis, and so told everyone she was a moon goddess. (By the way, the Panther God of Wakandia is apparently an aspect of Bast.)

There is one other problem with Howard's account - if you read Exodus you will notice that there are in fact two staves that perform miracles. At the burning bush Moses' shepherd staff turns into a serpent and back into a staff again, but when Moses and his brother Aaron appear before Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites, it is Aaron's staff that becomes a serpent. Aaron's staff turns the Nile to blood, and calls down plagues of frogs and insects. And then Moses' staff calls down hail and locusts. This does not make much sense - until you remember that God is performing the miracles, not Moses, Aaron or their staves.

Later Aaron's staff is put in the Ark of the Covenant, but Moses' one is not. So there may have been a tradition that Moses' staff was kept, and passed onto the Kings years later. But I can find no real evidence of this. This is an important issue, as I want to use the staff in my novel. But if Howard made it up, I don't think I can.

So I have two questions I still need to solve - did Howard make the staff up? And what do the makers of Age of Mythology know that I don't?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Spoils of War - Catching Up

Right, so I've a) missed a few comics and b) missed most news since the beginning of the year due to two modems breaking one after the other. So, I've got catching up to do.
Remember the Secret Invasion playing cards? The thing where they identified every card with a superhero important to Secret Invasion? Thy did four once a week on CBR. They're doing a similar thing with War of Kings, Except this time its chess pieces. So far we have:
White King - Black Bolt
White Queen - Medusa
Black King - Vulcan
Black Queen - Deathbird

I expect Ronan, Triton, Crystal, Karnak and Gorgon to appear on the white side, and Gladiator to appear on the black side. I'm not sure what they'll do with the Guardians and former Guardians, the Starjammers, Nova and Darkhawk.

Its an interesting and cool idea, as long as we remember that this has nothing to do with the Hellfire Club. Or cult. Or whatever it is these days. Oh, and by the way, it seems that Black Bolt has conquered the Kree. I missed that somewhere. Probably SI: Inhumans. But it seems to be quite a pleasant conquest, Black Bolt regarding the Kree as distant family, and them regarding him with the respect due a great warrior.It seems that Young X-Men is now cancelled - it ends with issue #12. This is not surprising. YXM was strangely handled. I'm sure having Donald Pierce posing as Cyclops to pit the Young X-Men against the New Mutants seemed like a good idea at the time, bit it didn't work. People accused the writer of writing Cyclops badly, when he was actually writing Donald Pierce posing as Cyclops quite well, but nobody knew it. The whole 'someone will die!' plot probably would have worked if Kyle and Yost hadn't already been killing New X-Men with wanton abandon. It may even have worked if the mutant that was killed had been Anole, Rockslide or Dust (or here's an idea - Cannonball) instead of….Wolfcub. People certainly would have been upset, but probably upset in a way that made them buy the book. Instead everyone lost interest, including me, sales dropped, and now its cancelled.

Except, rumour has it that a New Mutants series is in the work. Leading me to suggest that Young X-Men hasn't actually been cancelled. I have the feeling that the stories that were going to be told in #13 onwards will now be told in New Mutants #1 onwards. Natrually the stories will be somewhat adjusted, but essentially the same. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I think it’s a good idea - they are giving the series a second chance at a start under a name guaranteed to sell a few copies. Now they just have to make sure the stories are good, and work in context with stuff going on around them.
And then there is something called Timestorm. I have a strange relationship with the 2099 line. When I was younger, I watched a Black Panther TV series that took place in the future. I can't remember if it was called Black Panther 2099, but that's basically what it was. I had never heard of the Panther before this, so I will always think of this hero of a dystopian future as the original Panther, meaning I think of the one that hangs around with Storm in the present day as low-tech copy of the original Panther. I know its weird, but that’s the way it is. I doubt I'll get Timestorm, though, as I doubt it will be anything like the TV series.Psylocke is returning to the X-Men soon, at least that's what Sword of the Braddocks seems to indicate. This makes me happy. I like Psylocke. She has a psi-sword. Its cool. Its like Pixie's souldagger. Yeah, I know they come from completely different sources, but lets face it, they're both sharp things that get pulled out of the air, and mess with magic or mental abilities (which are often similar).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Quartermaster - Restocking the Shelves

Now that I have access to internet, and am not going on holiday or having any important events happening in the near future, I shall reinstate regular posts. I won't have any set weekly or monthly schedule though, as it appears I am unable to keep to something like that.

So, with the changes at Kick Ass Komix, who no longer have an actual store, though they do have a digital one, with me cancelling all my orders and then attempting to remember what I was ordering in order to restore them, and missing a month, I think I should have a run down exactly what I am now buying.

Still getting this, though by now I am missing quite a few of the odd-numbered issues - three or four I think. By now I'm sure you're tired of me talking about X-Factor, so I won't say any more about it here. I think the issue I get next is the gaspshockhorror baby one, so I'll let you know in a couple of weeks what I think.

Uncanny X-Men
I seriously considered dropping this, as the next issue I can get is #506, meaning I'm missing three whole issues in a row. But apparently I'll be able to get the Emma Frost-centric Annual #2, and I want to see how Fraction treats her character going forward. The Fringe Science stuff sounds like fun too, so Uncanny stays for now.

I was excited to get this, but I missed the first two issues already, so I think I'll skip it for now, especially with Young X-Men being cancelled. But if I hear good things I'll pick up the trade.

Guardians of the Galaxy
I'll be getting these from #9, meaning I only missed one issue, #8. Unfortunatly it’s the one with Blastaar in it. Darn, I really wanted to see Blastaar after reading his first appearance (see Marvel Pocketbooks, below). Many of the best characters are just as ridiculous as Blaastar - Starlord, Rocket Racoon, Groot. Groot is even cooler in South Africa because groot is the Afrikaans word for big. I'm also excited about Guardians because it will be tying in to…

War of Kings
I missed Secret Invasion: War of Kings, SI: Inhumans, and the beginning of Kingbreaker. So I'm not off to a good start. But I'll definitely be getting War of Kings.

War of Kings: Darkhawk and War of Kings: Ascension
I think that the second mini is merely a continuation of the first. I wasn't sure if I was going to get these, as no one has made me care about Darkhawk yet, but apparently they involve the Negative Zone, which is both fun and appears to be relevant to Guardians. Who knows, I may end up being a Darkhawk fan.

Marvel Pocketbooks - Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
I am really enjoying these, which I get from CAN, a poular bookstore/newsagency/sationer. So far I have The Coming of Galactus!, Doomsday!, and Where Stalks the Sandman!. I saw The Flames of Battle! Is out, but haven't got it yet. They are reprints of the old FF comics, back when it was called the Worlds Greatest Comic Book Magazine! and every sentence ended with an exclamation mark or two. They are of course completely ridiculous and over the top, but quite enlightening. The Inhumans feature prominently, and people like the Silver Surfer, Black Panther, Blaastar and Ronan the Accuser put in first appearances. Various versions of the Negative Zone appear too. I'm afraid no one treats Susan as a serious superhero, though, because she's a woman.

So that’s it. Not a very large collection. Agents of Atlas (Namorita) and Mighty Avengers (Quicksilver and the Witch) are hovering around the edges trying to make it onto the list, but there are two problems - one is the rand/dollar exchange rate and the other is the slightly inflated price of event comics. This conspires to make the same amount of comics cost double what they cost me at the beginning of 2008. So I have to watch what I'm getting, and for now War of Kings trumps more team books.

Oh, and if it interests you I've almost finished writing chapter three of my novel.