Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Groo vs. Conan Miniseries

At long last, it's happened.  Comics and fantasy fans thought the threat had been thwarted, but not so. 

Long in development and finally come to fruition is the mash-up some and none have wanted:  Groo vs. Conan.  What stemmed from non-serious comic book geekspeak of the nineties is now a reality.  Robert E. Howard's enduring pulp hero Conan the Barbarian is pitted in a four-issue frolic against Sergio Aragones' caricaturized and brain-dead doppelganger, Groo the Wanderer. 

When Groo became an overnight sensation for Marvel's one-time sister imprint, Epic Comics, many readers were found joking (usually over a spliff) about how the wakizashi-brandishing buffoon might fare against his hulking inspiration.  Well, now that Mad magazine doodle icon and Groo creator Sergio Aragones has recovered from a sidelining back surgery, Dark Horse Comics takes up an old cause with Groo vs. Conan and aims to settle the nutty debate once and for all.

In the first of the four issue miniseries, both Groo and Conan are introduced, but exposition of the story actually belongs to Aragones and writer Mark Evanier.  Conan gets a quick trad carve 'em up rescue operation to set up the story, but oddly, Aragones and Evanier become a part of the tale.  Set in a purported real-time, Aragones and Evanier trip across a comic book shop that's slated for decimation by developers.  Compelled to see what's up by the gaggle of protestors trying to preserve the store, Groo vs. Conan takes a zany twist as Aragones becomes victim of a series of slapstick head injuries that compels him to think he's Conan himself at times, and a confused artist at others. 

Evanier sells Aragones out to the cops who are busting up the protest and the brain-mashed Aragones escapes from the hospital (hilariously with his butt on parade from the back of his bed gown) and disappears into the woods. There, Aragones' addled, conflicting personae vicariously assemble Groo's tale, using his art boards as reference. 

Using reality (that being subjective in this case) to spin the yarn, Groo finds himself bumbling into a town where a bakery is about to be razed by the local bourgeoisie seeking to build a castle worthy of their liege.  At first it appears Groo is on the townsfolk's side, but being the bumbling idiot he is, Groo finds himself inadvertently hired by the king's would-be developers.  Naturally, Groo sacks the king's army by mistake, but is sent back to strong arm the same townsfolk he'd (sort of) bonded with. 

Thus prompts the townies looking to save their bakery from the king and Groo by tracking down none other than Conan the Barbarian to perform a hit on you-know-who. Thus the wacky stage is set for an assumedly wackier brawl, and we'll have to wait to see how it pans out. 

It's not just a contrast of art styles at stake in Groo vs. Conan.  Following an amusing but off-kilter intro for the first issue, it should be a zany ride from here on out.  Kudos to Dark Horse for having the guts to put themselves on the line for this project where brawn is sure to be undermined by doofy luck at times and ineptitude is glaringly exposed by a warrior's cunning.  Also sure to happen are more than a few bruised dweeb egos with outrageous deliberation over who's going to win this damned thing.

Personally, my money's on Rufferto.

           Listenin' to:  The 2 Tone Collection:  A Checkered Past

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