Kane and Wagner: Where Darkness Weaves

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I shouldn’t know who Kane is.

I was born in 1980 after the initial run of Kane titles had been and gone. My awareness of the character came about through a rather chequered path. I first read the horror short story, Sticks, by Karl Edward Wagner in 1998. It was visceral and cosmic, and it stuck in my mind for years though I didn’t read more of his work until comparatively recently owing to much of it having gone out of print in the mainstream press by the time I was of the age to be accruing my initial influences.

However, I did have a book of Frank Frazetta artwork that featured the cover for Dark Crusade in all its glory. The background information to the painting also stuck in my mind. Kane sounded like the kind of character that I would like; amoral, villainous and a contrast for the more black-and-white heroes common to mainstream Fantasy fiction. It was an image I would come back to again and again over the years, and wonder whether I would get to read the books about this character.

A few years ago, I was finally able to acquire copies of the original Kane paperbacks and they were everything I hoped they would be. They were also the penultimate piece of the puzzle in the conception of my own character Khale the Wanderer. At that time, his name was Kale Fellhorn which has since been changed for fairly obvious reasons – not just the fact that without the ‘h’, he would be named after a cabbage.

What attracted me to the character of Kane was Karl Wagner’s use of the antediluvian setting popularised by Robert E. Howard and his successors and turning it on its head by doing away with the traditional struggle between Good and Evil. As much as I love Moorcock’s Elric, he was still an agent of Law fighting against Chaos. Khale was a character with shades of grey as was the world he lived in. Long before A Song of Ice and Fire came along, Karl Wagner was drawing a world where kings fought for their own reasons rather than the common good, the gods were of the dark, not the light, and the hero was a villain. George R.R. Martin and the current crop of grimdark authors have certainly developed the template to levels of greater depth, scope and complexity, but I would argue that Karl Wagner was there first and he made the initial template. His lack of recognition being very likely down to much of his work having become obscure outside of select genre circles, which I think is a great shame – hopefully this will change.

Though I never knew the man, I have dedicated Under a Colder Sun to him and his creation as, without them, Khale would be a very different Wanderer.

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