What They Say:
After many journeys trading his feared sword arm for gold, Conan returns to the land of his birth, Cimmeria, only to find his family murdered and his sister enslaved by a ruthless rival clan. While the mighty slayer cannot bring back the dead, he can still mete out a terrible vengeance, but can even a warrior as skilled and merciless as Conan take on an entire clan whose treacherous hands hold a blade to his sister’s throat?
Writers: Don Kraar, Larry Yakata, Michael Fleisher, Craig Anderson
Artist: Dave Simons, Ernie Chan, Rudy Nebres, Val Mayerick, Gary Kwapisz, Pablo Marcos, William Johnson and Rey Garcia, Tony Salmons, Andy Kubert, Henri Bismuth and Rudy Nebres, Sal Buscema and Roy Richardson, Rod Whigham and Roy Richardson
Conan is a simple character, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. His desires are simple and derived from bodily needs. He fights, he drinks, he eats, and he loves. Beyond that is an equally simple moral code. He may steal, he may kill and fight, but he never harms the weak or the innocent and goes out of his way to protect them. More than any other character created by the prolific Robert E. Howard, Conan embodies his belief that civilization corrupts and that humanity is at its best and purest when closest to its bestial nature. Perhaps this is why he has been adapted into so many comics, movies, and video games.
Dark Horse currently publishes Conan’s adventures, but Marvel held the rights to the character in the 1980s, which this volume republishes. Because of Conan’s simplicity, it’s rather difficult to get the character wrong. Writers tend to get into trouble when they try to complicate him—a mistake that the movies make time and time again. Thankfully, the writers here understand what makes Conan tick, and these stories are great fun for fans of the barbarian.
Conan strides through 534 pages in his furry bikini briefs, rescuing beautiful women (some of whom can’t be trusted), stealing, fighting, and navigating the treacherous jungles of civilization. And really that’s all you need to know. Most Conan stories follow a rather straightforward formula, and fans know the story beats by heart. Conan get into trouble either by his own doing or by happenstance, he meets beautiful women, he fights against seemingly impossible odds, he says “Crom!” and that’s about it. Which is not to say that these are dull—just that it’s a winning formula and part of the enjoyment is its familiarity.
As good as this volume is overall, it’s a real shame that it’s in black and white. I enjoy black and white comics, such as Sin City, but only when they are intended to be black and white. The monochromatic color scheme can lend itself beautifully to creating mood and emotion, but that depends on the use of light and shadow. When a comic is intended to be colored, the inking does do some of that work, but the lion’s share falls on the color, and when the color’s washed away—as is the case with this volume—it really takes away from the narrative. This is a shame because there are some amazing artists here (need I say more than Andy Kubert and Sal Buscema?) and the quality of the overall work suffers. Comics are like a symphony in that all of the pieces are important. The plot, dialogue, artistry, coloring, and lettering all come together to form a narrative. Remove one of those aspects and the rest is diminished.
I believe the reason for this is to keep down the overall price of the book, which is admirable, but I find that I just can’t get into the story. It’s a shame, because these old Conan stories are great fun.
As much as I love Conan and the early 80s Marvel comics starring him, I can’t but feel this volume lacking. With the color missing from the issues all of the blood leaves the tales. The stories lose their vigor and while Conan can be many things, he can never be passionless. If these issues had been reprinted in their full four-color glory then this would be an A+ for sure.