Crom, but this is fun.
What They Say:
Conan and his companions pursue a grand treasure through lands beset by civil war, murderous cults, and demonic horrors. And while the mighty Cimmerian will—and does!—spit in the very face of death itself, he and his comrades discover that not all treasures are of gold and precious gems. Collects Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian #174–#181 and Conan the Barbarian Annual #10.
Writer: Jim Owsley
Penciller: John Buscema, Ernie Chan
Inker: Ernie Chan, Bob Camp
Colorist: Geroge Roussos, Steven Mellor
Conan the Cimmerian—thief, soldier, mercenary, and fighter—is in search of a fabulous treasure. Together with his companions Delmurrio, the Zingaran soldier, and the beautiful Princess Tetra, he travels the dangerous roads of Hyboria, facing witches, wizards, soldiers, and monsters. Armed with nothing but sharp steel and even sharper will, Conan even faces death itself.
I’m a huge Conan fan and have enjoyed him in most of his incarnations. I love the Schwarzenegger movies (flawed as they are), and especially the original stories by Robert E. Howard. I’ve also enjoyed his many comic book adventures, first the Marvel titles written by Roy Thomas and later the wonderful Dark Horse series started by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord. The character seems to have found a good home at Dark Horse as the publisher has also been re-releasing the old Marvel issues in these great collected editions.
Although I traditionally associate the Marvel Conan with Roy Thomas, Jim Owsley does a great job with the character. The plots are tight, full of action and character, and the stories are typically done-in-one affairs that build on each other, using the famous model established by Paul Levitz of DC Comics. The basic idea (as outlined in Dennis O’Neil’s excellent The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics) is that you have three plots going on at once—Plot A, Plot B, and Plot C. Plot A is the primary story and has the most space devoted to it, while elements of B and C are sprinkled in, given less space and attention. Once Plot A ends, Plot B gets promoted to the A position, and C to B and a new Plot C begins. The main example of this style in this volume is the story arc of the secondary character, Tetra, and it works very well.
One aspect I particularly enjoyed with this volume was the relationship between Conan and Tetra. Conan adopts a fatherly attitude towards her (she’s only sixteen and he still possesses deep feelings for the pirate Belit and Red Sonja). He even dispenses fatherly advice (Cimmerian fatherly advice, anyway), such as: “Never say anything you don’t mean. Never put your hand on your sword unless you’re going to finish the job” and “Tetra—you can’t go around cutting everyone who annoys you.” Considering this is Conan saying that, this is a hilarious statement. Tetra’s rejoinder isn’t bad either: “Yes I can.”
Conan’s attitude towards Tetra provides a good source of dramatic tension as Tetra experiences a strong attraction to the barbarian. His constant rebuffs hurt her and set the stage for the second part of her character arc, which I won’t spoil here, but is wonderfully tragic.
Unfortunately, the writing does suffer from John Byrne syndrome. It’s overly explicative and clunky in places, almost as if the writer didn’t trust the art to convey the story. This is more a symptom of most comic book writing during this time and not necessarily a problem with Owsley’s style. Still when Delmurrio says things like, “Mitra curse me! ‘Tis Tetra…the girl-child we’ve traveled with these many weeks—she’s possessed” to Conan, it makes me cringe. It’s completely unnatural—I don’t go around saying, “Oh my stars and garters! It’s Jim, my friend of eight years!” However, again this is just a symptom of the time period. This was written before comics were collected in trades and it was rightly thought that there would be readers picking up issue XXX of Conan for the first time, so such explication was deemed necessary so new readers wouldn’t feel lost. Context really needs to be taken into consideration when reviewing comics from the 80s and earlier.
It is a pity, though, that the general attitude was that the art alone wasn’t enough to tell the story, because John Buscema does the majority of the pencils in this collection and his work is fantastic. I consider Buscema to be on the same level as Frank Frazetta and Barry Windsor-Smith in terms of establishing how Conan looked in the eyes of fans. His Conan is hard, chiseled, and wild. His women are beautiful, and his action scenes are fluid and full of kinetic energy. Buscema did the majority of the art in this collection, but there were a few places where Ernie Chan either did the finishes or drew an issue outright. His style matches Buscema’s very well and that helps provide a feeling of visual continuity to this collection that I quite enjoyed.
The quality of the coloring is also good, but doesn’t stand out much except for a few places, such as a scene in the first issue where a group is gathered around the fire. In that scene whites, yellows, blues, and blacks were used quite well to indicate the heat of the fire and the darkness of the night just past its glow. This panel actually reminds me of Walt Simonson’s work, which is a high compliment. I just wish that the colorists had done more like this.
Despite the fact that the dialogue and text boxes often rely too much on exposition, this is a very fun collection. The characters are well-written, the plots well-structured, and the art beautiful and kinetic. Conan fans—especially those that grew up reading Marvel’s take on the character—will find a great deal to like here. Recommended