November 29, 2008

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Chronicles of Conan Volume 7

Written by Roy Thomas
Illustrated by John Buscema
Dark Horse (formerly Marvel)

A long time ago, maybe 1994 or 1995, DC had a little thing in all of their comics talking about the difference an inker can make. They showed three styles, and how the pencils were impacted by those styles. It's a pretty neat piece of work if you ever come across it.

If you can't happen across it, just pick up this volume of Conan's Marvel adventures, where John is inked by no less than five different people. You'll see how a bad pairing--in this case, Buscema with Sinnott--can affect the look and feel of a comic.

The jarring inking changes do impact on my enjoyment of this group of stories, not to mention that it starts in media res from another Conan book. Between the two things, I have to admit this has been my least favorite of the old Marvel series so far.

I think the problem for me this time out is that in his desire to try and use period-era work for Conan, Thomas overshoots, placing Conan in a Conan clone tale for the bulk of the stories in this collection. It's clear that Conan probably would not have gotten himself entangled as much as the Conan in the last story does, teaming up with wizards and witches and all kinds of crazy things that the Howard Conan absolutely hates. It's just bad casting by a man who normally gets things right. For me, the adaptation is just not quite right here, and while I normally love Dick
Giordanao, I think his more shadowy style is not as well suited for Conan as it is, say, Batman or Dracula. Between the two elements, there's a real barrier for me I just can't get past.

The front half of the trade is pretty good, however. Conan shows he can have affection for someone (though I wish we knew why beyond the surface lust angle) and the story itself is creepy and compelling. It was a bit more of a horror story than a sword and sorcery story, but I felt like Thomas was channeling the part of Howard that wrote Mythos stories, and I liked it quite a bit.

One last thing I need to note is that I am really surprised these stories got past the code. There is implied--and I mean strongly implied--sex, Thomas himself notes a definite and deliberate reference to cutting off balls, and Conan almost certainly pops his cherry as a teen barbarian meeting up with a mystical woman. Nothing unusual at all for today's comics, but for the 1970s? I'm impressed this all saw print under a major label, and I can see why it would have been so popular--these are the days before Vertigo or internet shopping for indie comics, after all.

For fans of the series and the character, this is worth reading, but it's definitely not the place to start. We'll see what Volume 8 holds soon.