November 21, 2008

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Quick Hits: Chronicles of Conan Volumes 1-5

Written by Roy Thomas
Illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith
Dark Horse (formerly Marvel)

Marvel is probably kicking themselves for not doing these reprints, as I understand Dark Horse has sold over 300,000 of them!

Before Kurt Busiek and Card Nord did their very literary adaptation of Howard (which is also really good), Roy Thomas took a slightly more "common man" approach to Conan, though with the same idea in mind--give a chronological progression of Conan's life, using Howard's material as a springboard and adding material as necessary.

I don't think one is necessarily better than the other, they just have different takes. Thomas, writing out of the Marvel pen in the 1970s, has a more super-heroic feel, especially when we do the magical things. Busiek strips Conan of those parts and gives him a feel that is a bit closer to Howard's writing style.

On the art, however, there's no contrast--part of why I think I have so much trouble with Nord's refusal to use inks is because Barry Windsor-Smith's art is a thing of beauty.

This trade has Conan in his early years, learning about the world around him. Most notable is the adaptation of the Tower of the Elephant, done pretty faithfully. He fights of course, but also learns to hate magic and distrust those who would befriend him.

This is good comic book storytelling, by a good writer, even if you're not a big fan of the character.


Written by Roy Thomas
Illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith
Dark Horse (formerly Marvel)

Library no longer has this one to give me a refresher, so I'll just note that this continues the story of Conan as adapted by Thomas and Smith. They take some liberties in order to keep Conan moving, but the art is amazing and Thomas' plan (and how well he stuck to it!) for how to tell the story of Conan is very well done.

Young Conan takes his licks as he strives to live life as a young hooligan, thieving and whoring, basically, right under the eyes of the comics code.

I should also note each of these has a Thomas introduction which helps to set the stage and talks a bit about how the stories came to be. Thomas is a comics historian, so these tales are always interesting and sometimes funny.


Written by Roy Thomas
Illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith and Gil Kane
Dark Horse (formerly Marvel)

Roy Thomas' continuing adaptation of the Robert Howard work throws a little Michael Moorcock into the mix as Elric is transplanted into Conan's world for a few issues. This works out a lot better than you might anticipate, not the least of which is because Thomas is one of the best at taking prose and making it a comic book.

Adapting non-Conan tales was kind of the theme this time, as we get a non-Conan Howard story turned into a Conan work in this set of issue as well. I've read the original story since I'd read this, and I remember thinking at the time it had a lot of Conan elements. Apparently, so did Roy. One thing that's fun is the jarring difference between Gil Kane and Barry Smith. An artist can make a real difference in the tone of a story.

I love Conan and I love these adaptations.
I'd recommend them to any comics fan and to anyone else who is a fan of pulp stories. Thomas captures the essence of those tales--without some of the more problematic racial parts, making them all the better.


Written by Roy Thomas
Illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema
Dark Horse (formerly Marvel)

Roy Thomas and the ever-slower Barry Windsor-Smith continue to pick things out of the Howard canon and make them into the great Conan series from Marvel.

Thomas is really starting to move away from the Howard here while still using Howard's material. Most notable here is the taking of Red Sonja from her place in the Crusades and moving her into the Hyperborian world. It works very well, and lets Thomas make a lot of sexual jokes ala "my leg hurts" and "while I've still members (members bolded) to call my own!" We'll see more of her, I'm sure as time goes on.

The rest of the stories are good, too, with a little John and Sal Buscema action going on at one point. There's also a slightly racier Conan story from Savage Tales reprinted here, which Roy (rightfully) calls one of the best. I highly recommend this for just about everyone. It's great work and I'm glad the library finally got more

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

Picking this series up where I left off, I gave this a semi-read as it was the last one I'd read. Thomas' ability to make Howard's stories so dramatic, along with his ability to create a narrative that Howard, while he definitely possessed, was not able to fully form (perhaps due to his early death) shines throughout.

It doesn't hurt that some guy named Buscema takes over the primary art duties. While the early issues of this series are pretty, they pale in comparison to Buscema, who takes Conan and makes him a hero in the Mighty Marvel Manner.

Collected here are the Shadow in the Tomb, some more Thomas "filler" and a great time for those who either love Conan, old Marvel comics, or both. Definitely fun!