Robert E. Howard’s legendary character is back for yet another collection of stories from his days with Marvel Comics. This volume collects issues #127-#134 as well as Conan Annual #6. That’s quite a lot of action for less than $20.
With the exception of J.M. DeMatteis’ “Creation Quest”, which spans three issues, all of the stories contained in this volume are what would today be known as the “one and done”. Each issue tells an entire tale. It’s a lost art that few of today’s comics attempt, but it serves as an excellent doorway to new readers. If you’ve never read Conan before, you don’t have to worry about starting from the beginning. You could start with this very volume I’m reviewing. As a matter of fact, these are the first of the Marvel comics that I’ve read.
And for those of you unfamiliar with the character, the basic idea goes like this: Conan is a thief, a reaver, a mercenary and a pirate. He isn’t necessarily a bad guy, but he isn’t really out for anyone other than himself either. Sort of like Han Solo, but with more muscles and a sword. Anyway, Conan comes into contact with a variety of wizards, despots and damsels in distress throughout the series. His main interests seem to be gold, women and raising hell. He may not be a hero, per se, but he’s straightforward and honest, and if you’re his friend, he’ll back you to the bitter end. Of course, with Conan on your side, the end typically isn’t too bitter.
I’m a fan of the original Robert E. Howard-penned Conan stories and I’ve read a few of the newer Dark Horse comics as well, so I was eager to find out how the old Marvel comics stacked up. Unsurprisingly, they were great. As I said earlier, each issue contains a complete story, so it’s the type of book you can just pick up and put down whenever the mood suits you. And if you’re in the mood for sword n’ sorcery, you can do a whole lot worse than Conan the Barbarian.
It’s classic Conan. While it doesn’t have quite the reputation as the black and white Savage Sword of Conan (also published by Marvel), this is some of the finest four-color Conan out there. And the colors look fantastic in this collection! Oh, and did I mention that all of the artwork is by Gil Kane? Even if these stories were absolute turds, I could still spend hours looking at the artwork. And there are even a couple of stories that are adapted from actual Howard stories, which is pretty cool.
I know that Robert E. Howard often corresponded with fellow writer H.P. Lovecraft back in the day, and the two influenced each other quite a bit. It’s also quite clear that Lovecraft influenced the writers of these stories as well, because the term “gibbous moon” is used so often, it eventually becomes a moot point. Yes, we are quite aware that the moon is gibbous: you mention it at least once every issue. This and other repetitive phrases tend to eat away at the mind of the reader if one decides to spend two straight days reading the volume from cover to cover as I did.
If you grew up reading this book in the 1970’s - 80’s, you should just pick this volume up. You’ve probably got all the rest of them, don’t you? And if not, you should. If you are a fan of the current Conan comics and you just can’t get enough of the character, you might as well pick this volume up: You aren’t likely to be disappointed. And if you’ve never read a Conan comic in your entire life but you’re interested in the character, this would be as good a place as any to start. I liked it a whole bunch.