Conan: The Hall of the Dead -

Graphic Novel Review

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  • Written by: Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, Tim Truman
  • Art by: Cary Nord
  • Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
  • Pages: 200
  • Price: $17.95

Conan: The Hall of the Dead

By Tim Janson     June 26, 2007

"Conan: The Hall of the Dead" by Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, and Tim Truman.
© Dark Horse Comics
Robert E. Howard wrote a number of fantastic Conan stories in his lifetime but The Hall of the Dead was not one of them. Not that The Hall of the Dead isn’t fantastic, but rather Howard didn’t write it, at least not in full. Years after his suicide in 1936, numerous Howard material was found, which included a number of unpublished stories as well as various fragments and outlines for other stories. Among those was a brief outline for The Hall of the Dead. This story first saw publication in 1967 in Conan, the first in the series of paperbacks published by Lancer books and later reprinted by Ace Books. The story was credited to both Howard, and writer L. Sprague De Camp.
De Camp is a bit of an anti-hero among Conan fans…On one hand, he played a pivotal role in renewing interest in Howard’s work in the 1960’s. De Camp, for a time, was the overseer of Howard’s works. Conan might have been a mere pulp footnote were it not for De Camp. On the other hand, De Camp set himself up as a posthumous collaborator of Howard’s from which he benefited greatly. But he also took it upon himself to edit Howard’s original work. Those Conan tales in the Lancer and Ace versions were not pure Howard, and it would still be decades before these tales would be reprinted in their pure forms for the first time since originally published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in the 1930’s.
That now brings us to the Dark Horse version of the story, with its own unique take on the tale. Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, and Timothy Truman share the writing chores, while Cary Nord handles the art. For those interested in chronology, this story takes place shortly after the events in Tower of the Elephant, one of Howard’s most famous Conan stories. This is fairly early in Conan’s life, he’s around twenty years old at the time and already has made a name for himself as a capable thief.
The story is set in spider-haunted Zamora and its infamous City of Thieves. Conan is fresh off a daring robbery of a rich magistrate and added insult to injury by sleeping with his wife. The Magistrate sets a trap for Conan but instead captures another thief, Nestor the Gunderman. Nestor negotiates his release by pledging to capture Conan which the magistrate enforces with a sorcerous bond. The two thieves eventually set aside their rivalry when they discover the ruins of a forgotten civilization, rumored to hold a vast horde of treasure. But the treasure has powerful guardians, and no one who has visited there has ever returned.
What Busiek and Co., have done is take the basic Howard plot and bookend it with a meatier beginning and end, all told collecting eight issues of the monthly Conan comic series. Mignola, who handles the middle portion of the story, infuses it with distinct elements of H.P. Lovecraft lore. While perhaps not intended by Howard, he was a fan of Lovecraft’s work and wrote a number of stories that were heavily influenced by Lovecraft.
Nord continues to improve as a Conan artist and his work here is very solid and bolstered greatly by color artist Dave Stewart. Two minor complaints about Nord’s art is the sometimes goofy facial expressions of his characters in close-ups which sometimes border on caricatures. The other minor complaint is the inconsistency of Conan’s physique. He will sometimes look broad and brawny in the Buscema tradition and other times nearly as slender as Barry Smith’s interpretation.
No one can ever truly say how Robert E. Howard might have completed Hall of the Dead, but Busiek, Mignola and Truman have given readers an epic, book-length adventure in the best Howard tradition.


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