Dark Horse has been reprinting Marvel Comics’ color Conan comics for a few years but now they are adding the Conan stories from the black & white Savage Sword of Conan Magazine. This volume one Omnibus edition features 544 pages and includes the Conan stories from Savage Tales # 1 – 5, and Savage Sword of Conan # 1 – 10. Back in the day as a young Conan fan, Savage Tales was like the Holy Grail. These first five issues pre-dated Savage Sword and within a few years had already escalated in price beyond my pocket change. With this volume we are seeing these stories again for the first time in over 30 years. What immediately strikes you about the book is the incredible roster of artists. These are truly legendary names: Barry Windsor Smith, Neal Adams, Jim Starlin, Mike Kaluta, Frank Brunner, John Buscema, Boris Vallejo, Esteban Maroto, Alex Nino, and Tim Conrad. From a purely artistic standpoint, Savage Sword and Savage Tales were dwarfing just about anything else going on in comics at that time.
The volume leads off with one of Robert E. Howard’s shortest, but most well known Conan tales, The Frost Giant’s Daughter. This is one of Conan’s earliest tales chronologically. Still a teenager, he encounters a beautiful woman in the frozen north who leads him into an ambush by her giant brothers. The story features some of the best art to grace the magazine by Barry Smith. I have a theory about present day comic book art… Comic art APPEARS to be much better than it was say 20 or 30 years ago but this is due to advances in technology as far as printing, colorization, and digital enhancing. Today we see so many artists working in a minimalist, cartoony style because it can be digitally produced much quicker than hand drawn artwork. But you can’t really hide behind technology when working in strict black and white.
Jump ahead to the second story, and adaptation of Howard's Red Nails and just marvel at Smith’s detailed line work. Look at Conan in the wilderness as Smith painstakingly draws seemingly every blade of grass and every leaf on the trees and bushes. Look at the close-ups of Conan with so many individual follicles of hair illustrated and then compare it to a lot of art today where you might get a curl or two drawn in. Smith puts most modern day artists to shame with his unique, renaissance influenced style.
The second issue of Savage Sword presents another Howard Adpatation, Black Colossus in which Conan faces off against a three thousand year old sorcerer. This story teams long time Conan penciller John Buscema with his frequent partner Alfredo Alcala. Buscema always drew a great Conan but Alcala pushed his work a notch higher with a gritty detail that would only work in a black and white format.
Issue #5 of Savage Swords sports one of Boris’ best covers depicting Conan being crucified, from the tale, A Witch Shall Be Born. This story features Conan at his most resilient, surviving his crucifixion in the desert to get revenge on the man who put him there.
The final story from Savage Sword #10 concludes the adaptation of Howard’s only full-length Conan Novel, The Hour of the Dragon. In a way it’s a strange inclusion because you only get the last third of the story or so. The first parts were printed in Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian and while this is a great Story it might have been best just to skip it rather than having it pickup in the middle.
The art does lose some of it’s potency since it is reduced down to regular comic size from it’s original format but that’s about the only negative I can come up with from this superb book. This was one of the best comics that Marvel ever produced and we have to thank Dark Horse for making these stories available again to Conan fans.