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Author Topic: Conan (Marvel, Dark Horse)  (Read 5633 times)
Velorath
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on: June 14, 2005, 09:06:46 PM

"Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora, with it's dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with it's chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold.  But the proudest kingdom in the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.  Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweld thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet."

- The Nemedian Chronicles


From the first published Conan story, "The Phoenix on the Sword" by Robert E. Howard.



I'll admit I didn't care much for Conan at first.  Before I'd even heard of the books as a kid, my brother had various issues of the comics mixed in amongst his collection, but I'd always passed them up in favor of the superhero books which appealed more to my short attention span at the time.  It wasn't until later, after Usagi Yojimbo exposed me to the joys of non-superhero comics that I became open to my brother's issues of Conan as well as Watchmen, Vigilante, Lone Wolf and Cub, and others.  It was also fortunate that around that time a friend of ours had left the first several issues of Conan Saga (which reprinted the series in order for the most part, usually in collections of 3 issues) at our place, which I read all in one night when I was supposed to be sleeping since I had school the next morning.

Now not only is Dark Horse reprinting the old Marvel series in TPB's, they also have their own Conan series (which doesn't follow the Marvel continuity), which I believe has been the top selling non-Mavel, non-DC book most months, if not every month, since it started.  A lot of Robert E. Howard's stories are also being collected and published right now in their original versions along with some of his unfinished work.  So now seemed like a good time to take a look at the TPB's and books, starting with Dark Horse's Marvel reprints.  For the sake of brevity I'll limit this for the most part to the first volume.


Tower of the Elephant & Other Stories (Chronicles of Conan, Volume 1)

Roy Thomas is the kind of guy that's missing from Marvel these days.  He's the kind of guy that has a good sense of pacing, rather than padding stories out, and he has respect for the characters he works with.  The thing I love most about these collections are the Afterwords, where Roy Thomas goes into detail about things like adapting non-Conan REH stories and turning them into Conan stories, getting the rights to do the Carter and DeCamp story adaptations, and all that kind of behind the scenes stuff.  You get a sense about how excited he was to be writing this series and how important it was for him to do justice to the original work.

This volume, published by Dark Horse who now have the rights to the old Marvel issues as well as their new series, collects the first 8 issues, written by Thomas, with art by Barry Windsor-Smith, and has been recolored digitally.  The first issue (an original story by Thomas) sets up Conan's destiny of becoming a King, which would be an important plot-thread throughout the series, and also gives an idea of the general timeline from King Kull, to the sinking of Atlantis, to Conan's birth and him eventually becoming King, to the Hyborian Age ending and mankind getting thrown back to the Stone-Age.  There are two other original Roy Thomas stories in this collection and both of them are pretty good.  Thomas does a great job of making his Conan sound like the same character REH wrote, and he fleshes out some of the other characters that would appear in multiple stories.

Of the other 5 stories, 2 are adapted from REH Conan stories with minor changes, 1 (Twilight of the Grim Grey God) is adapted from a non-Conan story that was unpublished at the time the comic was written, 1 is inspired by a poem written by REH, and 1 is inspired by a synopsis written by Howard.  The adaptations are done well, and usually only slightly altered to fit the comic medium better.  As Thomas would note, Howard wouldn't have to deal much with the side characters still with Conan by the end of a story since chronologically the next story wouldn't take place until sometime later.  For instance a woman that Conan is with at the end of one tale could be gone by the next without a word of explanation.  Since the comic book didn't jump back and forth like Howard's stories characters would have to be fleshed out and given reason for their comings and goings a lot of the time.  That being said, Howard remains rather faithful to the original stories and even a lot of the original dialogue is included.

Barry Windsor-Smith does some of my favorite Conan art, although I actually like the B&W of the Conan Saga reprints better than the original or the digital coloring.  With the comics code, especially the way the situation was in the 70's as far as comics go, we obviously don't get the sort of gore one might expect from Conan stories.  The violence is there but you don't get the beheadings or disembowelings described in the books.  The visual story-telling is some of the best I've seen though, and Marvel should look back on comics like this to remind themselves of how to tell single-issue stories that get to the point without splash pages and xeroxed wordless panels repeated several times in a row at different sizes.



Moving on we have Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord's Conan series for Dark Horse:

Conan Volume 1: The Frost Giant's Daughter And Other Stories

While just as good as the Marvel series, this book takes a much different approach.  As a Prince and his adviser explore their newly conquered land, they come across some statues of Conan and various scrolls (The Nemedian Chronicles) telling his history.  While the adviser dismisses the legends of Conan as exaggerations of the history of some minor chieftain, if not outright lies, the Prince insists on the scrolls being translated and read to him.  Of the stories that follow in this volume, only The Frost Giant's Daughter seems to be a direct translation of a Howard story (there is an adaptation of the God in the Bowl later on though).  The rest is a story of Conan fighting alongside the Aesir, and their eventual capture by the Hyperborians.

This story doesn't really have an REH-type feel to it, but I still enjoyed it.  It seems to be going at an overall slower pace than the Marvel series did, with longer story-arcs (but not with filler material) which seem to be separated by stories of Conan growing up after every 8 issues or so.  If you like longer arcs rather than stand-alone stories this might be the better choice over the Marvel series.  I like the Marvel stories better for the most part but both are worth getting.

The artwork is more of a painted style.  It lacks some detail but gives the book an almost dreamlike feel to it, especially when it comes to the scenes in Hyperboria.  This volume contains most of the first 7 issues (including the short #0 issue).  Missing are the last pages of 7 which set up the next storyline which I assume have been left out to make each volume stand on its own better.  With only 16 issues released so far (not including the mini or the one-shot by other writers), I can't say as much about the series right now.  Busiek has long been one of my favorite writers though with his work on Astro City, Marvels, Thunderbolts, and Avengers, so I continue to expecting great things from this series.

I've also picked up the first volume of the recent collections of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian which hopefully I'll get around to reviewing later.
Fargull
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Reply #1 on: June 16, 2005, 03:27:01 PM

I can not speak to the comics, though I had collected the original Marvel series when it was first released.  I can; however, talk toward the recent compelation book you have listed (The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian) as I purchased that about a week after it hit the market.  I have been a complete fan of REH for some time, he writes action the way Salvatore only wishes he could write.  I am also a fan of HP Lovecraft and you can see how much these two authors fed off of each others work when you read through the compelation.  If you really want an odd pointed look at REH, try watching The Whole Wide World.   Anyway, thanks for starting the topic, maybe I will pick up a book or two.

"I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit." John Steinbeck
Margalis
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Reply #2 on: June 18, 2005, 12:43:04 AM

The old Conan books rule, my dad has paperbacks of all (I think) of them. Just don't get any of the later knockoffs - they suck amazingly. Even though Conan is fantasy it has a very different feel from the normal Orcs and Trolls crap. Soloman Kane is also a good read.

vampirehipi23: I would enjoy a book written by a monkey and turned into a movie rather than this.
Johny Cee
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Reply #3 on: June 18, 2005, 02:56:24 PM

The old Conan books rule, my dad has paperbacks of all (I think) of them. Just don't get any of the later knockoffs - they suck amazingly. Even though Conan is fantasy it has a very different feel from the normal Orcs and Trolls crap. Soloman Kane is also a good read.

All of Howard's stuff is being reprinted in trade paperback compilations.

Thanks for the hint about the later Conan offers....  I've been tempted to try them,  but was worried about the suck factor.  I'll stay away now....
Velorath
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Reply #4 on: June 18, 2005, 09:33:48 PM

The old Conan books rule, my dad has paperbacks of all (I think) of them. Just don't get any of the later knockoffs - they suck amazingly. Even though Conan is fantasy it has a very different feel from the normal Orcs and Trolls crap. Soloman Kane is also a good read.

I'm kinda curious as to whether or not the Conan books written by Robert Jordan are any good.  I've stayed away from most of the other non-REH Conan novels, but I did like the first couple Wheel of Time books.
Johny Cee
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Reply #5 on: June 18, 2005, 10:52:10 PM

The old Conan books rule, my dad has paperbacks of all (I think) of them. Just don't get any of the later knockoffs - they suck amazingly. Even though Conan is fantasy it has a very different feel from the normal Orcs and Trolls crap. Soloman Kane is also a good read.

I'm kinda curious as to whether or not the Conan books written by Robert Jordan are any good.  I've stayed away from most of the other non-REH Conan novels, but I did like the first couple Wheel of Time books.

Ack, you mentioned Wheel of Time.

I'll save us all some effort:  8-15 posts about how Jordan can't advance a plot,  following into how great Martin's "Song of Fire & Ice" is,  leading to eventual thread derailment from Howard and Conan.
Velorath
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Reply #6 on: June 18, 2005, 11:45:58 PM

Ack, you mentioned Wheel of Time.

I'll save us all some effort:  8-15 posts about how Jordan can't advance a plot,  following into how great Martin's "Song of Fire & Ice" is,  leading to eventual thread derailment from Howard and Conan.

Yeah I thought about all that, but his Conan books were fairly early on in his career and he wasn't trying to tell some 12-15 book epic, which is why I was curious if it was any good.  Conan stories also tend to focus on Conan, so I wouldn't think he'd be able to bog himself down as much with too many characters which is a large part of what slowed up the story in WOT.

Besides, it's all part of my plan to sucker people into the topic with an easy derail and then get them all to discuss Conan.  Oh, and there's a really good bio on Howard here on the official Robert E. Howard site.  I was actually kind of suprised how much they go into examining the motivations for his suicide.  I figured an official site would kind of gloss over something morbid like that.
Margalis
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Reply #7 on: June 19, 2005, 12:33:14 AM

I have read one or two Robert Jordan Conan books, they suck.

The problem with a lot of people trying to take on Conan is they try to mimic the verbiage but they just can't get it to feel right. You know "his sinews rippled as he made a mighty thrust blah blah blah." It really comes off sounding like second-rate knock-off. The original Conan books have a sort of dark and mysterious feel, the newer ones tend to sound more pedestrian, kind of silly, or more like typical D&D shlock. Save yourself and don't bother.

vampirehipi23: I would enjoy a book written by a monkey and turned into a movie rather than this.
Fargull
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Reply #8 on: June 20, 2005, 12:57:59 PM

L. Sprague de Camp is probably the closest author next to REH.  Jordan was okay in a high school fashion, but as with most authors beyond REH, they make the world too light and it really should stay in the shadows as REH penned. 

"I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit." John Steinbeck
Velorath
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Reply #9 on: June 20, 2005, 05:03:17 PM

There's so much REH stuff out there being reprinted right now that I'd like to read that it would be a long time before I got around to reading the non-REH Conan stuff anyway.
Velorath
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Reply #10 on: December 14, 2005, 08:18:57 PM

Just as a side note for Conan fans (like Stray), Busiek will be finishing up his run on the current Dark Horse published Conan series soon.  Following him will be Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame adapting the REH story "The Hall of the Dead".  Timothy Truman will then become the series regular writer.  Truman is best known for Grimjack, but his favorite work of mine would have to be the Jonah Hex minis he did with Joe R. Lansdale, so I'm looking forward to seeing how he does on Conan.
Velorath
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Reply #11 on: May 25, 2008, 04:05:45 PM

Just bringing this back up again since AoC might be getting people interested in the Conan lore.  Dark Horse is now also collecting the Savage Sword of Conan stuff in addition to the other Marvel Conan series that they were already collecting.  Anything done by the duo of Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith is a must purchase.  Of all the people that have tried to follow in REH's footsteps, these are the guys who get the absolute closest in tone.

[url]Of the three collections of REH's Conan stories, the last one has my three favorite Conan tales[url].  Maybe not surprising given that the stories are collected in the order in which they were written.
Khaldun
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Reply #12 on: May 25, 2008, 05:06:24 PM

I think the Busiek and Nord adaptations are actually very superior to the Thomas/Buscema ones. Thomas has always had a tin-eared literalism when doing adaptations--the Busiek and Nord flow better, have better graphical storytelling, just are generally richer and better even than the original Howard, in some cases.
stray
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Reply #13 on: May 25, 2008, 05:16:52 PM

On a sidenote, I picked up some of the "Age of Conan" stuff (novels). Stories about different characters in Hyboria (I guess the property owners are finally trying to flesh the world out/cash in...). They've been around before the game of the same name, I think.

It's not trying to recreate REH, but it's not bad (light) reading either. Especially if you want to read about a closer perspective of races other than Cimmerian.
Phildo
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Reply #14 on: May 25, 2008, 08:54:16 PM

Wait until Hammer Frenzy finds this thread.
HAMMER FRENZY
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WWW
Reply #15 on: May 30, 2008, 08:09:42 AM

RRRRRROOOOOOOOWWWWWRRRRR!!!!!  DRILLING AND MANLINESS


Anyway, I love me some Conan. The old books were great, as were the comics, fun stuff. I personally really like the recent comic, I have been collecting it since it began, I love the hell out of Cary Nord's art. It is a shame he is no longer penciling that book. The book is still good regardless.

My Genesis games... LET ME SHOW YOU THEM!
Velorath
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Reply #16 on: June 05, 2008, 04:50:20 AM

The Dark Horse Conan book has wrapped up with issue #50 and is being relaunched on July 16th as Conan the Cimmerian.  Tim Truman will be writing, with Tomas Giorello on art.

Dark Horse has also put an 8 page Solomon Kane story up on their Myspace page as a preview of the upcoming comic they're doing.
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