Comic Review: Conan: The Hour of the Dragon

Published: January 1st, 2020
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: John Buscema, Gil Kane
Based on: Conan the Barbarian and other characters by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 281 Pages

Review:

This is old school ’70s Conan the Barbarian by the original Conan comic book maestro, Roy Thomas. But it was just released as a collection and it’s kind of unique, as it tries to adapt the only full-length Conan novel that Robert E. Howard wrote: The Hour of the Dragon.

This was mainly told over the course of multiple issues of Giant-Size Conan and Conan the Barbarian annuals, as opposed to being a part of the regular comic book series.

Overall, this was action packed and featured some of the best character development writing for the Conan character. It also sees him fall in love, get married and become a ruler.

This is one of those Conan stories that kind of hits all the marks one would be looking for in a comic featuring the iconic hero. A lot happens and every issue and chapter within is pretty cool.

Additionally, this features art from two of my all-time favorite Conan artists, Gil Kane and John Buscema.

Top to bottom, this is a solid Conan tale with solid art and while it might not be a perfect adaptation of the source material, it pulls it into the Marvel comic book mythos quite well.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Conan comics from the classic Marvel era.

Comic Review: The Adventures of Red Sonja, Vol. 1

Published: September 6th, 2007
Written by: Roy Thomas, various
Art by: Dick Giordano, Frank Thorne, various
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Marvel Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, 137 Pages

Review:

This collects Red Sonja’s first solo stories, which appeared in Marvel Feature before she’d go on to have her own self-titled comic book.

Overall, this is great. I’ve never read these stories and it was nice filling in the blanks between her first appearance in the pages of Conan the Barbarian and the first Red Sonja title. Plus, this also brings her and Conan back together and throws in Bêlit, who has become one of my favorite Conan companions.

Conan and Bêlit don’t come in until the last two chapters of this collection and unfortunately, that story ends on a cliffhanger without the finale in this volume. But it’s still cool seeing them together, as well as seeing Bêlit’s first impression of Sonja.

This is quintessential ’70s Marvel sword and sorcery without Conan as the focal point and it’s just a really cool, energetic read with incredible art and great stories by Roy Thomas, as well as others. It also includes some adaptations of Robert E. Howard’s original literary work.

For fans of ’70s Marvel, sword and sorcery, general fantasy, great writing, great art or all of the above, this should definitely be a pleasing experience.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel era Red Sonja comics, as well as other crossovers with Conan.

Comic Review: Doctor Strange – Epic Collection: A Separate Reality

Published: October 19th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 480 Pages

Review:

I’ve been going back and picking up a lot of ’70s Doctor Strange floppy issues, lately. Mainly, I love Marvel’s art style with their fantasy and horror titles from the decade and Doctor Strange had some of the best covers from that time. But after reading a few of the singles issues, I wanted to delve into a much larger chunk, so I gave this huge Epic Collection release a read.

This actually focuses on the end of Doctor Strange’s first solo series, his complete run in Marvel Premiere and then the first handful of issues of his second solo series.

This also features a ton of great artists and writers, as well as adapting some of H.P. Lovecraft’s characters and concepts into the Marvel Universe, beyond what was done in just the Conan titles.

Furthermore, this collection features just about all of the major Doctor Strange villains of the era with a lot of emphasis on Nightmare.

This was, hands down, one of the best Doctor Strange trade paperbacks I have ever read and it only solidified my love for the character from this era. It also kind of made me wish they’d have done something with Strange and Conan back in the ’70s due to the Lovecraftian flavor of this book.

I’ll be in search of other hefty collections of Doctor Strange from the ’70s and early ’80s because this was just damn cool and featured so much imagination and stupendous art. I wish people didn’t sleep on old school Doctor Strange, it’s really, really great stuff.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other old school Doctor Strange collections, as well as ’70s Marvel fantasy and horror comics.

Comic Review: The Tomb of Dracula – The Complete Collection, Vol. 2

Published: October 3rd, 2018
Written by: Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, Gary Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman
Art by: Gene Colan, Ross Andru, John Buscema, Dick Giordano, Don Heck, Mike Ploog, Gil Kane (cover)
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Marvel Comics, 512 Pages

Review:

Over the last few months, I’ve been reading a lot of the ’70s Marvel Comics stuff. I dabbled in some of these stories when I was a kid but they were before my time and weren’t as easy to get when I really started collecting comics circa 1990. Plus, my attention, at that time, was focused on superhero stuff, as well as G.I. Joe.

I enjoyed the first volume in this massive collections of The Tomb of Dracula, so naturally I wanted to check out this one too. In the end, I liked this one even more. I think a lot of that has to do with this taking place more in the modern world, which allowed Marvel’s incarnation of Dracula to interact with some of Marvel’s famous superheroes.

In this collection we get to see Dracula meet Spider-Man, Werewolf by Night and Marvel’s version of Frankenstein’s Monster. We also get a small cameo by the Human Torch, as well as the debut of Dracula’s daughter, Lilith. This even had a swashbuckling tale in it.

Now this had a ton of different writers and artists, as it bounces around to different titles that featured Dracula, at the time. Despite this, the book feels consistent, which is a testament to how great Marvel’s editorial was in the ’70s. As far as that company has fallen in recent years, they wouldn’t be able to pull this feat off in 2020.

Most of the stories here were good, it was an energetic read with great art by several legends and it is a fantastic example of ’70s Marvel horror at its finest.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Dracula stories, as well as other ’70s Marvel horror titles.

Comic Review: Super-Villains Unite: The Complete Super-Villain Team-Up

Published: March 4th, 2015
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 458 Pages

Review:

This was a comic book series that I had wanted to read for a long time. I was collecting all of the single issues, in an effort to get the whole shebang before reading any of them, as I wanted the full experience.

However, I found the beefy collected edition at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet for like $4.95. So I couldn’t pass up that deal and because tracking down the whole series, as well as its crossovers was taking some time.

Anyway, this wasn’t exactly what I had hoped it was but it was still a really fun comic, especially as a fan of Doctor Doom, who is mostly the main character, alongside Namor, throughout the series’ run.

What I had hoped (or assumed) this was, was a book that put two villains together like a tag team in an effort to see them fight their regular nemeses. I expected more of a mix up of villains but the vast majority of this pairs Doom and Namor. And honestly, most of the time, they’re at odds with each other, so “team-up” isn’t all that accurate.

Other villains come into the series towards the end. We get to see Red Skull, Arnim Zola, The Hate-Monger, Magneto and a few others. But most of this is Doom having schemes that typically involve Namor. It pits them (well, mostly Doom) against superhero teams like The Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the ’70s version of The Champions but it also sees Doom come into conflict with other major villains.

For the most part, this is a really fun and energetic series that highlights what was great about ’70s Marvel. However, the series kept switching writers and artists and some of the issues aren’t nearly as great as the more solid ones.

It’s definitely better written in the first few issues, as those duties were handled by the great Roy Thomas. Towards the end, the book gets more exciting, as a lot of characters get wedged in but the earliest stories were just better written tales.

All in all, this is definitely worth picking up for those out there that are into ’70s Marvel and/or Doctor Doom. If you can find the collected trade paperback for as cheap as I got it, you should definitely pick it up and give it a shot.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the Avengers and Fantastic Four comics of the ’70s.

Comic Review: Savage Sword of Conan (2019 Series)

Published: February 13th, 2019 – December 11th, 2019
Written by: Gerry Duggan, Meredith Finch, Jim Zub, Roy Thomas, Frank Tieri
Art by: Ron Garney, Luke Ross, Patch Zircher, Alan Davis, Andrea Di Vito, Alex Ross (covers), David Finch (cover), Marco Checchetto (covers), Dave Wilkins (cover)
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 336 Pages

Review:

This is the second time Marvel has done a comic book series called Savage Sword of Conan, although the original one was a black and white comic magazine while this one was a traditional color comic book. If I’m being honest, I had really hoped that this was going to be a colorless magazine but it was still pretty good, initially.

The first half dozen issues or so were written by Gerry Duggan and the story was solid and had a good flow and pace. About halfway through the twelve issue run, he went off to write Savage Avengers and the duties were then handled by four other writers all taking turns. This is where it became a bit disjointed and somewhat directionless.

Plus, Marvel had just relaunched the regular Conan the Barbarian title a month earlier, so reading both books, monthly, created a lot of confusion, as I couldn’t remember which events happened in which story arcs.

That being said, this probably reads better as a complete body of work, as opposed to reading it in one issue increments with a month of time between the chapters.

For the most part, I loved the art in every issue and am happy that Marvel are using some of their better talent on these new Conan books.

Side note: the first issue was absolutely fantastic. Everything starts to be a letdown after that.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Conan and sword and sorcery comics of the modern era.

Comic Review: Conan the Barbarian: The Original Marvel Years Omnibus, Vol. 2

Published: August 6th, 2019
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: Gil Kane, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Rich Buckler
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 856 Pages

Review:

There’s not much I can say about how good this is that I didn’t say in the review for volume one. This is virtually more of the same but that’s a great thing.

Roy Thomas is still writing these stories and adapting the work of Robert E. Howard while mixing in his own original ideas that he keeps as close to the spirit of the source material as possible.

I did like the monsters in a lot of these stories more than the ones from the earliest issues, as they felt more imaginative and refined.

We also get a few stories that team-up Conan and Red Sonja again, which is something I’ve always loved and that we’ll never get to see again unless both heroes end up at the same publisher one day.

This collection is massive, beefy but none of it is dull, even if some one-off issues and adventures may start to feel a bit repetitive after awhile.

Conan is still a cool and engaging character, however, so even when the stories feel like they may be retreading something you’ve already read, Conan still makes it fun and worthwhile.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Conan and sword and sorcery comics penned by Roy Thomas.

Comic Review: Conan the Barbarian: The Original Marvel Years Omnibus, Vol. 1

Published: January 29th, 2019
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: Barry Windsor-Smith, Gil Kane, John Buscema
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 776 Pages

Review:

I read this collection of the first 26 issues of Marvel’s original Conan the Barbarian run because I had just read Roy Thomas’ book where he gives in-depth commentary on the first 51 issues.

Also, I’m a big Conan fan but I hadn’t read most of these issues yet, as some of the earliest ones are really expensive now and because I didn’t start collecting Conan comics until this series was well over a hundred issues. I wasn’t born until the very end of ’78 and didn’t really get into buying and collecting comics until ’89.

Anyway, this was really cool to read and just about every issue was a great story with superb art, whether it was the illustration work of Barry Smith, Gil Kane or John Buscema. The book is mostly dominated by the work of Smith and I found his art here to be some of his absolute best.

What’s especially neat about these stories is that some of them are actually adapted from the works of Robert E. Howard and some are original stories made to fit within Howard’s already established universe that predates the comics by about forty years.

Not all of the Howard material that was adapted was actually Conan stories, specifically. Some of them were taken from other characters like Howard’s Kull and then retrofitted into Conan tales.

This collection of issues includes some first appearances and a crossover as well. This is where we see evil sorcerer Thoth-Amon debut, as well as the most popular female sword and sorcery hero of all-time, Red Sonja. As for the crossover, in this book Conan meets Elric of Melniboné, a popular fantasy character that was created by Michael Moorcock in 1961. Elric has gone on to have his own multimedia franchise in the same vein as Conan.

The price tag on this omnibus is pretty hefty but it’s a 700-plus page hardcover and it still costs less than trying to round up all these issues, individually.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Conan and sword and sorcery comics penned by Roy Thomas.

Book Review: ‘The Art of Red Sonja, Vol. 2’ by Various

Where the first volume in The Art of Red Sonja covered a lot of her earliest stuff, this one focuses more on her modern covers since she’s been at Dynamite Entertainment.

While I’d say that this one didn’t captivate me as much as the first volume, the vast majority of the artwork featured here is still great and worthy of being collected into this second book.

I’m a current reader of all the current Red Sonja titles and this book actually makes me wish that Dynamite was still doing covers with the quality of these earlier Red Sonja issues.

That’s not to knock the current art but the stuff featured in this book is much better and more reminiscent of the old Spanish and Italian pulp paintings from half a century ago. The art on many of the covers in this book remind me of the superb art from the Warren Publishing era of Vampirella.

There is also a lot of art pieces that are done in a more modern style but it’s the classic looking stuff that really pops off of the page. And frankly, sword and sorcery artwork, at least the covers, should look and feel like the art decorating the old van of the town metalhead.

Some of the pieces also look like pop art, manga or like Disney run amok. Those styles aren’t really my favorite for this character but it’s neat seeing them alongside some of the more traditional art pieces.

While not as solid, overall, as the first volume in this art book series, this one is still worth checking out if you enjoy Red Sonja or fantasy pulp art.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other art books put out by Dynamite Entertainment that features the history of the characters they publish.

Book Review: ‘Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Vol. 1’ by Roy Thomas

Man, this was a really cool book to read. Any fan of the ’70s Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics should love this, as it gives deep insight into every one of the first 51 issues.

The best part, is all this insight is given by Roy Thomas, the man who wrote and managed the creation of each of these issues.

Each chapter in this book covers a single issue. Each chapter is also typically four-to-five pages, which really is a lot when looking at the bigger picture. In fact, I’m surprised that Roy Thomas was even able to remember so many details, even with the help of his own notes.

I mean, I’m in a field where I create art every day and even on the biggest brands I’ve designed, I can’t remember all the reasons why I made certain creative choices. And I’m a lot younger than Thomas and my work wasn’t done decades ago.

This is a fun and impressive read. It gives you Thomas’ point-of-view on the character, the mythos and how to stay as true as possible to Robert E. Howard’s vision when there isn’t enough material to use over a lengthy amount of time creating monthly Conan stories.

Also, this book is labeled as a “volume one”. So I guess there is more coming. I hope so, because this was so enjoyable. But I also hope that I don’t have to wait too long for “volume two”.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Roy Thomas’ historic run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian.