Book Review: ‘The Conan Companion: A Publishing History and Collector’s Guide’ by Richard Toogood

If you remember the review I did for the book Paperbacks From Hell, this book is a lot like that one. Although, it’s focused specifically on Conan titles.

What’s cool about this, though, is that it doesn’t just go through the history of the original Robert E. Howard stories and books but it also covers the books that were written by other authors later on. It also explores the comic side of things to.

This is part history book, part reference book and part art book. Well, mostly art book, as it showcases so many great covers from the nearly century long literary history of the Conan franchise.

I loved thumbing through this as I was reminded of many book covers I had long forgotten and even more that I had never seen. When I was a kid, it was seeing these book covers in the library that really drew me to the character, even more so than the original 1982 movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Granted, the comics pulled me in too but there was just something about the paintings that adorned the covers of the paperbacks I’d come across that really captivated my imagination.

This is a pretty cool book to own if you’re a fan of fantasy art or the Conan mythos. If you’re a big fan of both, even better. 

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Paperbacks From Hell, as well as other Robert E. Howard related non-fiction books, many of which I’ve reviewed here.

Book Review: ‘Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Vol. 2’ by Roy Thomas

The first volume of this book series covered issues 1-51 of the original Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian series. This volume covers issues 52-100.

These two books are written by Roy Thomas, the legend that wrote the Conan comics. These basically serve as his commentary on his stories.

In fact, when I go back and read old issues, I’ve picked these books up to read his insight before revisiting them.

Thomas has always been one of my favorite comic book writers and the Conan franchise has always been one of my favorite IPs. So having these books is pretty damn cool and I’m actually pretty thankful that something like this was written, compiled and published.

I already reviewed the first one and all the positives I had to say about it also ring true for this volume.

All in all, these are great, resourceful books that allow you to understand Thomas’ inspiration, his stories and these characters on a level much deeper than just the comic book page.

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

Comic Review: The Saga of Solomon Kane

Published: August 18th, 2009
Written by: Roy Thomas, Doug Moench, various
Art by: various
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard, characters by Bram Stoker

Marvel Comics (original printing), Dark Horse (reprinted), 416 Pages

Review:

Man, this was one hell of a buy! A great value in fact! I was surprised that I found one in pretty pristine condition on eBay for about twenty bucks.

This collection is pretty special, as it is magazine sized and all in black and white. It’s also over 400 glorious pages! It reprints all of the Solomon Kane magazine format stories from the original Marvel era when they had all the Robert E. Howard publishing rights from the ’70s into the early ’90s.

I’ve read probably half of these stories before, as I own a lot of the issues these tales appeared in but it’s been a really long time and about 50-60 percent of this was new to me.

It seems like this is mostly in chronological order and it allowed for it to read much better as a broader body of work, covering the large passage of time over Kane’s many adventures.

Being that this was made by Marvel, it features some great crossovers with the Marvel version of Dracula, as well as another Robert E. Howard character, Conan. There’s even a story in here that features Frankenstein’s castle.

A lot of the stories here are adapted from Howard’s literary Solomon Kane tales. Having recently read the definitive collection of the literary work, it was really cool seeing some of the same tales brought to life with great art.

All in all, this is now one of my favorite things in my graphic novel collection. It’s a beast of a collection but it’s also something I know I’ll go back to and revisit again and again for the rest of my life.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other comic stories that were featured within the pages of the original Savage Sword of Conan magazine.

Comic Review: What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth TODAY?

Published: February, 1979
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Glynis Wein
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

finally collected all four issues of What If? that feature Conan the Barbarian. So I figured that I’d read them all and review them. In fact, I’ve had plans to review all of the What If? comics in my collection, as some of them are great alternative takes on the heroes and villains we all love.

This is the first story to feature Conan and it’s probably the most well-known of the four. Also, it is penned by regular Conan the Barbarian comic writer Roy Thomas.

The question posed by this issue of What If? is an intriguing one, especially for the time when it came out. While Conan has been to the modern world several times since the 1970s, this was the first of those stories.

Now I can’t call it the best of those stories, as I am digging the absolute hell out of the Savage Avengers title that started last year but this took a typical “fish out of water” story and just made it more badass and cooler than they typically are.

This also features a very brief cameo by Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson but unfortunately, we don’t get to see Conan and Spider-Man tussle.

The story sees magic from Conan’s time send him to 1970s New York City, a time of rampant crime and a Times Square filled with grindhouse theaters, lots of drugs and affordable sex services. Being that Marvel likes to sell comics to kids, we don’t get to see Conan partake in any of these awesome activities.

What we do see, is Conan not knowing how to adapt to this strange land and quickly finding himself a wanted man because half naked dudes swinging swords in New York City was really frowned upon, even in the ’70s.

He also meets a cool chick that is way too trusting and they do “Conan and lady” thangs.

Ultimately, he arrives back home by the end of the issue and it left me wanting more. I get that What If? is a series of one-shots, essentially, but this really could’ve worked and been better as a multi-issue story.

In the end, it was a solid read and I liked seeing Roy Thomas’ take on Conan in the then-modern world.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the three other What If? comics featuring Conan.

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.