Comic Review: Conan Chronicles – Epic Collection IV: The Battle of Shamla Pass

Published: January 14th, 2020
Written by: Benjamin Truman, Tim Truman
Art by: Joe Kubert, various
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Dark Horse Comics, Marvel (reprinted), 464 Pages

Review:

These massive collections are kind of pricey, which up to this point was fine. But this one is probably my jumping off point, as it was such a big step down from the previous three Epic Collection releases Marvel has put.

These beefy trade paperbacks cover the span of Conan stories while they were being produced and published by Dark Horse after the original Marvel runs. Well, now that Conan is back at Marvel, they’re releasing two-to-three of these per year to fill in the void.

I guess the stories in this volume weren’t all that bad but the art was a big departure from what I had come to expect with the other volumes.

Additionally, the art was a mixed bag with contrasting styles that changed too often and just sort of made this collection feel really disjointed, where the others felt cohesive, uniform and consistent.

In fact, I’d say that this one made me appreciate the early volumes that much more.

I guess if you’re a Conan completist and you want all of these, have at it. For me, I’ll have to look through the next one before I just outright buy it.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Conan comics from the Dark Horse era.

Comic Review: What If Thor Battled Conan?

Published: June, 1983
Written by: Alan Zelenetz
Art by: Ron Wilson
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

I’m planning to review many of the classic What If? stories but in doing so, I wanted to start with the ones featuring Conan first. This is the second of the four Conan stories.

While Conan briefly crossed over with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in his first What If? tale, it was just a small cameo by Spider-Man and his future wife and the characters didn’t actually interact. This story, however, is the first time that Conan actually has fisticuffs with an iconic Marvel character.

The comic also features Conan villain Thoth-Amon, a brief appearance by Loki and a strange, bonkers appearance by Crom, who shows that he just doesn’t have time for Thor’s shit.

The comic’s title is somewhat misleading, as Thor and Conan do actually battle but it’s pretty short and they start working together to try and figure out how to get Thor back home, as he’s trapped in Conan’s realm and time.

The setup for this is pretty basic. Thor follows Loki into a cave and ends up in a different time and place. Part of me was kind of hoping to see Loki team up with Thoth-Amon but that didn’t happen.

Overall, this was a pretty cool read but the scene with Thor meeting Crom felt really out of place, strange and as if the writer didn’t really know much about Conan lore. Crom isn’t like Odin, just chilling on a throne for anyone to confront and chat with.

This isn’t my favorite of the Conan What If? stories but none of them are bad and they’re all amusing and entertaining in their own unique way.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the three other What If? comics featuring Conan.

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: ‘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.

Comic Review: Conan Chronicles – Epic Collection III: Return to Cimmeria

Published: October 2nd, 2019
Written by: Kurt Busiek, Timothy Truman
Art by: various
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Dark Horse Comics, Marvel (reprinted), 494 Pages

Review:

I’m glad that Marvel’s ego isn’t so big that they didn’t care about putting these collections out.

The stories collected in these Conan Epic Collections are the stories from the character’s era at Dark Horse. It’s exciting to read, at least for me, as I didn’t read the Dark Horse stuff until now. Mainly, due to not reading a lot of comics in the time that these were originally published.

These stories are mostly written by Kurt Busiek and this picks up from his run that was collected in the two previous volumes of the Conan Epic Collections.

This string of tales adapts some of Robert E. Howard’s classic literary stories but it also has some stories that happen before or after famous Conan tales.

For the most part, this is nearly as good as the previous volumes but there seems to be more of a mixture of art styles. While most of the art is good, some of it becomes visually jarring when going from chapter to chapter in that the styles differ greatly in parts. But this tends to happen with Epic Collections and other large collected works in the comic book medium.

Ultimately, this was still a good read and I’m most likely going to pick up the fourth volume when it is released in a few months.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Kurt Busiek’s Conan run, as well as other Conan comics from the Dark Horse era.

Comic Review: Conan Chronicles – Epic Collection I: Out of the Darksome Hills

Published: February 19th, 2019
Written by: Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza
Art by: Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates, Greg Ruth, Tom Mandrake
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Dark Horse Comics, Marvel (reprinted), 496 Pages

Review:

Few things in life are actually “epic as fuck”. This hefty collection of Kurt Busiek’s Conan run is one of those things.

This collects twenty comics worth of Conan stories and even throws a Fabian Nicieza one in for a little extra cherry on top of this badass sundae.

Every story in this collection is good. I’m not just saying that. Busiek understands the character of Conan, his world and really goes to great length at penning some fabulous story arcs.

This even gives us a good story featuring Thoth-Amon, one of Conan’s biggest villains over the years.

Kurt Busiek should be proud of his run here. He has written several stories that are good enough to stand alongside Robert E. Howard’s original work. Busiek gets Conan and the character’s audience.

Additionally, most of the art in this is perfect. There are a few single issues mixed in that have art that isn’t as good but those were mostly filler issues where the main artist was probably off working on another title.

All in all, this is a great Conan collection and the first part of one of the absolute best runs on the character in the comic book medium.

I have the second collection, which I will read and review in the near future.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Kurt Busiek’s Conan run, as well as other Conan comics from the Dark Horse era.

Comic Review: Red Sonja/Conan: Blood of a God

Published: February 3rd, 2016
Written by: Victor Gischler
Art by: Roberto Castro
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith

Dynamite Entertainment, 138 Pages

Review:

A crossover between the characters of Red Sonja and Conan the Barbarian is kind of rare but usually, they are always fun. Plus, the comic book version of Red Sonja first debuted in the original Conan the Barbarian comic from Marvel back in the ’70s.

In this miniseries, things are pretty simple and straightforward. Conan and Red Sonja run into each other, they flirt, they kill shit and they band together to destroy an evil wizard warlord. There is a big twist in the story towards the end though, and one of Conan’s biggest enemies appears.

The action was great in this and the book is full of cool monsters, my favorite of which was a large three headed rat that looked like a rodent Cerberus.

Blood of a God also has several nods to older Conan and Red Sonja stories.

The way that the story comes together at the end and concludes was really cool.

I read through this pretty quickly. Actually, while sitting in a busy restaurant waiting too damn long for some Buffalo wings.

In the end, this was exciting, badass and hit the mark.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Red Sonja and Conan comics from Dynamite Entertainment.