Marvel Comics has been re-releasing classic Conan stories originally published by Dark Horse Comics. The second volume in the collection houses Conan #20 through #39 originally printed in 2005 through 2007. Over ten years old now, these stories are some of the best produced by Dark Horse and are a great place to find every aspect of the character that makes him great. Here are three reasons why.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
The Tower of the Elephant and other stories! Conan the Barbarian stars in more legendary tales filled with swords, sorcery, giant spiders and monstrous creatures – including stories adapted from the original works of Robert E. Howard! Stealing the priceless gem the Heart of the Elephant from an unguarded tower seems like child’s play -but nothing’s ever easy for Conan! Then, a dalliance with a magistrate’s wife spells trouble, and Conan’s adventures in the City of Thieves continue as he runs a gauntlet of threats both human and inhuman! But what grotesque horrors await him in the Hall of the Dead? And is anybody ready for Conan…the King? Plus, tales of Conan’s youth as he braves the Battle of Brita’s Vale -and rides a wild Cimmerian bull!
Can I jump in easily?
Like most Conan the Barbarian stories these tales are told with lots of narration drawing your attention into the mystery and plot at hand. It’s the kind of story you’d read to someone over a campfire letting the imagination run free. So yes, they are quite easy to enjoy, especially since Conan’s character is somewhat basic and easy to understand. You don’t need to read 100 comics to enjoy a good one to three issue story arc which this collection contains many of.
Reason 1: Kurt Busiek reveals the ultimate thief
The first third of this collection is devoted to Kurt Busiek written stories, most of which are drawn by Cary Nord. Opening the book is a three issue story arc called “The Tower of the Elephant,” perfectly capturing the mystical nature of Conan stories, but also the hero’s cunning. It all opens in a thieves’ den with a man telling a great tale. It’s too good to be true, but Conan is interested. Soon he’s scaling walls, meeting strange super-thieves, and fighting giant spiders. The story even contains a creation story within that’s deeply moving and captivating. This opening story perfectly captures the adventure and deep storytelling Conan can offer readers. It’s the kind of story that captures your imagination.
Further stories by Busiek feature fighting, but it’s Conan’s ability to scale impossible walls and sneak into places that take up the most attention. Conan may seem like a muscle-bound hero who swings a sword, but these stories help show the wit and otherworldly quickness of the character.
Reason 2: Mike Mignola proves even ghosts are no match for Conan
In a three-issue arc called “The Toad” Mike Mignola and Cary Nord (with color by Dave Stewart) put in a show stopper of a story. It opens with Conan being chased by an army, tricking said army and reducing their might to one, and then entering a very haunted ancient ruins. He’s after gold and jewels, but he bites off more than he can chew. Mignola expertly features a monstrous beast for Conan to fight, builds up a backstory involving ancient creepy men, and even has an army of zombies come after Conan. The story is excellent and even comes with a fantastic finish back in the real world. Nord and Stewart’s work is expertly done with incredible atmosphere and creepiness. The story does a good job establishing how large monsters and ancient temples are in comparison to Conan to helping to convey his mortality. If you know anyone who is a Conan denier have them read this.
Reason 3: Swords and battle are his game
Swordplay is the name of the game when it comes to writer Timothy Truman’s contributions to this collection. His work takes up the final 7 issues collected here drawn by artists Cary Nord, Rafael Kayanan and Paul Lee. Compared to the rest of the collection the sword fights are increased exponentially, but there’s also a full-on boxing match too. This section contains full-on battle scenes ala Braveheart and sword swinging scenes involving skeletons and even lizard men. The action is amped up in this section of the collection allowing Conan to show off his ability to cut through many layers of bad guys without working up a sweat.
Reasons to be wary?
Sometimes the art can look a bit shoddy or rushed. As Busiek explains in a foreword printed in the back of this book (and originally printed in the Conan: The Blood-Stained Crown and Other Stories collection) Cary Nord could not draw every issue for the monthly series. That means artist changes here and there peppered throughout. Thankfully Nord finishes every arc he starts. Some of Nord’s earlier work in this collection is a little rougher than in later chapters, which is a testament to the artist only getting better.
Is there a rationale for the reasons?
An excellent collection houses some of the best must-read Conan the Barbarian stories available. Mignola, Truman, and Busiek are all masters in their own right and there’s plenty of proof of that here.
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