It’s quite easy to forget Conan the Barbarian has largely lived in the comics world, even though his origins come from Robert E. Howard’s novel. The history of Conan’s creation, reprinting in the 1935 Weird Tales magazine, and its first comic book adaptation in Marvel Comics is an interesting one. It’s a tale well worth a look which you get in Roy Thomas’ introduction written in 2019 and printed in this new printing that inspired generations. That and the fact that there are never before colored comics getting the color artist treatment make this a must-buy for every Conan the Barbarian fan.
This book collects Giant-Size Conan (1974) #1-4, Conan the Barbarian Annual (1973) #4-5 and material from Savage Sword of Conan (1974) #8, 10. It’s a fascinating read if you’ve read the many Dark Horse Comics and now new Marvel Comics iterations of the character. You can see the inspiring moments, the familiar dialogue, and the strong depiction of a barbarian warrior who never gives up. It tickles the interest when you notice some of these stories were reprinted later with new art and slight variations on the script. It’s also worth noting this collection was 45 years in the making — it’s quite a historical document you’re holding.
This is quite an adventure adapted by Conway with all sorts of great twists and turns. Conan gets poisoned, sails the seas, he fights a gorilla monster, and goes to war on the battlefield. We see pretty much every iteration of Conan there is, from king to fighter to lover. It’s a good example of how the groundwork was outlined here so that others could get their imaginations going. The fact that Thomas fleshed out new stories when given the chance shows creators even 50 years ago weren’t afraid to play with the character in this new sandbox.
The art in this book is astounding, especially given it’s 50 years old. Gil Kane and John Buscema are legends at this point, but it’s fun to read Thomas’s explanation of how both were given this title to work on. Buscema, for instance, was sick of drawing superheroes. A lot of the art in this book is closer in perspective, not giving us too much of environments or backgrounds. To me, that lets the imagination run wild. As Conway explains in the intro, many of the early iterations of Conan on cover art depicted him in Roman clothing. Artists most likely were influenced by movies and books at the time, but it’s interesting to see how this comic itself has visual themes carried forward even today.
This is without a doubt a must-read for Conan the Barbarian fans and really comic fans in general. The opening introduction by Roy Thomas is an incredible recap of the history that lead to the very first Conan comic with interesting details on the development of the stories here. The character is timeless and by reading this it’s obvious why.
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