This collection starts off with Conan: Exodus, written and illustrated by Esad Ribic. Exodus follows the exploits of a teenage Conan as he makes his way out into the world and quickly learns how savage it can be. In this mostly-silent tale, Conan faces a series of mounting challenges. Whether he’s trying to find shelter from the elements, battling wildlife, or staring down a number of swords, the Cimmerian remains stoic and focused. There’s a sense of escalation in this story, with Conan seeming to learn a lesson each time that he carries through to the next encounter.
Ribic’s artwork throughout Exodus is excellent. Conan’s expressive face communicates everything the reader needs to know about his frame of mind. Moments of excitement, victory, and terror are etched into the character’s reactions to his situation. The battles are tense and bloody, but Ribic chooses not to linger on the gore. Instead, the issue seems focused on showing how Conan has been hardened by his time in the wild.
The only dialogue in the issue is presented in some kind of Nordic script, and VC’s Travis Lanham renders that in an interesting way. It’s a clever visual cue that seems perfectly chosen, as it illustrates how alien Conan’s attackers seem from his point of view. Even so, he knows how to deal with threats by this point, and Exodus gracefully communicates the ways in which Conan’s experiences have shaped him.
In the second issue of the collection, Savage Sword of Conan #12 (from Frank Tieri and Andrea Di Vito), we find Conan once more emerging victorious from a rowdy bar fight when he comes across a lost little girl in trouble. But things aren’t always as innocent as they may seem in Cimmeria. Of the entries in this collection, this feels the most like a classic Robert E. Howard Conan story. There’s not much in the way of exposition or explanation for the demon that Conan faces in this outing, but the events of the day get to the heart of the barbarian. It’s clear that he is shaken by what transpires here, and Di Vito’s artwork really dials readers into Conan’s emotional state. Di Vito also gets a good opportunity to draw some many-limbed abominations that Robert E. Howard probably would have approved of.
The issue that caps this collection off, 2020’s King-Size Conan #1, is an excellent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the barbarian’s first Marvel Comics appearance. The stories in King-Size Conan all present different facets of Conan at different points in his life. The first story, written by classic Marvel Conan scribe Roy Thomas and illustrated by Steve McNiven, is a rollicking good time. It manages to squeeze in multiple action sequences and some wonderfully over-the-top dialogue into its short page run. The only qualm with this one is that it ends just as it feels like it’s getting going. However, fans of the original comic will know what comes next, as this acts as a prequel of sorts. It’s a clever setup that may not work for everyone, but I got a kick out of it.
The collection features some standout pieces, including a rather wild Marvel Comics debut from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, but the strongest story of the bunch may be the short interlude by Chris Claremont and Roberto de la Torre, which shows the more dignified and somber side of Conan. It’s a heartbreaking little story in which Conan comforts a fallen enemy the only way he knows how: by telling them the way he sees the world. As dark as this story is, there’s an odd tenderness to it that illustrates how Conan’s mind works. Things really are simple to him, and that may be the reason why he has lived so long.
Some of the stories in King-Size Conan seem a little more slight than others, without much in the way of pay-off, but it is still interesting to see how various creative teams approach the many different facets of the character.
Exodus and Other Tales presents a full look at everything that makes Conan such an enduring character, which makes this a perfect introductory volume for the character.
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