Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

11 April 2006

Chronicles of Conan, v. 10: When Giants Walk the Earth and Other Stories

Collects: Conan the Barbarian #72-7 and 79-81 (1977)

Released: March 2006 (Dark Horse)

The Chronicles of Conan are one of the unexpected pleasures of life. Usually, when comic books center around licensed properties, it’s impossible to get them reprinted years later. For instance, the latest Essential Spider-Man had to skip Giant-Sized Spider-Man #3 because it guest starred Doc Savage, who is owned by Conde Nast. The Essential Marvel Two-in-One omitted Marvel Two-in-One #21 for the same reason.

Marvel no longer has the license to publish Conan from Conan Properties, but Dark Horse does. So in addition to publishing a new Conan series, Dark Horse publishes reprints of the classic Conan stories from Marvel. They’ve given readers ten volumes so far, which is wonderful. As a bonus, each volume has writer Roy Thomas’s memories of the issues, revealing behind-the-scenes information and the source of names and plots.

There are slight snags, however. Dark Horse doesn’t have the rights to Red Sonja, a character created by Conan-creator Robert E. Howard in a Crusader story and shoehorned into Conan’s world by Thomas. He was like that; Thomas loved to take Howard’s non-Conan stories, throw them into his Conan-O-Tronic blender with a small pinch of Conan Dust, and make them into Conan comics. In any event, Dynamic Forces holds that license, and they are following Dark Horse’s example by publishing a new series and the original Marvel series. Dynamic Forces is on their second volume of reprints. #78 is left out of v. 10 because the issue itself was a reprint of Savage Sword of Conan #1, a Conan / Red Sonja team up.

Conan the Barbarian #73 cover The other snag is that Dark Horse can’t reprint the original Marvel covers. For the most part, I haven’t missed them. But this week I was selling the odd comics that were duplicated by the trades I have, and I saw a few of the original covers. I didn’t realize how much the trades of Conan missed the covers until I looked at the original individual issues. There’s something dynamic and exciting about those covers that makes you want to buy them off the rack. I mean, they’re not necessary, but after knowing what they looked like, I definitely felt their absence.

And this volume could have used some appeal. I admit, I am not a fan of the type of story in v. 10; Belit, Conan’s lover and pirate Queen of the Black Coast, goes to the heart of her enemy’s empire to rescue her father, deposed king of a small city-state. But after nine issues, Conan and Belit seem only halfway to their goal, with Conan and Belit being forced to sort out the murderous politics of another city-state. Then Conan gets sent on a pointless errand for that city-state and ends up in a time-lost city founded by Alexander the Great … Thomas’s focus is weak at best here; either he was bored or just had so many ideas at the time he couldn’t wait to insert them. Art is by John Buscema and Howard Chaykin. Those of you who have seen Buscema’s art know whether you like him. Buscema, one of the stalwarts of Marvel (as is his brother, Sal), has a strong, detailed style that fits Conan well, especially with his proclivity to make all the men muscled monstrosities and the women scantily clad. Chaykin’s art was inked to make it look like Buscema’s, so there is little to distinguish the two artists (particularly under Dark Horse’s recoloring of the stories). Dark Horse also gets demerits for not getting the contents right. On both the back cover and on the title page verso, they list #82 as part of the collection. It isn’t. Not only is that deceptive, it's also sloppy quality control. Still, it does little long-term harm ... this time.

If you choose Chronicles of Conan titles to buy on a book-by-book basis, I would recommend skipping this one. I doubt that is the case, though, with most readers getting all of them. Despite the meandering plot, this one is fairly inoffensive.

Grade: C+

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