By Roy Thomas and John Buscema (Dark Horse Books)
This volume, reprinting the original 1970s Marvel comic tales of Conan the Barbarian (issues #27 – 34), is the first all John Buscema package. He actually took over the drawing from Barry Windsor-Smith for the final chapters of the mega-epic ‘War of the Tarim’ – featured in the previous volume).
It features a much more “pulps” oriented style of episodic action – much of it based on writer Roy Thomas’ adaptations of R E Howard’s (and some other pulp writers) “heroic” rather than fantasy fiction. Also on show is the inking of long-time Conan illustrator Ernie Chua/Chan.
First up is ‘Blood of Bel-Hissar’, a tight tale of banditry, followed by the excellent Jungle horror story ‘Moon of Zembabwei’. ‘Two Against Turan’ sees Conan join the army of Howard’s analogue of an Arabic super-state (and how prescient was that?). The effete and ineffectual King Yildiz – father of Conan’s greatest human enemy, Yezdigerd – features in a tale that shows all of the barbarian’s most compelling qualities.
It is followed by ‘Hand of Nergal’, another mystic adventure and the first in this volume not taken directly from a Howard original, although it is from a Lin Carter novelette based on Howard’s notes.
‘Shadow in the Tomb’ has become something of an iconic Conan scenario due to the movies, but it’s a fairly standard monster and mayhem yarn. The chronicle concludes with a three chapter epic based on the novel Flame Winds by Norvell W. Page, author of most of the pulp adventures of The Spider, with Thomas substituting Conan for wandering crusader Prester John, and setting the tale in the fabulous Chinese equivalent of ‘Khitai’.
Despite the critical acclaim of the Windsor-Smith issues, the solid thriller tales represented here were the actual beginning of the sales phenomenon that Conan became. With the addition of glossy twenty-first century colouring techniques they read better than ever.
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