By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
The rights to who can publish illustrated stories featuring Conan the Barbarian is back in the hands of Marvel Comics. I have no problem with that and found they released issue #1 of all new adventures to ring in the New Year. My first exposure to this Cimmerian’s adventures was with this publisher before the movies. I took a time out, but always kept an eye on releases and bought adaptations of Robert E. Howard’s works (or all new tales) which interested me the most. His use of the supernatural and how he incorporated the Ancient Egyptian mythos was key.
One of my favourite villains is Thoth-Amon. Although he was referenced once in Howard’s writings, in “The Phoenix on the Sword,” he was a recurring villain in Marvel’s early Conan books. It is well known that he made up part of the makeup of the cinema villain Thulsa Doom. As for whether this mad wizard will appear in the new works depends on what this company has planned. As soon as he becomes a major figure, I will be buying these new works.
In the meantime, Dark Horse Comics’ Conan the Reader makes for the perfect bedside read to get back up to speed. This work released early December and nicely complements this company’s omnibus collections. I started reading over the holidays; this compilation reprints Conan and the Jewels of Gwahlur, Conan: Book of Thoth, Conan and the People of the Black Circle, Conan and the Songs of the Dead, Conan: The Blood-Stained Crown and Other Stories, and Conan: The Daughters of Midora and Other Stories. It also includes a few original works for good measure.
I did not want to rush through this 688-page collection either. I savoured reading this book like a bottle of fine red wine. At the same time, I wanted to enjoy the visualizations artists P. Craig Russell, Ariel Olivetti, Kelley Jones, Timothy Truman, and Bart Sears put into visualizing this warrior’s many adventures. I enjoyed how Olivetti brought proto-Persia to life with her colours and Russell’s style has a warm depth to it. Of all the tales, my favourites were (of course) “Songs of the Dead” and “Book of Thoth.” To see Conan face off against Djinns and Undead Jackals (Proto-Egyptian or not) are my thing, and to see them in all their hideous glory made rereading a joy.
Comparing these works to issue #1 of Marvel’s new adventures is not my goal. When I want to hear Howard’s voice, I will turn his writing; The Complete Weird Tales Omnibus is great in this department. When I want to see blood and violence, there are Dark Horse Comics’ many collections until Marvel gets up to speed with their own. In the coming weeks will be their reprints of the first series, The Original Marvel Years Omnibus Vol. 1 and vol 2 (Amazon Link) which I will be eying to buy.
This company’s first issue is great at reintroducing this character to a new generation and three splash page intro truly reminded me of those comics I once had. Writer Jason Aaron crafted a new foe in “The “Weird of the Crimson Witch” and he puts Conan somewhere in an area perhaps analogous to Germany. This intro is reminiscent of how The Kurgan from Highlander got his training. Both are brutal in how they slay their opponents in the pit, and when a beautiful woman wearing a red cloak wants the brooding warrior, I had to chuckle at the possible Brothers Grimm reference. There’s even a young boy and girl Conan meets later in life, and they are far from innocent.
While he’s nowhere near the Stygian deserts to get my Anubi on, he has his hands full with other problems. This new series supposedly chronicles the life and death of Conan and usually, this type of cycle is reserved for the sagas of Nordic tradition, not a comic book. Howard never did write Conan’s final adventure (not like he had a chance when considering how he died). He’s not like how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to conclude Sherlock Holmes’ life; by a quirk of fate, The Cimmerians’ adventures can go on forever.
The hold the Crimson Witch does not look like it will be a simple one. I suspect this introductory tale sets up a lot for the Cimmerian to deal with. He’s not going to die easily, and if that ever gets put into writing, I will be shouting, “Oh Crom!”