Dark Horse Conan comics collections

After my review last November of John Clute's outstanding collection of Robert E Howard's short fiction, Dark Horse was kind enough to send me all seven collected volumes of their superb Conan graphic novel series.

The series ran from 2004-2008, cycling through an assortment of writers and artists who've taken Howard's work and paid it great justice indeed. Cary Nord, who illustrated the first three books, set a high standard for the art, devoting himself to a Frazetta-esque attention to anatomy, blood, and action. The writers, meanwhile blended Howard's own storylines with original material that serve to connect one adventure to the next (there wasn't much continuity in Howard's original Conan saga, which ran more like a series of discrete adventures, each intended to stand alone).

As I've noted before, I have enormous affection for Conan; these stories are the origin node of the modern network of heroic fantasy, the original strong brew that has been diluted for a million mighty-come-lately adventures. Howard's muscular prose, his romanticization of "uncivilized" life ruled by passion and honor, and his faultless pacing (when in doubt, insert an epic battle with an army of the undead, a pack of thieves, a gang of ice-giants, or, if necessary, a dalliance with a hot-blooded swordswoman that ends with the two fighting back to back against a pack of lions or similar) make each Conan adventure a perfect, blood-pounding escape.

The comics form is especially kind to Conan. The artists are able to do the heavy lifting of setting the scene and depicting the action, whittling away Howard's prose to the unselfconsciously heroic dialog: blood oaths, curses, seductive grunts, defiant yells.

I devoured all seven volumes in three days, reading one at the office and one before bed every night, waking up my wife to show her particularly gore-spattered panels (she's the illustrator in the family and enjoys this stuff as much as I do). It was just wonderful returning to Conan's world, to the heroic lands I'd lived in in my imagination as a boy.