Monday, April 13, 2020


I grabbed this digital volume in a sale when Dark Horse's Conan license ended a couple years ago. It contains a number of stories of varying length, which were originally published between 2004 and 2012. So without further ado, let's dive in!

Script by Tim & Ben Truman | Art by Marian Churchland
Letters by Brandon Graham

This eight-page tale is a short, light-hearted opening to the volume, but it's a nice showcase of what Conan is all about, hitting all the major marks. Conan, lugging a sack with him, wanders into a desert village and stops at a fancy inn for some refreshment. He regales the patrons with stories of how he acquired the various treasures in his bag, getting them drunker and drunker until they all pass out -- at which point he purloins their valuables and departs for the next inn on the road.

Like I said, it hits all the marks: Conan the wanderer, coming out of the desert to civilization. Conan the barbarian, as we see, through his stories, scenes in which he kills various powerful warriors through increasingly creative and violent means. Conan the carouser, drinking heavily and enthralling a roomful of revelers with his tales. And Conan the thief, making off with their belongings after his stories are done. If somebody knew nothing about Conan, this would be a nice little primer for the character -- which is possibly why it was placed first in this collection!

Script & Inks by Jimmy Palmiotti | Pencils by Mark Texeira
Colors by Michelle Madsen | Letters by Richard Starkings & Comicraft

Next up is a significantly longer (36-page)story written by Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by a guy born to illustrate Conan, Mark Texeira. It's a fairly straightforward story, up to a point: Conan comes to a kingdom, gets caught attempting to steal a valuable jewel from its king, and is offered his freedom -- and the jewel -- in exchange for carrying out a quest. The king's daughter has been kidnapped by his former advisor, and he wants her back. Conan teams up with her sister and a few royal soldiers, and they set out to find the wizard/advisor. There's an undead army to contend with along the way, and a twist comes at the end when it turns out the wizard, Killver, and the "kidnapped" daughter, Hannah, are actually in love.

I've mentioned before that I like Conan, but I admittedly have never read any of the original works by Robert E. Howard. All of my knowledge of Conan comes from secondary sources -- and based on those sources, this strikes me as a quintessential Conan tale. He steals, he fights a magical bad guy, he gets it on with the other sister, Valensa, and he chops off a few heads along the way. It's good, unclean fun. And, like I said above, Mark Texeira was born to draw these sorts of stories. From his very first professional work in the 1983 MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE mini-comics, Texeira has always seemed at home with sword-and-sorcery stuff. And while I like the story here quite a bit, the artwork is really the reason to read this one (in my opinion).

Script by Ron Marz | Pencils by Bart Sears | Inks by Randy Elliott
Colors by Mark Roberts | Letters by Troy Peteri

Next up are a pair of stories from Ron Marz and Bart Sears. The first is another eight-pager which reads like the "cold open" for the second. In it, Conan finds himself in the city of Tarantia, where a countess thirsty for some hot vampire love pays him to escort her to the vampire district in her city. (Seriously; she randomly wants to get it on with a vampire for some reason; it's really weird!) Conan takes the assignment, the vampires turn out to not be the tender paramours the woman expected, and Conan is forced to kill them all. The story ends with him telling the countess that he's going to to "finish what [she] started" as he wanders off.

The second Marz/Sears collaboration is two parts, both being full-length comics, and beginning with Conan still in Tarantia and now bedding the countess himself. But when her husband catches them in the act, Conan goes on the run. He bumps into a pair of sisters, Brenna and Venya, who enlist Conan's aid to travel to a deserted island stronghold and raid it of its treasures. But as part one ends, the island turns out not to be as deserted as previously believed, as a group of brigands is also present to claim the treasure.

Part two begins with Conan and the sisters pulling a Scooby Doo villain routine and scaring the bad guys off by having Brenna strip naked and pretend to be a ghost. They find the treasure in short order, but -- as one might expect based on the knowing glances the girls had been exchanging for the past several pages -- Venya and Brenna betray Conan and make a break for it, leaving him at the mercy of a tentacled monster. Conan kills the beast and gives chase, but runs into the bandit group instead. He fights them, eludes them, and in the end, makes off with their ship and a single gold coin.

It's a fun story, but it feels like it could've been more. The pirates appear and it seems like they should factor into the proceedings in more of a fashion that simply being a brief obstacle for Conan to overcome (though their presence does result in some insane over-the-top violence as Conan slices them apart every which way from Sunday). And Brenna and Venya simply vanish a few pages prior to the story's end -- they escape Conan, make it back to their boat, and leave. Conan pursues, but thanks to the pirates holding him up, we never see the sisters again. It feels disjointed. Typically I would've expected all of this stuff to collide for a grand finale, but instead we get a bit of an underwhelming ending.

That said, the artwork here is terrific. Bart Sears is nowhere near as "realistic" as Mark Texeira, but his style is great for a more superhero-ish Conan. Sears' men (and women) are typically possessed of insane physiques, which works wonderfully here. Conan is built like the Hulk, and the girls are about as "zaftig" as you'll ever see in a comic book. And Sears' action scenes are a lot of fun to read (see: the gratuitous, almost cartoonish violence noted above). Plus, Sears has Conan running around in the helmet Barry Windsor-Smith gave the character way back when, which is fun to see.

Script and Art by Michael Avon Oeming
Colors by Nick Filardi | Letters by Richard Starkings & Comicraft

Our final tale comes from Michael Avon Oeming, who I'm really only aware of as the writer of Dynamite's RED SONJA series for a few years (though I've read next to none of that run). I didn't even know he was an artist as well, until I opened up this book -- and he's a good one! He's got sort of a Bruce Timm style, which I really like.

So in this eight-pager, Conan is approached by a boy whose father has been killed by his friends after they found a treasure. The boy wants Conan to avenge his dad, and something about his story wins over the stoic Cimmerian. They set out together and Conan kills a bunch of guys for this kid, but when he presents the final villain to the boy and tells him to kill the guy, the boy can't do it. He wants to end the circle of violence, and walks away. A brief coda, set years later, has Conan recalling that the boy founded a treetop village for orphans.

It's a nice quickie, giving us a brief look at Conan's sentimental side (such as it is), and makes for a nice way to round out this collection.

Overall, this is a great book. I think DAUGHTERS OF MIDORA is probably my favorite of these tales, if only for the Mark Texeira artwork, but all the stories in the book have their high points. I only wish ISLAND OF NO RETURN had some together in a more satisfying conclusion.

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