Conan #0–6 and part of #7 by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord
Even though I’m a fan of genre stories, I’ve never read any Conan the Barbarian, which includes the original pulp stories and the respected comics by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith; I’ve only seen the Schwarzenegger films and didn’t really care for them. Therefore, I wasn’t particularly interested when Dark Horse acquired the rights to produce new Conan comics, even though it was written by Busiek. However, the presence of Busiek as writer meant that it was an easy call to try this collection when I saw it in my local library. And it was a good decision: these are very good comics, which are enjoyable and well told.
The book is about the early days of Conan, a young Cimmerian who has left his home lands to explore the world; he has ventured north where he becomes embroiled in a blood-feud between two northern clans (helps the Aesir against the Vanir). The Aesir follow the Vanir who attacked them, heading further north (where Conan meets the frost-giant’s daughter of the title) until they are betrayed and captured by Hyperboreans – not the noble spirits Conan was told about, but tall savages who capture Conan and his fellow Aesir, taking them back to the legendary city, where the awful truth behind Hyperborea is revealed.
These stories of Conan are told as legends (as revealed in a framing device in issue #0), and even I know enough about Conan that he eventually became a king, so these comics don’t have the immediate drama of possible death for the lead character in the fight scenes or the stories as a whole – it’s an odd reading sensation when you know that the majority of characters introduced who are not Conan are probably going to die. Therefore, the enjoyment of these tales is in the telling, and in this it is very successful. Busiek tells the adventures beautifully, with a strong and poetic voice for the narration and an authentic feel to the dialogue of a bygone era (although this could come from Robert E Howard’s original stories).
The other half to this storytelling excellence is the stunning art of Nord: he draws a great Conan (powerful and noble), dynamic sword fights and beautiful women (although I can’t understand why they’re not allowed to be completely nude; so silly). He is also a good visual storyteller with the perfect style for these stories (I can understand why he drew the book for several years); the only slight qualm is that the colouring directly onto his pencils sometimes obscures the beauty and power of his pencils. This is highlighted by the inclusion at the end of this trade paperback of the three-page audition by Nord for the job of Conan artist (from a Busiek script designed to demonstrate a penciller’s ability to cope with all aspects of Conan stories) – Nord’s pencils are absolutely fantastic and I would have preferred to see his art inked to show them to their best at all times. However, this is a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent book containing the adventures of the noble barbarian – after reading this, I can definitely see continual appeal for these pulse-pounding tales.