Saturday, July 26, 2008

Savage Sword of Conan, Volume 1, 2, and 3, Dark Horse Press-- Thoughts

Savage Sword of Conan, Volume 1, 2, and 3, Dark Horse Press-- Thoughts

I have been reading the Savage Sword of Conan compilations. Volume one contains issues 1-10, Volume 2 contains issues 11-24, Volume 3 contains issues 25-36. Savage Sword of Conan was a magazine size comic book produced during the 1970s. Roy Thomas is the writer of all these stories. Roy Thomas essentially popularized Conan for the comics format. This was after L. Sprague De Camp started creating new Conan stories for the paperbacks.

These collections are a veritable whose who of fantasy and comic artists. Some of the cover artists represented are people like Frank Brunner, Ken Barr, and Boris Vallejo. It is a veritable who's who of fantasy artists. The internal artists in these books are also very interesting, Barry Windsor Smith, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Alfred Alcala, Gene Colan, Carmine Infanto and Others. The cover art on Volumes one and two is by Boris Vallejo. Almost all the stories are beautifully drawn.

It is Conan in his classic form. The first volume is mainly Roy Thomas adapting the original Robert E. Howard stories for the comic book format. This is the classic barbarian with a sword tales. The stories are predictable full of violence, gold, monsters, and all those fantasy things which expect in a classic swords and sorcery sense. The whole set is very nostalgic, very predictable, and very fun to read. The third volume in the series has Roy Thomas adapting a number of the L. Sprague De Camp Conan stories to comic book form. L. Sprague De Camp is my favorite writer of the derivative Conan works.

Conan lives in these works. He lives for fighting, women, gold, strong drink, song, revenge, rage, and all those manly man things which makes him the king of swords and sorcery characters. The monsters in the stories are the things which crawl out of the pit, skeletons, giants, snakes, spiders, winged demons, and unnamable slithering horrors from before time. Also the dangerous jungle things, the giant apes and cats are of course represented. The tribes are the afghulis, the vanir, the picts, the kushites. He goes by many names, Amra the lion, Conan the Throat Slitter, and King Conan.

This series focuses mostly on when he is a wandering adventurer, thief, and mercenary. There are some episodes about when he becomes King of Aquilonia. Conan mainly discriminates against civilization, preferring to be with the wild fighting men of all races and cultures. It is machismo at its fullest. Women are not treated well in these stories. I would call some of these stories quite misogynistic. The exception are women who can use a sword, or who help Conan escape from danger. He turns Zenobia a slave into his queen in Aquilonia for saving him. He does not believe in slavery and keeping women as slaves.

Conan faces a variety of adventures with traps, tricks, and skulduggery. There are all the things you would expect, poisoned wine, pits with snakes, giant magnetic tables which trap swords, evil wizardry, treacherous thieves, sinking boats, deserted islands, long lost civilizations, and slavery. Conan is not a good guy, he is in it for his own ends. He kidnaps princesses for ransom, steals jewels, practices piracy and raiding, and fights for whoever who will pay him initially.

He however, does have a sense of honor, hates wizardry, hates monsters, hates slavery, and ultimately sides with men over the things from the pit or the dark past. In other words he has a well developed sense of character.

There is also an underlying rage in the Conan character. He is a berserker and often cannot stop himself from fighting. This rage fuels him to constantly seek new people to fight with. Also in his early life, he cannot hold onto wealth spending it freely on strong wine and women. There is a certain tragic sense to the character which many people do not see. His life is one of anger at having lost his family at an early age. He rages against the Vanir who raided his hill village. He is very much drawn with heavy eyebrows and a deep, dark brooding look in the comics.

One of the main differences I see between Conan and many characters is people assume the stories are only about fighting. Conan uses subterfuge, trickery, and his skills in hiding, tracking, and climbing to escape from his enemies many times. His instincts keep him alive on many occasions. He is often captured, beaten down by groups of men, and must escape.

In the books, Conan is not described like a bodybuilder. He does not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger who I thought butchered the role in some ways. There is some of this in the comics, but not as much as in the movies. He does not pose in bodybuilder positions in the comics. He is described as being lithe and moving like a tiger. I especially like how John Buscema draws him.

If you like swords and sorcery, high adventure, or machismo with a sword you might like these stories. They are classic stories and are very nostalgic. You might have read these stories if you were a teenager or adult during the 1970s. These stories are definitely not for children. The comics were not restrained at all, they did not bother to follow the comics code when they made these comics.

The only drawback with the series is that the covers which are shown are not in color like the originals. Also, the original size of Savage Sword of Conan was larger than the collected books. This causes some shrinkage in the size of the pictures and makes the print smaller making them a little less detailed. Also, these reprints only contain the main stories, not the smaller side stories in the original magazine size comics.

Still, this is a very complete series. You get 544 pages of comics in Volume 1 and 2. For the price of $19.95 it is a good deal. I am surprised that Marvel comics which owns the rights, let Dark Horse comics print the books. These books were on the Diamond Comic Distributors list of top 50 bestselling graphic novels.

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