I've always liked Conan, but I would never described myself as a Conan-phile. A few years ago, I picked up the first three volumes of Dark Horse's Chronicles of Conan series at a deep discount. For one reason or another, I had put off reading them - never really in the mood, I guess. One recent weekend, I had a large chunk of free time so I decided it was high time I got a good dose of Cimmerian related action. I cruised through all three books over the course of a couple of days and here are my thoughts.
Tower of the Elephant and Other Stories collects the first 8 issues of the Conan the Barbarian series. When I was a child, these back issues were far too expensive to pick up so I never read the earliest stuff. What a way to kick off a series! Thomas' scripts are much better paced than his superhero stuff from that era, and Barry Smith's work is full of energy (both Dan Adkins and Sal Buscema do a nice job on inks). The highlight for me is the second story; Lair of the Beast Men, as we get a strong sense of Conan's principles. The Tower of the Elephant is a very strange and sad story - unlike anything else coming from Marvel in '71. Thomas' essay on bringing Conan to Marvel is a great read.
For the most part, the high quality continues with Rogues in the House and Other Stories. I've qualified my love for this volume because, much like Conan, I'd prefer to steer clear of magic. Some of these stories focus less on the sword and more on the sorcery - and that's not really my cup of tea. What I do like, however, is the growing relationship with Jenna, as her presence allows for some added layers to the stories. My favourite here is Garden of Fear, which I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog. Smith's work on Web of the Spider God is very strong, especially the scenes with Conan nearing death in the desert. This volume concludes with another interesting article by Thomas, and I particularly enjoy the bits about circumventing the Code.
The Monster of the Monoliths and Other Stories leads off with a big dose of mysticism, but for me it's anything but magic. I've never really understood the appeal of Elric. My Dad loved the books, and tried to get me to read them as a teen - but they really did nothing for me. The Elric appearances here really drag down the volume, as there's too much magical mumbo jumbo for me. That's not much of a critique, but it just doesn't fit my personal tastes and I don't think the two characters interacted very well. I much prefer the relationship with Fafnir as their travels together lead to some interesting adventures. Hawks From the Sea and the Black Hound of Vengeance are the highlights of the Fafnir arc with loads of great action sequences. There's another fascinating article, with Thomas discussing his dealings with Michael Moorcock, as well as getting Gil Kane on board for an issue.
All in all, these are great stories that haven't dated a day. It is wonderful that Dark Horse has seen fit to put them out in a high quality, yet affordable package. I'll likely pick up more of these as I go along - but after so much Conan in such a short period of time, I'm ready for a breather. A Little Lulu marathon, perhaps?