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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Savage Sword of Conan

Courtesy of my local library system and while recovering from a bout with the flu, I read The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume One [Dark Horse; $17.95], a collection of Conan tales written or adapted to comics by Roy Thomas and some of the best artists ever to put a pencil to a barbarian. The over 500 pages of stories were originally published from 1973-1976 in the Marvel magazine of the same name.

One might think that reading so much Conan material in such a relatively short time would get boring. It never did. There are stories I liked better than other stories, one or two tales I felt were weak, but enjoying these adventures for the second time, the strongest impression was...that no one save Conan creator Robert E. Howard has written the character better than Thomas.

There are several writers who could write a good Conan story and some who have. What impresses me about Thomas' body of work is that he wrote over a hundred good-to-great stories while bouncing back and forth across the barbarian's entire life. His tales of a teen Conan ring as true as his tales of Conan the King. Howard himself is well represented in this opening volume via adaptations of some of his best Conan stories as drawn by terrific Conan artists:

"The Frost Giant's Daughter" and "Red Nails" are near bookends to Barry Smith's contribution to the Conan comics. The former is a tight thriller with a terrific ending; the latter an epic tale of insane vengeance.

John Buscema, my favorite Conan artist, held the art reins for several classic Howard adaptations: "Black Colossus," "Iron Shadows in the Moon," "A Witch Shall Be Born," and the concluding chapters of Conan the Conqueror. Alfredo Alcala added nightmarish detail to the first two stories while the Tribe, a team of artists from the Philippines, did the finishes on the others.

Getting back to Thomas, he shone brightest when he was "freely adapting" Howard stories or crafting original tales. "Night of the Dark God" reunited Conan with a lost love; it was penciled by Gil Kane. For the amazing "People of the Dark," in which the fates of three modern-day lovers are tied to those of Conan and two others in the dim past, Thomas teamed with Alex Nino, the perfect choice for such an unusual story.

Two of the original Thomas stories in this volume are among my favorite Conan yarns. Drawn by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom, "Secret of Skull River" addresses ecological issues side-by-side with the usual bloodletting and heroics. Then we have "The Citadel at the End of Time," a big sprawling adventure that would make one heck of a Conan movie. It's drawn by Buscema and Alcala.

The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume One has me hooked on Conan again. It earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

ISBN 978-1-59307-838-6

Longer columns will be back by the end of the week. For now, I thank you for spending part of your day with me and I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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