KING-SIZE CONAN #1/ Stories by ROY THOMAS, KURT BUSIEK, CHRIS CLAREMONT, KEVIN EASTMAN & STEVEN S. DEKNIGHT/ Art by STEVE MCNIVEN, PETE WOODS, ROBERTO DE LA TORRE, KEVIN EASTMAN & JESUS SAIZ / Colors by IVE SVORCINA, PETE WOODS, CARLOS LOPEZ, NEERAJ MENON & JESUS SAIZ/ Letters by VC’S TRAVIS LANHAM / Published by MARVEL COMICS
It’s likely that Conan the Barbarian would barely be known outside the realm of fantasy fandom had it not been for Marvel Comics. One could go so far as to argue that fantasy as a genre would not be as widely accepted by the mainstream had it not been for the film adaptation of Marvel’s hit comics and the sword and sorcery boom which followed. At the very least, the architecture of modern pop culture would be drastically different and we likely would not have seen the likes of Game of Thrones winning Emmys. It is fitting then that Marvel Comics should honor the legacy of Conan in comics on its 50th anniversary with King-Size Conan #1; an anthology of five comics forged by some of the those responsible for creating that legacy, as well as some other worthy creators.
The first tale, “Aftermath — And A Beginning,” spins a story of a young Conan as he takes his first steps out into the wide world beyond his homeland and acts as a prequel to the very first Conan The Barbarian comic. Roy Thomas, who was responsible for Marvel Comics licensing Conan and writing most of his early adventures, remains in fine form as he spins this yarn, which is ably illustrated by Steve McNiven with colors by Ive Svorcina.
The second chapter, “In The City of Thieves,” is probably my favorite of the five. This is partly because my favorite of the original Conan stories are those where he made his living as a thief rather than his exploits as a soldier. It is also because my first formal introduction to the Conan canon came from Kurt Busiek’s revival of the character at Dark Horse Comics. I also appreciate any effort to refute the popular image of Conan as a brainless brute and how this story shows Conan studying with the philosophers of Zamora. Busiek’s script is relatively light on action, but is still beautifully illustrated and colored by Pete Woods.
The third chapter, “Die By The Sword,” also presents a more eloquent portrait of Conan than is typical. Here Conan offers his ear, but no words of comfort, to a dying enemy on the field of battle. Chris Claremont avoids his usual loquacious dialogue here, but still conveys the wisdom of Conan’s mind despite his nature as a man of action. The artwork by Roberto de La Torre is as grim as the story, yet colored with some outstanding alternations by Carlos Lopez that add some contrasting visual interest, with figures colored in opposing warm and cool shades as they clash.
The fourth chapter, “Requiem,” is notable as the first work Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman has done for Marvel Comics as a writer or artist. The story itself, centering around Conan’s effort to repay the debt he feels he owes to the small village that nursed him back to health, is a solid and enjoyable one. Eastman’s art style is well-suited to the sword-and-sorcery genre and his story the most action-packed of the five. The colors by Neeraj Menon are well-applied, yet I can’t help but wonder how this entry might have looked in pure monochrome, like many of Eastman’s independent comics.
The final chapter, “Ship of the Damned,” finds Conan alongside the pirate queen Belit, as the two encounter a giant ship that holds a dark secret amid its ample treasure. The story by screenwriter Steven S. DeKnight is a ripping yarn worthy of Robert Howard himself, tinged with melancholy amid some weird horror and thrilling action. Jesus Saiz draws and colors this section perfectly, producing what is, in my humble opinion, the best art in the anthology, though this is one fine looking book from start to finish.
If you’re never read a Conan comic before, this is a fine one to start with. If you’re well familiar with the Cimmerian, you’ll find this issue a worthy one. My only complaint is that a book called King-Size Conan should have at least one story from Conan’s days as King of Aquilonia.