|CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1|
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art: Barry Smith
|Released: December 15th 2021|
Published Marvel Comics
A facsimile of Conan the Barbarian #1 originally published by Marvel in October 1970.
For those unfamiliar with Robert E. Howard’s original stories published in Weird Tales from 1932, this is a great way of introducing one of pulp fiction’s most enduring characters to a new generation of readers. Writer Roy Thomas begins Conan’s story with the briefest of background information, welcoming the reader to the Hyborian Age placed somewhere between “the sinking of Atlantis and the dawn of recorded time.” At the back of the comic is The Hyborian Page, which goes into more detail about the world Howard created and, like all good works of fantasy, includes a half-page map indicating the various lands and kingdoms.
From page 2 it’s straight into the action with the youthful, mercenary Conan fighting alongside the Aesir against the invading Vanir. With the promise of more gold, Conan helps Olav — an Aesir chief — pursue two high-ranking Vanir warriors. Their search leads them to a shaman in possession of a Star-Stone, a cosmic jewel that can bring forth visions of both the past and future; it’s a neat narrative trick by Thomas that allows the reader to learn more about Conan’s past, while offering a glimpse into what will become of him.
Hyperbole and the heroic language associated with tales of sword and sorcery is a staple of the Marvel Universe, particularly in Thor and Tales of Asgard, so the world of Conan already feels like a natural fit for a comic book adaptation. Respectful of the source material, fans of Conan will appreciate the efforts Thomas has gone to in retaining the authentic dialogue (“By Crom!”) and imbuing in Conan the grey area that all great anti-heroes hold; he makes it clear that Conan is a mercenary first, but whose moral compass is such that he will still fight for what he believes is right over monetary gain. Barry Smith’s artwork is lively, breathing life into the battles scenes without resorting to the bloodshed that spattered the pages of Howard’s stories, while the various warriors, sorcerers and winged monsters will be instantly recognisable to those whose tastes lean towards fantasy. The lettering by Sam Rosen highlights key words, drawing attention to the names of the tribes and places that are all important when building an imaginary world, though in some panels this world-building would have benefited from more background detail by Smith rather than using blocks of colour.
Overall, this is a fine adaptation, as satisfying to a Howard reader as it is accessible to a newcomer to Conan’s world, serving as both a gateway for those who want to explore further and a homage to the pulp stories that inspired the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and, of course, Roy Thomas.
Review by Christopher Witty