Saturday, 15 January 2011

'Conan: Free Companions' – Truman, Giorello & Kubert (Dark Horse)

Dark Horse’s ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ was one of those series that I got a hell of a lot out of yet somehow contrived to miss out on issue after issue. Not sure what happened there but my disappointment at finding this particular run ‘Conan’ coming to an end has been tempered by the knowledge that trade paperback collections will help me fill in the gaps.

This is a strange kind of review then in that it actually began back in December 2009, picked up again briefly in February 2010 and then tailed off entirely... until now.

‘Free Companions’ collects the ‘Free Companions’ and ‘Kozaki’ storylines and tells the story of how Conan’s time in Khoraja comes to an end in a flurry of poor choices that will eventually lead to his lying face down in the swamps of Turan, determined to not to fall prey to either his human enemies or the creatures of the swamp that would have him for a meal. Revenge is the order of the day here...

Now I haven’t read a lot of ‘Conan’ (something I hope to rectify fairly soon with the Fantasy Masterworks editions that I received for Christmas) but the overriding theme in what I have read is that Conan wins always wins through at any cost. It made a real change then to see him brought low by his own arrogance and impulsive behaviour. Here more than anywhere else (that I’ve found so far) we get to see some of the fundamental differences between the kingdoms of Howard’s Hyborean Age that make the travels of one barbarian adventurer far more than simple sword and sorcery fare. Conan’s force of personality can shape events around him but every now and then the sheer weight of civilisation is too much for one man to fight against. You don’t get to see that a lot more clearly than you do here as the consequences of Conan’s naivety are laid out for all to see. Here is a tale that doesn’t pull any punches and is all the more powerful for it. I could see what was coming but I still wanted to be around when it all went down, just so I could see what happened in the aftermath.

Long term readers of the blog will know that I love to wax lyrical about the Truman/Giorello team that brought us ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ and, even though I’m repeating myself, it’s worth bringing up again.

Giorello’s Conan totally captures the primal determination and rage that is such a part of Howard’s creation. This isn’t just any old barbarian that we’re dealing with here, it can only be Conan.

Truman’s writing backs this up (as does his contribution to the artwork, Giorello is still my personal favourite though) with work that dovetails perfectly with the artwork on display. I reckon the end result will be seen as ‘classic Conan’ in years to come.

I loved this book, expect more gaps to be filled in the future...

Ten out of Ten


Taranaich said...

Fantasy Masterworks is a great edition, but be warned: the ordering of the stories is based on a fan made chronology, and isn't written in the order Howard wrote them.

As a result, the first volume has nearly ALL the mediocre Conan stories, and what's more, arranges them in such a way that they might get repetitive. On the other hand, the second volume is full of some of the very best stories Howard ever wrote. I suggest that you read the stories in the order Howard wrote them, as it's much more satisfying overall to see how the series evolved, and it means there's enough of a change in scenery that it doesn't get repetitive.

Here's the order:

* "The Phoenix on the Sword"
* "The Frost Giant's Daughter"
* "The God in the Bowl"
* "The Tower of the Elephant"
* "The Scarlet Citadel"
* "Queen of the Black Coast"
* "Black Colossus"
* "Iron Shadows in the Moon" ("Shadows in the Moonlight")
* "Xuthal of the Dusk" ("The Slithering Shadow")
* "The Pool of the Black One"
* "Rogues in the House"
* "The Vale of Lost Women"
* "The Devil in Iron"
* The People of the Black Circle
* The Hour of the Dragon
* A Witch Shall Be Born
* "The Servants of Bit-Yakin" ("Jewels/Teeth of Gwahlur")
* "Beyond the Black River"
* "The Black Stranger"
* "Man-Eaters of Zamboula" ("Shadows in Zamboula")
* "Red Nails"

The other stories are incomplete drafts (some with names made up by other authors), and should be read after the published stories.

As an aside, Conan most certainly does *not* always win: he always survives, yes, but there are more than a few stories where Conan pretty solidly loses. I won't spoil the stories where this happens, but it's more often than you'd think.

noothergods said...

I've loved Conan for a long time, definitely keeping up with this comic series. Haven't had a chance to read the newest one's yet. Now I have to go out and find them.

Lagomorph Rex said...

*Adjusts glasses with tape on the bridge* just to pick a small nit, its the "Hyborean Age" not the "Hyperborean Age" .. The Hyperboreans being a people and a kingdom respectively, in the Hyborean age...

Mark Lawrence said...

* "Red Nails"

Wow - the combination of Graeme's review and Taranaich's list set me digging. I have on my shelf a very battered copy of:

Marvel Treasury Edition #4 Featuring Conan The Barbarian: "Red Nails" circa 1975

that somehow survived my mother's various purges and the subsequent predations of my own kids. It got battered mainly by my reading it 400 times as a boy. I definitely need to get a fresh dose good quality artwork combined with Conan!

Thanks guys.

Graeme Flory said...

Taranaich - Thanks for the great post and advice. I'm still not 100% sure how I'm going to tackle these two books (it might be easier for me to tackle them one book at a time rather than chop and change between the two) but I will bear in mind what you said.

Lagomorph Rex - All I can really say is... dammit! You can consider that change made ;o)

Anonymous said...

What most surprised me when I read some of Howard's stories is that Conan doesn't always win, and that he often survives by dumb luck, getting in over his head but running into the right people at the right time.