Many sword-wielding heroes have come to call the comics medium their home, but chief amongst them all is Conan. Although born in the world of prose stories created by Robert E. Howard in 1932, his immersion in comics in the '70s served to catapult the hero into the minds of the world-at-large, as well as the Schwarzenegger feature films. Through the early licensed stories at Marvel by the likes of Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema to the newspaper strip of the late '70s and '80s and into the modern era of Conan at Dark Horse, Conan has called comics his home.
But with the variety of books on Conan available both in new volumes and classic collections, it might be hard for someone to get their start with the Cimmerian hero. That’s where we come in. In this week’s edition of “Where Do I Start?”, we cover the four corners of the Conan stories with five sure-fire starting points to get to know the best that Conan has to offer.
Conan: The Tower Of the Elephant & Other Stories: This third volume from Kurt Busiek & Cary Nord’s storied run several years back shows them at the height of their tenure, and taking that to the Howard original “The Tower of the Elephant”. This story shows a young Conan facing off against an alien who by the end of the story becomes a sympathetic soul to an even more diabolical outside force.
The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives Volume 2: Although one might think the first volume of any series is where the meat is, in this case you’d be mistaken. This second volume of the BWS-centric Conan stories contains an adaptation of the Howard story “Red Nails”, one of the greatest stories the writer ever created. BWS and scripter Roy Thomas took the story down a dark and brooding path that would have made Howard proud. And this book is more than just one story – any Conan story by Windsor-Smith is one worth having.
Conan: Born on the Battlefield: As close to an origin story as you’ll get, this tome by Busiek and artist Greg Ruth shows Conan’s birth on a Cimmerian battlefield and his coming-of-age as a warrior. If you enjoyed the first Conan movie, then this is an apt tale for you. The artist embodies some of the same muscle-honed savager of the classic Frazetta paintings of old, and Busiek really shows proof of his stature as Conan’s modern writer of record.
Conan: Song of the Dead: Arguably the least known out of the five titles highlighted today, but that doesn’t mean its something to forget. Comics veterans Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman cover a more jovial and camaraderie-driven Conan as he works across the land as a thief with little to no understanding of mystical forces in the shadows. Truman spares no detail in his bloody battle scenes, and Lansdale knows how to mix savagery with sly humor to tremendous effect.
Savage Sword of Conan Vol. 1: After the wild success of it’s Conan comics, Marvel ventured out and released the modern-day equivalent to Conan MAX with the mature readers series Savage Sword of Conan. Roy Thomas continued doing these original stories, and was joined by artists such as Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Jim Starlin and even Walter Simonson. These are primal and more savage tales than you’d expect from Marvel during the '70s, but given Conan’s history it’s apt.