The Savage Sword of Paul: Conan the Cimmerian


There are barbarians at the gate, and I think you ought to let them in. 

This week I, in league with the brash spirit of adventure, extend an invitation. Conan: The Cimmerian #6 is coming out from Dark Horse, the very stewards of Hyperborea. Loosen your tie and give the book a flip. Be still your quaking knees, your fluttering heart. It is time to return home. To the grey hills of Cimmeria. To ages forgot. To youthful abandon, bouncing atop sofa cushions with a blade hewn of cardboard and imagination. 

Pull it. Buy it. Read it in your Windstar before you even touch key to ignition. Or join me on my roof, naked and encircled by candles, drinking from a Norwegian Cruise Line goblet. We shall eat exotic bacons and talk of gleaming cities undreamed of, and thrill to the exploits of the black-haired, sullen-eyed thief, reaver, and slayer. Conan: The Cimmerian.

Bring cookies and a beach towel.

Most weeks I am a meek and mild gentleman/scholar, but on the occasion of a new Conan book, I become something else entirely. I chew a little bit harder. I’m far less forgiving of furniture I trip over. I share more knowing glances with coyotes and mountain lions. I find myself inexplicably aroused by rotisseries and old women in fur coats on their way to church. Despite being relatively up-to-date blips on the evolutionary charts, I think we’re all prone to primal urges and base desires, and we each have our triggers. For some, it’s swords and sorcery. For others it’s the lingerie section of the JC Penny catalog, that extra swig of Jack Daniel’s, or a game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos which has, perhaps inevitably, gone a bit too far. 

I think my own interest in Conan and those like him starts with Michael Chabon’s recent novel
Gentlemen of the Road. Chabon, a massive, massive nerd in his own right, continually celebrates genre fiction — in this case, purple prose and pulp bravado — as relevant charms in this gaudy bracelet we call Western Lit. I read through Gentleman of the Road in two tempestuous visits to the University of Pennsylvania bookstore the week it came out. And it kindled or maybe rekindled some long-buried enthusiasm for garishly written stories about people who hit other people in the general vicinity of sand or snow. Throw in my love for just about everything branded Dark Horse and all the research into the occult I’ve been doing as a writer on Dave’s podcast drama Wormwood, and you have yourself the unabashed devotee of pulp barbarism you’re reading today.

There’s mounds of retro and modern Conan comics out there, both in newsprint phone-books and glossy trades, and much of it is on my Christmas list. But today we’re focused on the current series Conan: the Cimmerian with scripts from Tim Truman, interior pencils by Tomas Giorello and Richard Corben, and colored by Jose Villarrubia; lettering by Richard Starkings. Covers come courtesy of Frank Cho, as colored by Dave Stewart. I don’t usually go so deep into the credits when I review the comics, but this is a really beautiful book and that is true in every level of production. 

I want to stress that, while I’ve been going on about how fun Conan can be, how indulgent it is on a primal level, this is also a really smart book. For cripe’s sakes, the president-elect buys it! 

There is, of course, a major element of hack and slash, but there’s more to the genre and this series than epic, sternum-crushing violence. Conan’s creator Robert E. Howard was a raving lunatic, to be sure, but he was also a poet. Just as sensitive to nature and the struggles of the heart as he was ferocious. If your immediate mental picture of poetry is of pale and delicate flowers on a hill just south of tedium, consider poetry’s other forces. The monsoons and glacial rifts. The sidewinders. Howard was an ornery dude, and if words were his weapons, his stories were savage campaigns into wretched and wondrous places.  The guy was verbose, a veritable Liberace word warrior, bedazzled in royal purple expression. Today, we talk about the value of writing economically, praising minimalism and a zen-like clarity. And perhaps rightfully so. But I hope that there is always a place for absolute flamboyance in prose. Like Stephen Tyler taking his mic stand to the wall between Aerosmith and Run DMC, Howard blended big-time poetry into his fiction, and the result was the brand of  visceral and visual storytelling that a character like Conan demanded. Tim Truman is a worthy successor to Howard’s legacy, and a true raconteur in his own right. He possesses the rhythm of a great storyteller and the narrative language feels authentic to that arcane world forgotten by history. The books are also structured, rather ingeniously, as an ongoing parallel narrative. Giorello illustrates the main story of Conan’s return to his homeland of Cimmeria after his many exploits in the previous series Conan: The Barbarian. Throughout his snowy journey, we are also privy to anecdotes from the life of his grandfather Connacht, as drawn by Richard Corben (who recently penciled the terrific Hellboy: The Crooked Man). It’s a great way to incorporate two artists into an issue. The combination of narratives and art styles also makes for a really full experience. Pretty satisfying at $2.99. 

If you have any sense that you might enjoy this book, if you’re as bored with events as you ought to be, knee-deep in the usual flavors, try some Conan. If you enjoy things like Hellboy or B.P.R.D., which actually share a mythology with Conan, this might be a sure bet. If you love anti-heroes like Jonah Hex or the pulp action of Fear Agent, trust me and check this out. Perhaps this is a book that will only ever entertain a small section of our community, but I lament at never seeing it in our top ten or twenty books-pulled list. Subjectivity comes in to play, and I can’t argue with personal preference, but I promise you that this is easily among the top ten objectively well-executed books on the market today. 

I just thought you should know about it.  

 

 


Paul Montgomery is a man of gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth. Reach him at paul@ifanboy.com. You can also find him on Twitter.

 

Comments

  1. That looks great… I think some of the trades are in my future

  2. I picked up the first issue on a whim and it hooked me something fierce.  I love use of the two artists in the storytelling.  It’s brilliant and perhaps the best use of an artist combo I’ve ever read.  Truman’s scripts scratch any number of itches.  I don’t think it would be too far a stretch to say Conan is my book of the year.

  3. Never really been into barbarian comics, but some of the imagery in this article had me laughing out loud.  A bit awkward when I’m supposed to be working on computer programming stuff in class.  Thank god for alt tab.

  4. "I share more knowing glances with coyotes and mountain lions." Nice, Paul. Nice.

    I used to love all the sword and sorcery stuff as a kid. As an adult, I couldn’t really get into it in the same way. That said, I’m fully enjoying the Conan stuff from Dark Horse, and I’m definitely gaining an appreciation for the original works of Robert E. Howard. This new Dark Horse series is really good, and I’ll second (or third, after Luthor) the recommendation.

  5. I recently got into Conan by reading the original Howard stories in the "Conan of Cimmeria" series published by Del Rey. Three volumes cover his entire Conan writings. Once I finish those up, I plan to jump into the comics. But I definitely recommend the original stories – very imaginative and well written!

  6. Very well done. The other day A friend’s father gave a giant long box of old comics, inxluding some CONAN THE BARBARIAN from Buscema’s run with Marvel. It’s very good fun.

    I haven’t pick up any of the New Conan uet, but I did pick up tHE Black Coat: A call to arms from APE a while back. Great tale of a swashbuckling vigilante during the Revolutionary war.

  7. @Manos – The three Del Rey books are excellent, and probably the best editions of the Conan short stories.  A lot of other books edit Howard’s writing (or finish the unfinished drafts), so I’d only ever recommend the Del Rey.  They also offer the complete Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and Kull stories in similar editions.  

    I think you’ll be pleased with the comic adaptations from Busiek and Truman when you get to them. A lot of Howard’s prose and poetry is used in the narration and dialogue.   

  8. I scoffed at the idea of reading Conan until a friend forced the first Busiek trade into my hands. I’ve been hooked ever since. It’ll still be a long road to ho away from Schwarzenegger’s mark on the character, but it’s worth every step.

  9. @daccampo – I used to love epic fantasy and wrote a lot of it in freshman year of high school.  And then I totally fell out of it.  I’ve only recently gotten into the vintage and more modern incarnations of fantasy like urban fantasy and the like through comics.  

    @DaveCarr – I’m working my way through the Dark Horse reprints of those old Marvel Conan books.  They’re collected the style of Showcase and Essentials.  Great stuff with some really amazing art.  I’ll have to check out The Black Coat.   

  10. I’ll throw my hat into the recommendation ring as well.  Conan found it’s way into my house via one particularly barbaric individual who had somehow tricked his way into sharing my abode at the time.  He loved the movies, violence and all things female and scantily clad.  Naturally, Conan peaked his interest when I dragged him along to join me at the comic shop one Wednesday.

    I was skeptical.

    Okay that’s a complete lie.  I gave him a complete and utter thrashing. A torturing guilt trip for being "such a stereotype" that he shrugged off and suggested I get a fur bikini.

    Then one day I’m alone at home, sick as a dog and huddled under a pile of blankets and my reading material cache was dfully epleted. When faced with the choice of getting up or reading the strategically placed issue of Conan, Born on a Battlefield, well… 

    This book is fantastic.

    If you’re not inclined to our favorite pulpy warrior, this is still a hell of a good book.  Pick up anything from the Dark Horse series (Busiek or Truman. Both nail it.)  That said, I would avoid the Marvel like the plague unless this is "your thing".

  11. I have enjoyed this modern rendition of Conan.  Oddly, my comic shop doesn’t carry either the floppies or the trades, but my library carries the trades of this series.  Clearly, I live in bizzaro land.

  12. The art looks nice. Is 1-5 no good, why the sudden recommendation? Is #6 suddenly 1000% better than 1-5?

  13. It’s the issue coming out this week.  By all means, read issues 0-5 if the shop has them.  

  14. No shit, I did’t know this many people were into Conan.

     

  15. you got me, i’m going to check this out. the artwork looks great.

  16. I assume if we’re pressing Conan this is a good issue to jump on to?  Also where is the Soloman Kane love?

  17. @jstump It’s in the middle of an arc but the book does a really good job of laying down where everything is story wise and character wise. 

  18. @jstump – Technically it’s the 6th issue in a 7 part story, but the way the narrative works, it shouldn’t be a bad place to test the waters.  Kull and Solomon Kane are also good (maybe to a lesser extent) and I will be touching on those in future installments of the Savage Sword of Paul series.  

  19. I got hooked on Conan reading the Dark Horse Chronicles of Conan trades.  Great stuff.  Is the new series all-new material?  Or does it cover some of the same stories? 

    I’ll look for the Del Rey books.  I had looked before but had no look finding a nice compendium of Howard’s work. 

  20. @Crippler – Don’t hold me to this because I only just started reading Conan this year, but I believe the Conan: The Cimmerian series includes new material and elements from Howard’s stories and poems.  They’re not connected to the Marvel books, and this current series is a new chapter which follows any previous Dark Horse Conan stories.  So this should all be new territory for you. Hope that makes sense. 

    Here are links to the Del Rey books:

    Conan of Cimmeria Book One: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

    Conan of Cimmeria Book Two: The Bloody Crown of Conan

    Conan of Cimmeria Book Three: The Conquering Sword of Conan

    On those pages you should also be able to find the Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn collections, if you’re interested in further reading.  Solomon Kane in particular is a really interesting character. 

     

  21. Conan was the first comic I ever purchased as a kid. I remember thinking, "WOW! They have a comic based on the Schwarzenegger movies!" Lol.

    Ever since that time, those stories have had a special place in my heart. I read the first Busiek Trade from Dark Horse and loved it. Thanks for the recommendation. I’m going to pick this up for sure! 

  22. I’m happy that you will be touching on Solomon Kane. I hope you continue to shame people as I have for not reading that book.

    You know after reading your article I’m reminded of the fact that I said one day, "I should buy conan in trades."  I got one and haven’t bought any since.  Too many things on my list.  You though good sir have kicked me in the seat of my pants and I shall start buying more conan.

    What is best in life?!

  23. @jstump – Conan is more or less quoting Genghis Khan in the movie, but the real answer?  Pizza and comics.  

  24. Yeah I knew it was Gengis Khan who originally said it, but I like to think the Khan was the original Conan.  Screw History, I’ll believe what I want!

    I agree Pizza and Comics is probably the best answer.  Hearing the lemantations of someone else’s woman is annoying.

  25. For anybody who tries out this issue or if you can find any of the earlier issues, please post a review on the site.  Or drop me a line and let me know what you think.  Alternatively, let me know what other books ought to be promoted on the site.  If any of your favorites are being neglected, let’s shine a spotlight on ’em.  

    Thanks.   

  26. Hellboy: The Cooked Man sounds mighty tasty??

  27. Har Har!

    (fixed)

  28. Thanks Paul!  Those are now on my get list.  Is there a consensus here on the newer stuff?  Maybe something like, "Stay away from Robert Jordan?" 

  29. @Crippler – The Jordan stuff is polarizing.  It really depends on what you want out of your Conan stories.  I can only vouch for the Busiek and Truman comics.  But Amazon does seem to offer some excerpts from the Jordan Conan Chronicles if you want to see what the prose style is like.  Reviews across the board.  

  30. @Paul – pulled this and a review will be forthcoming, thanks for the heads up

  31. Thanks for doing this article Paul, I feel that both this book and this last series are vastly overlooked and underappreciated by most fans, they all think that Conan is just a dumb warrior and not worth their time.

     The 50 issue series is even better when in context with the original Howard stories.

  32. Just read issue #6.  This is actually a great introduction to Conan’s world and evidence that the series isn’t the mindless action romp that some might imagine.  And the art is unlike anything you’ll see in the rest of your stack. 

    So, get out there and pick this one up!   

  33. One of my first books was Savage Sword of Conan.  My favorite movie is Conan the Barbarian and I almost cried when I thought the new Conan movie was going to be directed by Brett Ratner.  So with that said Conan has always been apart of my life.  I did read the first 20 issues of Dark Horses Conan run then stopped because it was dragging a little thin.  Then announced Conan the Cimmerian a new #1.  I was excited and have been reading it.  Its ok I’m not saying don’t pick it up I’m just saying for me its normal Conan.  Similar to the Captain America effect.

  34. @PaulMontgomery-  Hey Paul if you love these high adventure comics like I do try the new Flash Gordon.  The art alone with brighten your day.

  35. @lantern4life – I keep meaning to look for Flash Gordon when I hit the shop, and I always forget.  I’ve made a note to check for it next week.  Thanks for the rec. 

    Yeah, I love adventure books.  I actually just picked up an Adam Strange Showcase today.  Top notch Carmine Infantino art in here.  More columns on stuff like this in the future, to be sure.   

  36. I *heart* Infantino. 

  37. Hmm, is this issue something I can pick up with no prior experience and understand what’s going on, or do I need to wait?  Good article, and I’d like to give it a shot, but don’t know if I should do it with this issue or not.

  38. @nindustrial – I think it’s a safe entry point because it’s a chapter break and, like past issues, offers narration.  It’s a pause after a fight issue.  The way the books are written, you do get brought up to speed by the narration.  There’s a little bit of political intrigue within the story, but all you really need to know is that Conan has just returned home to Cimmeria after many years of adventures out in the world.  On his way home, he got in a bit of a scrape with an enemy clan and met up with a warrior woman he knew in his youth.  The woman is pregnant by a man from a neighboring village.  And people from that village are trying to kill her.  This particular issue is a pretty good introduction to Conan’s world and sets up next issue’s big finale.  If you’re hesitant, the next story begins in issue #8.  

  39. Paul… Great review.  I’m glad to see someone bringing Conan to the attention of the iFanboy masses.  I don’t really have anything new to add that hasn’t already been said, but for those of you who have never tried Conan, this current run is worth the read.  It’s not a simple underwritten, barbarian, hack and slash book.  The current story arc is well developed and the art work has been amazing.  It is great way to diversify your comic portfolio from all the superheros and crime/noir books in your collection.