Sean Maher's Quality Control

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Conan: Wait, are you serious?

My third and final argument for Mr. Rodriguez will find me singing the praises of Dark Horse's rousingly successful rejuvenation of the Conan property, but before that, a moment for the runners up.

Robert Kirkman's two big Image books - The Walking Dead and Invincible - both have plenty of internet praise already, and the arguments for tradewaiting both books are reasonably strong. The Walking Dead often features so large a cast that reading the story in larger chunks makes it easier to keep track of each character, though in reading the serial issues I've found this mildly irritating at worst, and it's more than made up for by the thrill of the pulpy monthly developments and Kirkman's industry-best cliffhangers. Invincible is a book I've considered tradewaiting for a while, but frankly, it's just too damn good. I don't want to wait. Since I started collecting the series in single issues (around issue #9), only one or two have been duds, and the rest have all been shining stars in my super-hero comics reading.

Another guy who writes truly excellent super-hero comics is Dan Slott, but sadly, he's got nothing coming out regularly right now. I have a lot of great expectations for his upcoming Thing and She-Hulk series, and I know from experience that he can write the hell out of 22 pages. Definitely a man to watch, and whose work reads well in three-dollar chunks.

I'd pimp Planetary, but honestly, if you're not already reading it by now, you should just get the trades. It's almost over, anyway.

So. Conan, then.



If you'd told me two years ago that I'd be endorsing a Conan book at all, I'd be pretty goddamn skeptical.

But Kurt Busiek is a name that buys a lot of leeway with me. So I tried out the 25-cent #0 issue, and I've been hooked ever since.

First of all, this is colorist Dave Stewart at what I believe to be his career best. He may very well have better in store for us, and if he does I'll be first in line with my cash in hand, but this is very possibly the best coloring I've ever seen in a comic book. It's evocative, it's vivid, it's versatile... and Stewart gets extra room to show off because he's coloring directly onto Cary Nord's pencils.



Speaking of Nord - his work has sometimes been a little too sketchy for my taste, but his monster designs are really top-notch and make Busiek's scripts just as visually exciting as they are imaginative.



And he conveys action really well, too.



I really enjoyed the most recent issue, #18, thought I wouldn't recommend it as a jumping-on point - it's sort of a special issue, very little of Conan himself and none of the regular art team except on the cover, which you can see above.

The issue focuses on the travels of Conan's helmet, passed down from doomed wearer to thief to... well, the next doomed wearer. I'm a big fan of stories like this, including as much history as they do, but it's not a good indication of what the series is usually like. No, better for new folks would be issues #16 or 17, which launched the new arc of the book.




Busiek has combined the classical, mythic kind of storytelling that Conan demands, describing his adventures with all the proper reverence and legendry, but it's not just an excercise - he combines this storytelling style with a very modern sense of characterization, and Conan himself becomes much more interesting as a result - he's not just The Untouchable Hero. He's given to arrogance and abuse and hedonism, and we see that regularly - it serves to keep him a relatable character, and suits his more heroic traits pretty well.



Basically, this series serves up the same sword and sorcery adventures you'd expect from the property, but it does so in a way that's concious of modern storytelling conventions. It feels classic, but it doesn't feel dated.

On top of that, the whole team really packs a lot of reading value into every single issue. They're not all self-contained stories (though many of them are), but there are important character moments and scenes of exciting action in every 22-page installment. Additionally, there's a decent letters page included and an unusual (but intriguing) comic strip in every issue that chronicles the life of Conan creator Robert E. Howard.

As wonderfully as this series reads in serial format, I've been hard pressed to buy the recent trade collection anyway.



The production values are really stellar, with a gorgeous cover and a really reasonable price point - $15.95 for 7-and-a-half issues is really attractive, especially when the book is this good.

Still, everything I mentioned above makes Conan one of the best books I buy every month. Always exciting, always interesting, always worthy of my three bucks. It may end up on my bookshelf as well, but I can't turn my back on such an incredibly done monthly comic.




P.S. - I'd like to say real quick how useful Dark Horse's website is. I've pimped out their books quite a bit this week - from Conan to The Goon to Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities - and it's been a piece of cake to find cover art and interior samples. Other comics companies should take advantage of the example being set, 'cause it makes it really easy to advertise their comics for them.

4 Comments:

  • At 10:02 PM, Blogger David said…

    Nice write up, I realize you're trying to push the singles, but I love my bookcase full of trades. I think I might have to pick up the Conan trade whenever I can.

     
  • At 10:29 PM, Blogger Mark Fossen said…

    I've pretty much despised the Conan character. All brawn, no brains, and none of the sense of fun that I found in Fritz Lieber ...

    Boy, was I wrong. I tried out Conan based on Busiek/Nord, and can't believe it's become a favorite book. This is a character that's been around longer than Superman, and I'm finding myself completely re-evaluating him because of this comic.

    Great fun, and glad to see you pimp it, Sean.

     
  • At 12:14 PM, Blogger Sean Maher said…

    David - Like I said, it's hard to argue with that trade. It's an awful pretty thing, and the price point is very nice. 6-1/2 issues for $16 puts you at less than $2.50 per issue.

    Mark - You and me both, brother.

     
  • At 9:43 AM, Blogger zilla said…

    Sean it's scary how similar our tastes are. great write up. i get the flops AND trades for conan ;)

     

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