Revisiting Late Marvel Conan
I don’t often revise my web articles aside from addressing typographical errors, but I wanted to take another crack at this particular entry, because I don’t think it was fair or well considered. Heck, I hadn’t even finished reading one of the volumes when I wrote this.
Dark Horse has been reprinting the entire Marvel run on Conan now for multiple years. I’m a latecomer to the comic, even in reprint form, so the stories are new to me.
I read and enjoyed many of the Roy Thomas written run (volumes 1-14, although 15-17 have additional Thomas penned stories). Experimentation with reading the tales by other writers in 15-17 led me to conclude that, as promised, the non-Thomas Conan is pretty wretched, so I’ve held off reading any more until he rejoined the mag in volume 31. (I should add that I do hear good things about Priest’s run on the Marvel Conan and will probably check one of those collections out before much longer.)
But the point of this brief post is a look at these final Thomas collections, and they’re substantially better than the ones that appeared immediately following the departure of Thomas.
I wasn’t as keen on Volume 31, which is overburdened with the presence of Red Sonja, who’s constantly grousing or ready to fight someone/thing. Maybe it’s me, but I’ve never much enjoyed the character. That said, it has a nice sword-and-sorcery vibe to it, and some of the individual issues work very nicely.
Volume 32 is pretty strong, with a number of good stories. The Shuma Gorath plot, about an evil priesthood summoning a forgotten, Lovecraftian God, is somehow more “Marvel” than Conan, but there are still some excellent sword-and-sorcery moments throughout the issue, particularly when Conan is forced to ally with an ancient and devious wizard.
Volume 33 opens with the conclusion of the Shuma Gorath arc, over two issues, and I’m sad to say it reaches an overly busy conclusion. However, once Shuma Gorath is finally over, Conan is adventuring again with only a single companion, and the tales in 33 get more and more interesting — I especially liked the last four issues, which are freely adapting Clifford Ball’s “The Thief of Forthe” and a Leonard Carpenter TOR Conan novel. Those issues are right up there with some of the best Roy Thomas Conan from any previous issue. As a matter of fact, since the conclusion of the arc isn’t in this volume, I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing how volume 34 finishes it up.
Volume 34 will be the last to see print, and it’s going to be bittersweet. Admittedly I haven’t enjoyed some of these later stories as much as earlier ones, but even an average Roy Thomas Conan story is head and shoulder above almost any other Conan pastiche, and there’s still some grand storytelling going on here. The guy GETS Conan as a character and respects Robert E. Howard’s work, and is an excellent plotter/writer/creator of dialogue. We’re very, very lucky that he helmed the Marvel Conan franchise for so long. As a matter of fact I can’t help wishing there was more Conan from him. The twelve issues he did for the Dark Horse comic line are among my very favorites from the whole new Conan run, and, as a matter of fact, were so good they’re what got me to finally take a look at his Marvel Conan work.
Fortunately, I still have a number of unread Savage Sword of Conan collections left on the shelves. It’s nice to have treasures yet to explore. I know from experience that there are a handful of Savage Sword writers besides Thomas who can pen a good tale–and, as a final treat, I left some of the RT issues unread so I could enjoy them later, and those will have Buscema artwork to boot.