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The Chronicles of Conan, Vol.14: Shadow of…

The Chronicles of Conan, Vol.14: Shadow of the Beast and Other Stories

by Roy Thomas, John Buscema (Illustrator)

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I should preface this by saying that I very much appreciate the work of Robert E. Howard and other pulp writers of the 30's and 40's for creating the sword and sorcery fantasy fiction that has served as the basis for a large part of the fantasy market today. His original works are enjoyable enough to read, but at times, they are simply too much: too thick, too decedent, to intense for their own good. This doesn't stop me from reading them, for despite their oft over-bearing nature, they are often quite fun. A friend gave me this collection which he, in turn, got free from a pile of books Dark Horse sent our student newspaper. I was expecting some lack-luster mass-market comicbook fare that just barley, if at all, lived up to the originals. I had to swallow my words after reading it.

This book collects eight issues of Marvel's 'Conan the Barbarian' comic title, spanning the years 1979 and 1980. The back cover says it is the last of scripter Roy Thomas' "celebrated run" of about a decade on the title, and that descriptor is well deserved. The stories of these issues are just as exciting as those of Howard and his peers, without the long drawn-out self-satisfied imagery sequences that often feel like he's was trying to get paid per word. Certainly, there are instances of characters stating the obvious and observable and the like, as was common in both the source material and comics of the era, but the plots and dialog are strong enough to carry it. Not excellent, I'd say. Not masterful, but for some light entertainment, it more than does the job. Interestingly enough, though all five of the separate story lines in this collection are part of an ongoing tale Thomas crafted over his purview, only two of them are wholly original. Two were based around Howard stories, one a Conan tale and another a modern horror yarn that suited itself quite well to some conceptual backtracking into the Hyborian Age. The longest is actually loosely based on a Conan pastiche novel from 1939. One one hand, this could be seen as a certain level of carelessness and laxity on the author's part, but I would like to think that it is a very good way of resurrecting stories that might not have otherwise been heard again and fitting them into a format that the readers can recognize and appreciate.

The art is quite lovely as well, the issues having been recolored for their reprinting on nice glossy paper. Such fine coloring helps showcase how surprisingly good the pencils on some of these older comics are when one is not distracted by bad 4-color printing.

All in all, this Conan collection was a fun read to pass the time, and well worth the money I paid (which was nothing, but we won't get into that). I am almost tempted to go back and see if I can't find some of the earlier volumes, but that can wait. This one stood very well by itself, even out of sequence. In a way, reading it is very much like reading any of Howard's Conan stories, opening with the Cimmerian and a nubile maiden-in-distress forging into danger, ending with the swashbuckler riding off, alone, into the sunset. ( )
  Magus_Manders | May 20, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roy Thomasprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buscema, JohnIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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