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Posted March 25, 2012
There are arguments as to who wrote the best Conan stories, with most people lining up behind Robert Howard - mostly because of the raw energy and "guts" of his writing, however primitive.
My favorite Conan was always written by Roy Thomas.
Think of it! He took a sullen, nearly non-speaking character and got us into the character's more intimate thoughts. Not an easy task, since Conan was not a great thinker. Nor was he a particularly complicated character, which may be one of his charms.
Without changing any of Conan's traits (a dislike of talking, stubbornness, distrust of everything - especially civilization, gullibility of youth) Roy T. got us to actually care about this unfriendly, dangerous young man. He helped us to truly identify with someone that is, to say the least, completely politically incorrect. And he did it within the confines of a Code-approved comic marketed to younger readers.
So yeah, Roy had to compromise at times. Conan talked a lot more in the first Marvel comics than he did in Howard's stories. And he killed the red priest with a clean-cut (Ha!) sword instead of a messy head-smashing chair. Why, Roy even let us know the thoughts of the Dweller in the Dark once!
Didn't matter. The stories still felt like Conan, and were that much more impressive for overcoming the limitations of their medium.
All this was preamble to get to this statement: Roy's better than ever with this Conan story. Either Thomas has increased his skills (which I'd agree) or the format offered more tools to increase the power of the story. I'd argue that both are true.
For this is the raw, untamed, unsocial Conan that I first read in Howard's "Rogues in the House." This is, at the same time, a Conan who has learned and is learning from his various experiences - something that Howard's Conan rarely did. This is a Conan who will risk all and travel a hard journey to savagely keep his word and self-respect...even if the objective itself didn't matter to him. The ending, Conan's denouement, may come as a bit of a surprise to you. But it's totally Conan.
As is this story. With no lack of respect to the artists (who tell the story with skillful panel-to-panel continuity, and draw Darned Nice Pictures to boot!) this is no book of pretty pictures with no meat. This is tough sirloin, lean and rare. This is a story of power and sacrifice that comics need, if they are ever to return to their search for heroism.
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