Posted - January 16, 2012 | Updated : August 24, 2015
Conan 0 : The Legend
All about three magic words : Know O Prince!
First of all, a big thank you to Dark Horse for bringing back Conan to comics.
In issue zero it's many decades, maybe even centuries, past the time of Conan. He is survived only by a toppled statue in what was once the Kingdom of Tarantia. But that statue is intriguing, intriguing enough for the local despot to want to know more.
Now, the despot's advisor happens upon the Nemedian Chronicles, no less. The rest of the comic is a series of illustrated panels set around the classic Conan poem "Know O Prince". That alone is worth the price of admission.
Conan is back! Pack your bags we're going to the Hyborian Realms!
Conan 1 : Out of the Darksome Hills
Living vicariously through the adventures of a favorite barbarian!
By this time, I have enjoyed so many Kurt Busiek comics that I've equated his name with take-no-prisoners-sure-to-entertain writing. This issue of Conan is no exception.
What makes it even better is Cary Nord, the artist. I swear these pages are painted. Beautifully painted. The figures are impressive enough, but the backgrounds. I could almost feel the cold wind coming down the mountains of Northern Hyboria.
It gets better, the opening scene is classic fantasy : A village is being attacked, the huts are burning, people are screaming - a terrible slaughter. A woman with a baby runs to the protection of the forest. Too late! She's been seen, overtaken and about to be raped. At this point Conan makes his entrance sword in hand with that grin on his face. How can I resist! I can't, and neither will you.
It's a war between the Vanir and the Aesir - two of the three Northernmost tribes of Hyboria (the other being the Hyperboreans - they'll make their appearance soon but not in this issue). And right in the middle? Our favorite Cimmerian.
I'll say it again, it's 2004 and Conan's back!
Conan 2 : The Frost Giant's Daughter
A classic Robert E. Howard tale!
Ah, this is "The Frost Giant's Daughter". There are a lot of great Conan writers, Busiek is a prime example. But the handful of stories by Robert E. Howard are special. One could say, with no offence meant to the other writers, that these are the real Conan stories - original tales by the Master himself.
I've read this story before; in the original short story by Howard and, if I remember correctly, in Marvel's magazine adaptation Savage Sword of Conan. I don't mind reading the same Howard tale again and again because the new set of creators add their particular take on things.
This is a tale that strikes me as having a very "Twilight Zone" ending.
Conan 3 : At The Back of the North Wind
Continuing Conan's adventure in the Hyborian North countries
Back in the first issue of Conan, an Aesir village was raided by the Vanir, there were many funeral fires among the Aesir that day. The Vanir raiders fled and were pursued. It's taken all of three issues, but the pursuit ends here. These barbarians, so much hacking and slashing; but there is a brutal sense of honor among them too, and raw, slightly terrifying courage, as the Vanir leader offers his life in return for an end to the blood feud. He invokes the name of the cold god Ymir (But not as cold as Crom hehehe), and gets an appropriate answer: "Don't talk to me of Ymir, butcher".
What is most fascinating and striking in this issue are the Hyperboreans (Or, hint, what Conan and the rest of the men consider the Hyperboreans). These grey skinned giant hulks are something to see. What are they? Nine or ten feet tall? No matter. Conan, as usual, gives a great accounting of himself in the melee.
Conan 4 : Gates of Paradise
There's something to growing old gracefully
Conan is captured and the story moves to Hyperborea. The first glimpse we have is wonderfully foreboding : A stone bridge arching over to a grey tower with orange fires blazing through high windows. Beneath are mist-wrapped chasms and in the background stone cliffs rising to the sky. Read Conan and go to these places.
After the all-male craziness of last issue we get a gorgeous barbarian girl at last : Iasmini of Turan in her sheer outfit is a welcome site indeed.
As I was clumsily trying to foreshadow in my commentary from last issue, the gray giants are not the Hyperboreans. The giants are part of a mindless slave army - hapless men that have gone under some gruesome process to become thralls. The Hyperboreans are far worst, and even more tragic than their slaves, they are people who refuse to die. You know, the be-young-forever crowd. They inevitably grow tired of their long lives and commit a form of ritual suicide. Tragic figures.
Conan 5 : Ashes and Dust
All About Hyperborea
If you've been reading the madcap, bigger-than-life adventure stories in comics how tough are mere lions. Lions? Pffah! Not tough at all. That's why I appreciate this issue. It brings back a healthy respect for the big cats. Thanks to Kurt Busiek for writing in lions and to Cary Nord for showing us that the big cats are BIG CATS. The lions that confront Conan at the start are big, ravenous, and dangerous and I love that it's so effectively conveyed.
This issue also contains a pocket history of Hyperborea. When you think about sorcery in the Hyborian realms what is the first place that comes to mind? Stygia comes to my mind first and foremost; that Southern land was once inhabited by a serpent race, mysterious and steeped in sorcery. I never gave much thought to sorcery in Hyperborea, though it's gaunt, pale giant race had always seemed, well, different from the others. It turns out that Hyperborea is a place of magicks. It's all laid out here how they managed to get their endless summers, near-immortal lifespans and those giant gray guards of theirs known as Grishnaki.
Conan and the Demons of Khitai 1 : Culture Shock
For those of you who never thought that Conan would ever see a shuriken
I'll be the first to admit that when I got my hands on issue 1 of Conan and the Demons of Khitai the first thing I did was skim the panels for any naked women. And no, I don't do that all the time to Conan comics - just, you know, most of the time. Well, no such luck. There's only one girl here and she's wearing a kimono.
I'm not too keen on the start of this issue. Conan is a monarch at the head of a bunch of Aquilonian soldiers. Apart from a few extremely excellent issues of Conan the King, I don't like seeing Conan in this role. Conan is best alone or with a small informal band at best. Having Conan with a bunch of trained soldiers is sort of like having an extra engine on a Ferrari.
The setting is Khitai, the Hyborian equivalent of Japan or China, I've seen both "flavors" of the Orient presented. In this case it's Japan. I particularly like the silent ninja lurking in the palace rafters.
Conan and the Demons of Khitai 2 : Brothers In Arms
The bull in the china shop is called Conan
This is as close a Conan comic will ever get to being something like Mansfield Park, Jane Austen's novel on manners and customs; and thank God for it too. We're treated to two cultures, one is Khitai and the other is Cimmeria (I know Conan is the Aquilonian King but he doesn't fool me; he's the Cimmerian barbarian that we all know and respect). You can bet that this issue has the usual oriental self-control demonstrations (like two soldiers accompanying Conan as his faithful bodyguard even though he killed their older brother). And you can further bet that from the Cimmerian "culture" side there's a hostage taking. Thank you Conan, always the classy guy hehehe.
Is it me or does this Japan-flavor tale remind me of another Japanese classic : Princess Mononoke.Remember that? I remember the wild boar being possessed and going crazy and all that. We have that here too; although in this case it's not a wild boar. It's a man - the greatest warrior in Khitai possessed and killing his own. This is a job for Conan.
Conan and the Demons of Khitai 3 : The Beasts of the East
Of flying heads and awkward moments
It is a Khitan warrior custom to honor a brave warrior by wearing his blood to battle. One such Khitan warrior does this to honor Pallantides - dipping his hand in Pallantide's blood and marking her face. No problem there. Conan, on hearing this, gets a bit of the warrior's blood on his hand and marks his face with it as a means of honoring the warrior's brother - dead by Conan's hand in a previous altercation. Bows of respect are then exchanged on both sides. This felt really awkward to me - I'm sure it felt awkward - and wrong, to the Khitan warrior also. First of all, Conan did not pay attention to the subtle rule. You honor a warrior by wearing his blood to battle. You can't get blood from one warrior to honor another - that wasn't the rule. Secondly, I'm getting guilt from Conan from killing a man who essentially tried to kill him first. Not like him at all. What feels authentic in this scenario is the clumsy way two cultures sometimes meet. Both sides want to honor the other, or at least not give offense, there are these strange rules, and sometimes it just comes off as awkward.
In terms of action, the issue doesn't belong to Conan or the two Khitan warriors that are with him. It belongs to Namie. The girl I mentioned in my commentary in issue 1; the one who was wearing a kimono. Namie is pursued by a huge Siberian Tiger into a dark labyrinthine temple were Namie wait's to ambush the beast. She does so effectively. Driving her sai through it's head from neck to skull then loping the head off. There is a spectacular panel which shows Namie in action while the Siberian Tiger's head flies off its bloody neck. Spectacular.
Conan and the Demons of Khitai 4 : The Power of the Priestess
Ending the tale with an eastern flourish - the conclusion of Demons of Khitai
Shinzen the possessed and Conan duel as our story culminates. Good battle but nothing special. The mystery behind this warrior's possession is revealed as sorcery - a familiar enough foe to Conan.
Looking at the miniseries as a whole, Yoshida writes a solid tale but I have to question his use of metaphor in this last issue. Maybe to give his tale a more Eastern flavor Yoshida tells a tale through a tribeswoman; it is a folkloric tale involving animal characters. Lee illustrates this tale in the manner of ancient Chinese paintings. You know the kind - subtle watercolors of delicate mountains and stuff. Both Yoshida and Lee are pretty off with the implementation of this particular technique. First of all Yoshida's tale has no subtlety, he simply replaces Conan and his band with animals and proceeds to both recap and foreshadow the story. It's a straight on replacement when one would expect a bit of artifice considering the tale is metaphorically told and stylistically implemented using animal constructs in place of men. I would much rather have a straight recap or, if Yoshida wanted to use this eastern flourish of sorts, maybe he could have delved into a deeper background of the sorcery surrounding the possession of Shinzen. As for Lee, he's trying to emulate classic Chinese (or is it Japanese) painting but his hand is simply too heavy for the delicate brushwork required. Kudos to both for effort though.
Not since Prince Conn's adventures in Conan the King have I read a Khitan tale; it's good to see this part of the Hyborian realms from time to time - and I actually like that sometimes it seems like China and sometimes like Japan.
That's it for Conan and the Demons of Khitai