I’ve been a fan of Conan and the Conan stories since the 1970’s when I found the Lancer editions of the Conan books in used book stores. The character keeps coming back, through reprints, new stories, and new comic/graphic novel interpretations. This fourth graphic novel volume, based on comics written by Mathieu Gabella and Julien Blondel with art by Anthony Jean and Valentin Sécher takes two of the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard (“Beyond the Black River” and “Hour of the Dragon”) and brings them to full-color life in these new retellings.
In “Beyond the Black River,” Conan, the only white man to have crossed the Black River into Pictish territory and come back alive, rescues Balthus, a peasant about to be fiendishly killed by the Picts. The pair then head off into the country to warn some colonists – the last community of civilization in the territory – and together they might stave off the powerful sorcerer Zogar Sag who is pulling the Pictish clans together.
“The Hour of the Dragon” features three men of high ambition and low moral compass come to offer an unusual gift to the dead body of their former sovereign … the heart of Ahriman, which will bring the dead king immortality. But Conan stands in their way. Conan … who has seized the throne of Aquilonia.
As I’ve noted, I’ve read a lot of Conan over the last fifty years and I haven’t felt that the more recent graphic novels have held up well. I recognize that I’m spoiled by the works of John and Sal Buscema in the B&W comic, and by Barry Windsor-Smith in the Marvel color comic, but it’s a bar other artists should be reaching for. Fortunately, I think that’s finally been attained. I really enjoyed the artwork in this book.
Anthony Jean gave us a very different approach to Conan, and at first it was a bit jarring to me. This bearded, shaved-side-of head warrior dressed like a samurai wasn’t the Conan I was expecting, but it was so different that it got me to thinking about the stories and the characters and I realized that there was no reason this couldn’t be Conan. Instead of trying to redo Buscema and Windosr-Smith, who were re-doing Frazetta (cover artist for the early Lancer books), Jean gives us a unique version that really works.
Valentin Sécher provides the art for “The Hour of the Dragon” and this Conan is a little more familiar to those of us who’ve been around the character for a few years. Big and impossibly muscular, but the backgrounds here capture the dark moodiness that persists in Conan stories. My only complaint here is that this Conan looks way too much like Jason Momoa in every panel. I can see where there may be people wanting to put Momoa in this role, but as someone who is not a fan of Momoa, it did grate on me a bit. But the execution of the art is superb.
The book also contains both Robert E. Howard stories, straight up, as stories (no art).This I mostly did not like.
There is something nice about having the original story to read and to compare how well the comic author adapted it. It’s also quite possible that there is a readership who is not familiar with the original works. However…
These stories are pretty easy to find as they’ve been printed and reprinted many times and a quick Google search can bring up free reads of many of the stories.
Including these within a graphic novel (but not making them graphic) seems like a cheap way to fill some pages to make it worth charging more money for the book. But this is not a good use of these pages. Printing of a graphic novel is not cheap because of the four-color ink used, and even if it’s possible to print some of the book in black ink only, there is some color behind the print making this an expensive use of reprinting an 85-year old story.
I also, personally, don’t like reading fiction in this format … large paper, two column print. And the digital version is worse given the need for scrolling back and forth.
Looking for a good book? The graphic novel, The Cimmerian, Vol. 4, is great, from a graphic novel standpoint, but the inclusion of the original stories is not only unnecessary, but a waste of space and money.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Cimmerian, Vol. 4
authors: Mathieu Gabella and Julien Blondel
artists: Anthony Jean and Valentin Sécher
hardcover, 200 pages