Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"The mine closed for the day so everyone in Red Tree Hill could be there to watch the Cimmerian die.
"People even came from other towns. Families picnicked on the mountain. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.
"Until they brought him out.
"Then things got dark."
Good old Conan, always getting himself into a right old pickle before promptly slashing his way out of it. Though if there ever were a character basically entirely responsible for every single bit of trouble he gets himself into...
Anyway, this time he is about to be hung for stealing gold. Well, he was going to be hung, but slight problem, he pulled down and pulverised the tree that the villagers had been hanging people from for decades during their first attempt to kill him. So after a brief reprieve they've decided to chain him to the fallen trunk and chop him into little pieces with an axe. Because, you know, that's bound to work.
Here is the publisher soothsayer to sing us the tale of precisely what Conan is up to now he's rejoined the Merry Marvel Marching Society...
"The greatest sword-and-sorcery hero of all returns... From an age undreamed
hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.
Conan's travels have brought him to the far reaches of the unknown, from his birthplace in Cimmeria to the kingdom of Aquilonia and all in between. But as his fighting prowess lets him carve his way through life, so too does it attract the forces of death! And few are more deadly than the Crimson Witch.
Robert E. Howard's legendary barbarian stars in an all-new ages-spanning saga as the destiny of Conan - and King Conan - are forever changed!"
'Nuff said? Okay, maybe I do need to add a few thoughts of my own...
Firstly, the Conan comics material that emanated from Marvel first time around set a very high benchmark that wasn't, to my mind, bettered or even really approached in quality by what followed during his many subsequent Dark Horse wanderings.
The original series ran for 275 issues starting in 1970 through to 1993. Roy Thomas, then Marvel's associate editor, was the one who was really keen for Marvel to licence the character, seeing the potential unlike Stan Lee, and ended up writing the first 115 issues himself before returning for the final 36.
Thomas ended up offering the Howard estate the princely sum of $200 per issue, rather than the $150 he had been told to budget for it, which meant he then couldn't justify getting John Buscema on board initially as artist (though Buscema did end up pencilling most of #25-190) thus allowing Barry Windsor-Smith to forge his own legend on the opening 24 issues.
I mention all that because, for me, I hold that material in as high regard and with as much affection as I do much of Marvel's classic superhero output. So I was sceptical that they could manage to reignite such interest and induce such acclaim in the character's exploits this time around.
But so far, so bloody good. Jason Aaron, currently still in the midst of his own epoch-length run with the THOR character(s) - the current volume being THOR VOL 1: GOD OF THUNDER REBORN S/C and they are now recollecting his run in chunkier volumes right from the start with THOR: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION BY JASON AARON VOL 1 - clearly has a strong handle on the somewhat psychotic psyche of the ever-bored barbarous man-child.
Strong, bold sword-swinging, curse-screaming art from Mahmud Asrar and Gerard Zaffino, who clearly both understand the character too. The overarching story in this first volume moves around in time, strung through with the bloody thread of the Crimson Witch, so Asrar handles the first three issues which each tell a different adventure from Conan's more excitable younger days, before Zaffino tackles a weary King Conan still struggling to make sense of his place in the world once his throne has been claimed.
It is of course, far too early to say if this run can match the heady errr... head-chopping heights of the original. It is certainly off to a cracking and bone-crunching start though.
Marvel, being Marvel of course, can't leave it there. So there is also a companion SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN title, the first volume of which penned by Gerry DEADPOOL Duggan will be out very shortly. Having flicked through the issues for that, I have to say it does look just as intensely brutally carved chaos out as well.
Now Marvel, being Marvel of course, really, really just couldn't leave it there, could they? So Conan was actually reintroduced into the Marvel Universe with the surprisingly entertaining AVENGERS: NO ROAD HOME by Al Ewing (which was a because-you-didn't-demand-it follow-up to the utterly insipid (to me) AVENGERS: NO SURRENDER event).
Now, the thing about Marvel is... that they are convinced you just can't have too much of a good thing, so clearly, they needed to create another Avengers title, just so they could semi-permanently shoehorn Conan into modern day. Thus we have the SAVAGE AVENGERS with Wolverine, Venom, Elektra, Punisher and Doctor Druid... sigh... I have no idea if he is going to stay there...