Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Conan: Brothers of the Blade

(2005) Roy Thomas and John Buscema, Titan Books, 12.99, trdpbk, 160pp, ISBN 1-845-76137-5

This is the eighth volume collecting the 1970's Conan the Barbarian title from Marvel Comics, issues 52-59 (issue 57 art by Mike Ploog, looking most un-Plooglike; Buscema had four different inkers on his issues, Tom Palmer, Frank Springer, Pablo Marcus and Steve Gan; the re-colouring is by Dawes, Sokoliwski, Glass and All Thumbs Creative). I think most of these issues are 1975, but shipping dates would have put some in '76 I'm sure... The first seven issues here are very loosely adapted from a Robert E Howard story and, by his own admission, Thomas was killing time while moving Conan toward his meeting with the she-pirate Belit - in which situation, if I remember correctly (hey, it was 30 years ago!), Conan was to stay for a large number of issues, well past issue 100 in fact. The influences on issues 52-56 were a Howard 'King Kull' short story (though Howard himself never related Kull to Conan, many subsequent writers have, including Thomas and L Sprague de Camp) and Geoffrey Trease's The Condottieri. Issue 57, Ploog's fill-in, is a loose adaptation of the beginning of Howard's only Belit story, and 58 starts the whole pirate plotline, with 59 supplying something of an 'origin story' for the she-pirate. The art and re-colouring are lovely throughout, though the writing is a bit clunky in places. However, Roy Thomas's afterward(s) remain fascinating, especially as he details the title's hilarious run-ins with the Comics Code Authority (at a time when there were very few non-Code books around for Americans to be published in - Star Reach is about the only one that comes to mind, and that was Canadian, though Europeans had Metal Hurlant). I still hope that one day the black and white Savage Sword of Conan will also be collected, but who can tell? Feb 2006 should see the publication of volume nine of this collected series, and I'll continue to stick with it, but with less certain recommendations from hereon. I remember less well the issues that will fill the next five volumes or so - I seem to remember getting a bit bored with the title back in the late 70's, but perhaps it was just me?

Tony Chester

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