Friday, 14 January 2011

Review - Conan Vol.7: Cimmeria TPB


I got this for my birthday last February, along with a copy of Conan Vol.6, but have only just read it because Conan Vol.6 wasn’t that great and it managed to put an end to the brief Conan phase I was going through at the time. I was actually about to list this volume for sale on Amazon (unread) but, after flicking through it, I decided to keep it back for a while and read it anyway, and I’m glad I did because I quite enjoyed it.

A couple of years ago, I bought the first few volumes in this series on eBay (for about £3.00 each) and quite enjoyed them, too. They weren’t perfect or anything and mostly they just did that modern thing of dragging out stories that would have been told in just one comic until a decade or so ago over several issues. In fact, many of the stories in those books were Robert E. Howard stories that Roy Thomas had already adapted into single issues of the Marvel Conan series in the seventies, only this time tales such as ‘The Frost-Giant’s Daughter’ and ‘The Tower of the Elephant’ were told over multiple issues. Still, they were quite well done. Most volumes were written by Kurt Busiek and painted by Cary Nord but there was a multi-part story in one volume written by Mike Mignola and some other artists contributed to the series. I remember particularly liking Vol.0, written by Kurt Busiek and painted by Greg Ruth, which told a series of stories from Conan’s childhood in Cimmeria. Vol.6, however, was written by Timothy Truman and illustrated by Tomás Giorello, the same creative team responsible for most of this volume, and it wasn’t very good at all. I don’t remember much about the story now and can’t flick through it to remind myself because I sold it on Amazon shortly after I finished reading it but I do remember thinking that the art was bad. However, either my memory is worse than I thought it was and Giorello’s art wasn’t that bad after all or else he has really improved, because his art in this volume wasn’t bad at all, even if it wasn’t up to the high standards set by previous artists on the title. Even if his art here had been bad, though, it wouldn’t have bothered me that much because at least a third of the pages in this book were drawn by the great Richard Corben, and it was the fact that Corben had contributed to this volume that made me give Timothy Truman’s Conan another chance.

This volume collects Conan the Cimmerian issues 0-7 – Dark Horse’s previous ongoing Conan title having finished at #50 – in which Conan heads back home to Cimmeria, disillusioned with the ‘civilised’ world. In the first proper chapter reprinted here, after the zero issue that adapts a REH poem, Conan is attacked en route to Cimmeria and rescued by on old man. The old man, it turns out, knew Conan’s grandfather, Connacht, and tells Conan the story of how they met, when the old man was just a boy. The book continues in this vein, with Conan being told stories, or else remembering stories, about his grandfather as he heads back to, and eventually arrives in, Cimmeria. Connacht, it seems, was another Cimmerian with the wanderlust, and these stories of his adventures outside, and his eventual return to, Cimmeria are what made this book worth reading, illustrated as they are by Richard Corben. Now 70 years old, Corben is as good as he ever was and José Villarrubia’s colours really bring his stylish art to life, making these sections really stand-out from the rest of the book. These sections are also the best parts of the story by quite a long way, although the parts drawn by Tomás Giorello, in which Conan meets up with his first love, who is now pregnant by another man and caught in the middle of a feud between various tribes, are okay.

What I particularly like about Conan comics – and would probably like about the Conan books if I ever got around to reading that big collection of REH Conan stories I bought last year – is how relentlessly grim the Cimmerian attitude towards life is. Cimmeria itself is ‘a gloomy land that seemed to hold all winds and clouds and dreams that shun the sun’ and Crom, the Cimmerian god, is a bit of a bastard who provides the Cimmerians with winter as a ‘way of culling the weak and old’. These moments of grimness often make me laugh out loud (which is presumably not the intention of the authors) and there were several such moments in this book. If the current owners of the rights to the various Conan books ever fancy putting out a book that contains just these moments of Cimmerian wit and wisdom, without all that distracting action stuff, I will be first in line to buy it.

All in all, this was a fair-to-good read that was made much better by the fantastic art of Richard Corben and a few amusing grim bits. I doubt I will buy any future volumes in this series unless I see them really cheap somewhere but I would read them if I ever got the chance to borrow them. This particular volume has a recommended retail price of £13.50 / $17.95. As I said, I got my copy for my birthday last year but the person who bought it for me (my wife) got it from Amazon, where it is currently £9.45.

5 comments:

  1. I've never been much of a Conan fan, but I like the sound of that grimness - I can almost seem myself enjoying these stories for the same reason you did.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was never really a Conan fan when I was younger, apart from for a brief period around the time the first film came out, but got into Conan comics for a bit a year or two ago, for reasons I can't quite explain. That grimness is the main reason I want to read some Conan novels, too. Check out this great quote from REH's Tower of the Elephant:

    "His gods were simple and understandable; Crom was their chief, and he lived on a great mountain, whence he sent forth dooms and death. It was useless to call on Crom, because he was a gloomy, savage god, and he hated weaklings. But he gave a man courage at birth, and the will and might to kill his enemies, which, in the Cimmerian’s mind, was all any god should be expected to do."

    Worship Crom!

    ReplyDelete
  3. What I particularly like about Conan comics – and would probably like about the Conan books if I ever got around to reading that big collection of REH Conan stories I bought last year – is how relentlessly grim the Cimmerian attitude towards life is.

    Unfortunately, Howard never set any stories in Cimmeria, or featured any Cimmerians apart from Conan. Howard's work is certainly relentlessly grim, though, but not to the comical degree of the comics (the idea of Crom purposely creating winter to cull the weak seems a bit contradictory to his otherwise aloof relationship with the Cimmerians, especially since he gives the Cimmerians strength and courage at birth): the grimness is bleak and fatalistic, not Warhammer 40k style Grimdark.

    Yes, you definitely need to get started on the Robert E. Howard stories. They're really, really good.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have a copy of that big 'Complete Chronicles of Conan' hardcover and am looking forward to reading it but have a few other books I want to read first. Yes, I suppose Crom giving the Cimmerians anything would be a bit of a contradiction, considering he couldn't care less about his followers (which is what I love about him!). Most of my favourite Crom-related quotes from these comics are actually from the REH novels, which is what made me buy that 'Complete Chronicles...' book.

    ReplyDelete
  5. So they even have Alan Moore modelling for Conan front covers now, do they?

    ReplyDelete