Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Savage Sword of Conan Volume 1

Today being the 105th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard, put me in the mood to review an item that I read many months ago: The Savage Sword of Conan Volume 1. This 544 page book is published by Dark Horse Comics and reprints The Savage Tales of Conan the Barbarian #'s 1-5 and The Savage Sword of Conan #'s 1-10. Both were black and white magazine sized comics originally published by Marvel Comics beginning in August 1973, tSToC, and August 1974 for tSSoC.

This isn't new, I know, again I am late for the bus, I believe at this present time Dark Horse is now up to volume 9 of the series. They intend to reprint all issues of The Savage Sword of Conan. Being a comics guy, I did know of these when they first came out, and I did buy volumes 1 and 2 when they were published; however, I did not take the time to read volume 1 until nearly a year ago, and I have not yet read volume 2.

This isn't from a lack of love for the series, as a teenager, I bought as many issues of Savage Sword as I could get my hands on. I spent much time in art class practicing my skills at drawing Conan while using Savage Sword as a model. I fully intend to buy all the volumes, but I'm slow to the party.

There are many remarkable things about the stories reprinted in the book. I could rave about the Roy Thomas scripts or go on about the art of Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Jim Starlin or Alex Nino, amongst others; however, that has been done elsewhere.

I will write briefly of the story reprinted from Savage Sword #6 "The People of the Dark". It is from a story of the same name originally written by Robert E. Howard. The original incarnation of the story was first published in Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, June 1932 (found here via the Creative Commons Attributions/Share Alike Licence). It was not a Conan story. There was a character named Conan the reaver in the story, but he was Gaelic, not Cimmerian. Roy Thomas adapted the story by REH, and in his version, it is transformed into a Conan story. Many, including myself, believe the Conan of this story was catalyst or earlier incarnation of the Conan first read in "The Phoenix on the Sword" (Weird Tales December 1932--which in turn was a rewrite of a rejected Kull story "By this Axe I Rule!", May 1929).

The art for Roy Thomas script is done by Alex Nino. Nino at the time had drawn for Marvel before, but would hit his stride with black and white horror comics: Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and later Heavy Metal. Being a regular reader of Dark Horse Presents, I am passingly familiar with his work there as well.

"The People of the Dark" is a past-lives story and in both REH's original tale and in the Roy Thomas script, it is told in first person narrative by the protagonist John O'Brien. During the course of the story, John O'Brien is on a quest to kill another man whom he is competing with for the affections of a lover. He is rendered unconscious and has a dream memory of an earlier life in which he was Conan. In REH's version, this is not the same Conan known in popular culture, in Thomas' script, it is the very same.

In both versions of the story, REH's views on barbarism vs. civilization are apparent, plus I came away with a social commentary (or perhaps better stated as a social influence) of evolution. The Children of the Night/Little People/reptile like humanoids of the story are explained as perhaps an earlier incarnation of homo-sapiens that faltered and failed. Howard no doubt was aware of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

The Conan of the story, regardless of which version is read, can not be colored as a hero at on-set. He is seeking to kill another man over a woman that he seeks as a prize. There is a moment of redemption at stories end that does allow him to be viewed in a more heroic manner.

In summary, it was interesting to read both versions of the story and do a comparison. It is also nice to read a Howard tale upon this day of his birth and still enjoy it 78 years after inception to still find it enjoyable and relevant.

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