Saturday, May 21, 2011
Comic Review: Conan: The Frost Giant's Daughter and Other Stories
OK, so this is how I fell in love with Conan in comic form. I’d been aware of Conan comics since I was a wee lad, when my brother used to read the Marvel line. And yeah, I’d always thought the monsters and scantily clad women were pretty cool, but I didn’t really respond beyond that. In junior high, as I was discovering H.P. Lovecraft, I also began to read his contemporaries, and with the encouragement of that same brother, I picked up the twelve volume Del Rey editions of Conan that were edited by Lin Carter and crew. I was hooked. This Conan guy was awesome. I didn’t know it then, but Howard was quickly becoming my model writer. Where Lovecraft dealt with concepts about the universe that I responded to, Howard dealt with what it meant to be a man, a being, a hero; and what it meant to live. And his words were like fire. Skip ahead a year or two, and I found a copy of The Savage Sword of Conan at a corner store. It also featured Solomon Kane, who I’d come to enjoy as well. So, I grabbed it, and I devoured it and the next several issues, until the store stopped carrying it for some reason. I liked the black and white art more than I had the four color stuff from the 70s. And the stories felt a bit more mature. But they still didn’t feel right.
I wasn’t looking for Conan comics. It wasn’t something I was hoping for, or waiting for. But, I liked the Cary Nord art when I saw it. And my budding interest in comics, spurred on by the increasingly accessible trade editions, helped me lower my guard for a moment and pick up The Frost Giant’s Daughter. It had always been one of my favorite stories, anyway. So I didn’t figure much could go wrong. But I didn’t expect much, either.
Right out of the gate, I was hooked. Oh, the art was amazing. Looking almost like panel after panel of Frank Frazetta paintings, with all the savage beauty and brutal grace. But it was more than that. For the first time outside of Howard’s own work, I felt like I was reading about Conan. My Conan, not the Hollywood version we’d been fed by Marvel, movies, and TV. Kurt Busiek got it. This was the hero by his own hands and for his own goal. This was the ubermensch of Nietzsche (or at least, something approaching it). The old time American hero before Luke Skywalker and his sort made meek and mild, tossed around by fate and circumstances into heroic. This was a man, unafraid of his own desires and unashamed of his own strength. Uncorrupted by the hypocrisy of civilization but willing to enjoy its fruits.
The stories contained in this volume are of Conan’s first adventures in the greater world, crossing paths with cowardly traitors, the children of gods, and finally the very height of civilization. It is easy to see why Conan becomes so quickly distrustful of the trappings of power and the mysteries of magic. It’s a great start to a series and makes me hungry for more.
For any fans of fantasy, ripping yarns, beautiful art, and just generally good comics, this series is a must. You can now start with Volume 0 for a view of Conan before he struck out on his own, or here with Volume 1. Forget what you think you know about Conan and just read it.
Conan: Volume 1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories
Author: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Cary Nord
Publisher: Dark Horse Books