Saturday, 22 May 2010


 A 5-star Amazon review (before it even appears in Amazon).

Barry Windsor-Smith: The Legend Begins!

A little melodramatic perhaps but not that far from the truth.

In volume 1, Smith was still in the process of learning his craft, here he has begun to master it. There's a significant leap forward in the sheer quality of his art compared to volume 1 as here we find the detail and the fine line which made Conan the comic stand out from all the rest of the Marvel product. Writer Roy Thomas also shows a distinct improvement with his own stories and those adapted from Howard originals. This really is ground breaking stuff and is still very impressive today.

Here are the highlights. After a couple of enjoyable if by the numbers stories, we arrive at a two-parter containing, in the hyperbole of the time, 'History's Greatest Team-Up' in a story, plotted by Michael Moorcock and his associate James Cawthorne, and featuring Conan and Moorcock's own sword and sorcery hero the tragic and doomed Elric of Melnibone and also features the return of the wizard Zukala and his daughter from the previous volume. Next up is a reprint of a story -The Frost Giant's Daughter, a Howard adaptation- originally from Savage Tales, a black and white magazine, presented here in colour and minus the nudity and some suggestive dialogue -damn. Then we get five parts of an ongoing story set against the siege of Makkalet which also introduces Red Sonja (who was not a Howard creation). It presents some of Smith's finest art so far (with part of one issue printed from his pencils because of lateness) and highly assured writing from Roy Thomas. Despite not having read them for decades, I remember them vividly and they don't disappoint.

But the best is saved till last with the team's 60 page adaptation of Howard's Red Nails which didn't appear in the Conan comic. This is one of Howard's best Conan stories and Thomas and Smith do it justice. It's a dark tale of gloomy halls, an old contained decaying society and where the madness of men is far worse than any monster which appears. Years ago I bought the outsize Marvel Treasury Edition of this tale, a format which, as I remember, was really impressive. Still it's nice to have it again whatever the form.

Just a couple of points worth noting, though they don't affect the pleasure you'll have from reading these stories.
First off the introduction to this and to vol.1 by Roy Thomas appear to have been lifted from the first two of the original paperback editions which preceded these. As a result the introduction to vol.1 doesn't include all the stories in it, and the introduction to vol.2 refers to stories from vol.1 but stops a third of the way through with The Frost Giant's Daughter. Given that these are expensive items, you would have imagined that the publisher would have either commissioned new introductions or at least properly edited the ones which do appear.
Secondly, this the Barry Windsor-Smith Archives, not the complete chronicles of Conan, so if Smith misses an issue (Gil Kane did two fill-ins for issues 17 & 18), then it doesn't appear. The complete Conan stories in chronological order are available in a different series.

And now I'm waiting for the third and final volume. 
Incidentally, the cover in the Amazon link below isn't correct. The real cover is identical to vol1 except for a different image of Conan which reflects the change in Smith's style.

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