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Review: 'The Colossal Conan' is a massive collection of really good comics

A comic review article by: Zack Davisson

Oh. My. God. This … this book is just … massive. I thought the Hellboy: Library Editions were impressive, but … wow. Hither came Conan. This is like 3 or 4 Library Editions bound together. When Dark Horse named this The Colossal Conan they weren't fooling around.

Collecting all 51 issues (51 issues!!! That's issue #0 - #50. A thousand-plus pages!!!) of Dark Horse's acclaimed Conan series in an oversized format, this is the single largest comic collection I have ever seen. It weighs almost 14 pounds. You are going to have some serious Conan-sized muscles after working your way through this thing. On the back, editor Philip Simon calls The Colossal Conan "A wizard-walloping volume." That's about the best description I can think of. This isn't a collected edition. This is a tome.

And yeah, these are good comics. Great comics. The Colossal Conan isn't impressive on size alone. Just take a peek at those writers: Kurt Busiek. Timothy Truman. Mike Mignola. And then the artists and colorists: Cary Nord. Tomás Giorello. Thomas Yeates. Greg Ruth. Eric Powell. Rafael Kayanan. Paul Lee. Leinil Francis Yu. Joseph Linsner. Ladrönn. Tony Harris. Paul Lee. Dave Stewart. Richard Isanove. JD Mettler. Tony Shasteen. José Villarrubia.

That, my friends, is a roll-call of talent.

When Dark Horse resurrected Conan in 2004, Robert E. Howard's most famous creation was in pretty sad shape in comic book land. The Marvel series had fallen victim to the excess of the 90s, and Conan was a parody of his former self. Grown to Hulk-like proportions, with ridiculous Fantasy armament and non-existent plotlines, there was little to recognize. As we learn in the intro to The Colossal Conan, we have Kurt Busiek to thank for getting the barbarian back on track. He simply looked at what worked with the initial Roy Thomas/Barry Windsor-Smith run, and suggested Dark Horse do the same. His pitch was to take Robert E. Howard's original stories and expand them, using Dale Rippke's "Darkstorm" chronology as the timeline.

Busiek stayed mostly true to Howard, although just as Thomas brought in his own creations like Red Sonja, Busiek added the Bone Woman and her servant the warrior Janissa to the cast. He also added the most interesting little piece to Howard's mythology, finally identifying the Prince in the famous "Know, O Prince… " prologue that opens Conan. Busiek's format has been carried on by superb writers like Tim Truman (who would later come to re-define Conan in his King Conan series) and the always-amazing Mike Mignola, who adapts The Hall of the Dead.

 

The art in this book is just beyond fantastic. Cary Nord hits a home run with the first issue. With his first page, he immediately set a new standard for Conan art that wouldn't be met until Tomás Giorello took over as the artist on this series. Cary Nord followed Barry Windsor-Smith's style of using uninked pencil art, which the King of Colors Dave Stewart then turned into stunning painted landscapes. Nord simply lived in Howard's world in a way few artists are able to achieve -- a kind of perfect synchronicity.

The Colossal Conan also wisely reproduces all of the covers (with the exception, it should be noted, of Tony Harris' original "nude" cover of Conan #24 that was released as a variant. So you are one cover short of a "complete" collection.) But the rest of Harris's magnificent covers are here, including my favorite: the Robert E. Howard portrait from #28. I'm not personally a fan of Joseph Linsner's covers, but they are here as well for those that enjoy them.

In a book this monumental, not every story is going to be a 5-star. There are some better stories and some worse ones. But for this collection—the sheer audacity of presenting all of these comics in this format makes up for any of the weaker ones. Seriously, I would have loved to been in on whatever drunken binge Dark Horse party resulted in this thing. I can just imagine someone splurting out as a joke "What if we put ALL of the comics in one book?"

 

I am so in love with The Colossal Conan that I can only see one flaw in it. If you are anything like me, you are going to want this heirloom collection signed by as many of the creative talent as you can. And that is going to mean lugging this titanic, monolithic, and (let's not forget) heavy collection around some long comic conventions. I'm going to see Mike Mignola tonight, so I'll get my trial run of hauling this around in my backpack.


And yes, because when you show me something as awe-inspiring as this, I want more. I want The Colossal Conan the Cimmerian featuring Tim Truman, Tomás Giorello, and José Villarrubia's iconic run. (I can live without Conan: Road of Kings and Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast. Sorry Dark Horse, but those just weren't very good. ) And then—dare to dream—I want The Colossal King Conan collecting Truman, Giorello, and VIllarrubia's even more iconic run featuring some of the best Conan comics ever made. I definitely want to see Giorello and Villarrubia's artwork in this oversized format! That would be fantastic.

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