Conan of the Isles

Conan of the Isles
Conan of the Isles review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Marvel - 0-87135-483-7
  • Release date: 1988
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

This is set in Conan’s later days when he ruled the kingdom of Aquilonia, his son Conn beside him on the throne. After a heavy day in which many of his subjects have been abducted by a mystical force Conan is summed by a dead wizard in his sleep and told he must save the entirety of Hyboria by confronting a foe alone. He’s provided with warning and protection and informed he must leave immediately on awakening.

It’s a suitably imposing and portentous, if somwhat over-extended introduction to the main event, which requires Conan to re-adopt a former identity as Amra the pirate, whose reputation has been sustained over the years he’s been missing. Falling in with a trusted old ally and a feared new one, Conan acquires a ship and set sail.

After years of writing regular Conan comics Christmas had been considerably delayed for Roy Thomas, but given the opportunity to craft an epic oversize graphic novel he’s generally on form, if a tad on the wordy side. Not all the 98 pages are perhaps required, but Thomas is being faithful to L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, whose work he’s adapting. It’s very nicely constructed. There’s the set-up, some adventure and sorcery at sea, Conan among thieves, skulking around secret passages, and the hidden monsters.

John Buscema has drawn so many pages of Conan over the years that there’s a tendency to under-rate how good he is, although he wasn’t above coasting on occasion. Yet the quality of his draftsmanship is impeccable, and there some pages that emphatically reinforce his credentials. There’s no Conan in the sample illustration, but look how effectively Buscema creates a squalid port, first seemingly glamourous and enticing in silhouette, then revealing the true nature. Where Buscema fails to convince is in his portrayal of Conan. The script emphasises again and again that this is an older Conan and seen as such by others, yet Buscema’s only concession to age is a couple of unconvincing grey streaks in Conan’s still full head of hair.

Also less than convincing is the conclusion, but getting there has been fun and touched all the right bases. Is this classic Conan? No, but it doesn’t fall that far short. The same creative team return for the later Conan graphic novel The Rogue.