Marvel Epic Collection: Conan Chronicles – Out of the Darksome Hills

Marvel Epic Collection: Conan Chronicles – Out of the Darksome Hills
Conan Chronicles Out of the Darksome Hills
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Marvel - 978-1-3029-1590-2
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2019
  • UPC: 9781302915902
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Sword and Sorcery

When Marvel re-acquired the rights to Conan the Barbarian they published Epic Collections of material issued by Dark House between 2004 and 2017 at a prodigious rate. Dark Horse’s signature series was the work of Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord, and it’s primarily their collaborations that feature in Out of the Darksome Hills, although as the Epic Collection is a straight chronological reprinting, other artists are involved.

The majority of the content is Busiek’s new stories, but he also adapts Robert E. Howard originals sparingly. These formed the titles of the slimmer paperback collections The Frost Giant’s Daughter and The God in the Bowl. It’s the latter that’s the most successful, uncharacteristic for being a wordy detective mystery about a slain merchant with Conan caught by the body, and the action only occurring over the final pages. For the other Nord faces comparison with the version drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith in the 1970s. ‘The Frost Giant’s Daughter’ is early in the series, and Nord comes off second best by a long distance.

Nord is a good artist who takes time to work his way into the series. He takes a painterly approach, concentrating on dramatic figures in imposing, but sparsely drawn locations, and it’s noticeable how much more decorative his art becomes when Thomas Yeates is providing layouts and backgrounds.

Busiek’s technique is to build his own stories around the adaptations, showing what Conan was up to immediately before and after, which is a clever conceit. He starts that way by introducing a Prince and a more sceptical Wazir finding ancient scrolls about Conan’s life and battles, giving a depth to Howard’s method of all Conan’s exploits being mythologised long after his death.

Busiek prefers the swords of the swords and sorcery genre classification, although when he does involve sorcery it raises the game. Among the best here is Conan first being trailed by an assassin, and then eventually teaming with her to thwart the machinations of Thoth-Amon, encountering Conan for the first time. There are also chapters drawn by Greg Ruth that combine with others in The Heart of Yag-Kosha for a compelling look at Conan’s youth (collected in Born on the Battlefield).

Anyone who enjoys barbarian fiction will get their money’s worth from Out of the Darksome Hills, with all content also found in Conan by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord Omnibus.