Review by Rob Walton
The Coming of Conan reprints selected material from the earlier hardcover omnibus collection, Conan the Barbarian: The Original Marvel Years Vol. 1. It is a smaller, less expensive alternative to the hardcovers, presenting thirteen collaborations between Roy Thomas and Barry Smith, along with a short Conan ‘try-out’ story, ‘The Sword and the Sorcerer’. Unlike the omnibus collections, the Epic Collections stay in print longer and generally replaces the omnibuses as they go out of print. They are of good quality and physically, easier to read and look attractive on the shelf, which can quickly be weighed down by the hardcovers.
This content covers Conan’s foray into comics in its infancy, in 1970 the idea of of the muscular, sword-wielding barbarian introducing sword and sorcery to comic readers. The stories mature quickly after a rather safe start. To begin with Roy Thomas did not have the rights to adapt Robert E. Howard’s original material, but that changed quickly with ‘Twilight of the Grim Grey God’ and ‘The Tower of the Elephant’, two excellent stories to move Conan in the right direction. ‘Devil Wings Over Shadizar’ continues a fine run before we arrive at the volume’s masterpiece, the adaptation of Howard’s ‘Rogues in the House’ (along with its prequel, ‘Beware the Wrath of Anu’). Conan arrives in a city where two powerful men are fighting for control, representing church and state, and includes the phenomenal idea of Conan fighting an ape. Smith’s art shows its debt to Jack Kirby early on, but quickly establishes an Award-winning style that Smith would continue to evolve over his career as Barry Windsor-Smith.
The quality of Thomas’ writing is consistently high, and he remains Conan’s greatest adapter to other media. There may be a few weak stories here, but there are no bad ones, and they are all balanced by the truly great adaptations. Because of the genre, and its literary origins, the stories haven’t dated badly and still represent the best of Sword and Sorcery in comics. Some modern readers may not like the presentation of some characters, but Thomas was one of the most sensitive writers of his day, and the secondary characters, both male and female are well rounded with their own moral compasses.
In addition to the Omnibus, these stories have been available in other collections. Volume one of The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives presents broadly the same content, which is also split over volumes 1 and 2 of The Chronicles of Conan. There’s also Essential Conan the Barbarian, once the cheap option in black and white on pulp paper, but no longer so since it’s dropped out of print.