This was another one of those titles i went digging for the minute i got back into comics. Conan (like Usagi Yojimbo, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk) was one of those characters i loved as a kid and went searching for like some long lost security blanket to help ease my transition back into comicdom. My dad and i used to love to read Conan comics (and watch the Arnold adaptations) together when i was real little, and even now the barbaric Cimmerian brings back some real great memories for me. But enough sappy reminiscing (how very un-Cimmerian, Crom would not be pleased) let's talk about the new series' first compilation: The Frost Giant's Daughter and Other Stories.
After reading this trade - i can't imagine a more perfect creative team for a Conan series than Kurt Busiek (writing), Cary Nord (drawrings), and Dave Stewart (coloring). These guys are all three fantastic. The scripting, pencils, AND coloring (how often do we score the trifecta?) are all very, very "Conan", and come together seamlessly. Nord and Stewart make a great team; the art in this title is some of the best i've seen (if not THE best) since i've been back reading comics. There's a very historically gritty, painted feel to it, and a tremendous amount of attention is paid to detail. Everything has a very "real" look (far and away from my boy Humberto Ramos), from the environments to the weapons, armor and other equipment. Nord does a good job with facial expressions - displaying emotion well (especially Conan's). I also appreciate that he keeps Conan (and others) looking muscular w/o looking bulky or unrealistic (no superhero syndrome here). It takes me twice as long to read these Conan issues, if for no other reason than i can spend minutes on top of minutes just admiring the art work on every page. I'm thoroughly convinced Nord was born to draw Conan, and Stewart to color Nord's pencils.
The entire story is told (rather uniquely) from the perspective of a royal dispatch sent into the wild to survey newly conquered lands. The dispatch (the leader of which is the tenuous heir to the conquering kingdom) stumble across the ruins of an ancient city. Hidden beneath its crumbled walls is a massive (and immediately recognizable) stone statue of a great warrior king, surrounded by mountains of priceless treasure. Intrigued by the statue (and bored to tears from time spent on the kings mission in the desert), the prince commands his advisor to dig up as much information as is available about this once beloved warrior king. The results of this research unfold into Busiek's epic Conan tales.
The compilation of issues found in this first volume cover one fairly complete story arc, following Conan on his quest to sate his wanderlust and lay eyes on the mythical land of Hyperborea. Since his youth, Conan has heard stories of this faraway eutopian land, tales of rolling hills, voluptuous women, immortality, and suicide (how does that fit in you ask? oh i can't give that away). The story begins as Conan comes to the aid of a small town being pillaged and raped while it's men are off to hunt. The men return from the hunt to find their homes destroyed and their women and children robbed, killed, or otherwise harassed. A war party is called together to hunt down the "reavers" who did this (a rival band), and Conan is persuaded to join in the pursuit. What unfolds is a new-classic Conan story of battle, lust, betrayal and revenge (oh yes); combined w/ elements of mysticism, magic, and mythology (are we talking Conan now or what!?). I'd love to go into more detail about what happens in this book but i'd really be spoiling it. I will tell you that my absolute favorite part of this entire trade is the scene w/ the frost giant's daughter... really, really cool stuff. I will say thought that the overall story almost got away from me toward the end (after some incredible parts in the middle) but after reading it the second time i came to appreciate it.
I think I (we?) love Conan because he is the epitome of the ID (see ma, i DID pay attention in psychology). To borrow a phrase from my wife, he's "all that is man". Conan is driven by the most basic of instincts - he desires battle/survival, women and wine (the two of which combine to create "mirth"), and wanderlust. Busiek writes a very cool Conan (complete with Arnlod-esque one liners that are perfectly placed and seldom overdone). This Conan is classic to the character IMO - never wordy and always putting people, beasts, demons, monsters, and even God's in check with his great sword and an aptitude for finding trouble and whuppin ass.
Brings me to my favorite Conan quote of all time (i think it's from the first movie): "...to see your enemies driven before you and hear the lamentation of the women...".
I know i've been passing out the A++'s like nobodies business but i've been real lucky with my selections since i've been back (thanks in large part to this online community of resources i've got going). This is another one i won't let myself sell short just because i'm overdue to dislike something... If you're the least bit interested in Conan or LOTR style fantasy w/ a historical feel, read this at least twice.