The best phrase I can use to describe the Conan Omnibus Vol. 2, by Kurt Busiek and several collaborators, is “a lot.” This 450-page tome has a lot of everything you’d expect in a Conan book: fighting, drinking, adventure, sex, magic, underclothed men and women. A casual fan might not have the endurance for a book this long, but it is pretty hard to put down once you start.
Writer: Kurt Busiek, Timothy Truman, Mike Mignola
Artist: Cary Nord
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
An Arabian Nights-esque framing device tells stories of Conan’s time in the City of Thieves, before he became the “civilized” king. Summarizing these stories is kind of tough, since each single issue is relatively self-contained, with loose connections to a longer arc, three of which are collected into the omnibus. It sounds a bit confusing or disjointed, but these vignettes all have a lot in common and their shared location ties everything together. There are stories about Conan outsmarting demons, stealing unstealable treasure, bedding dangerous women and stopping armies. All typical things you’d expect a barbarian to do.
I really enjoyed the unique approach the writers, Kurt Busiek, Timothy Truman, and a bit by Mike Mignola, for the structure of these stories. Conan is not a terribly deep character, so building a story around him could be rather shallow. Instead, by loosely connecting a variety of stories, the writers are able to build a world around him. This keeps the omnibus from being too repetitive and stagnant. Throughout these vignettes we see some recurring characters, Conan’s actions have repercussions, and we really get a sense of the city, world and culture Conan is at odds with. This long view of the character is really cool. Finally, this storytelling approach makes sense with the Arabian Nights framing device. In the meta-story, a vizier recounts these tales to his princely charge, so of course he would skip the boring parts and only pop in on Conan’s adventures.
On the art front, Cary Nord, the primary artist, does some good work. Largely consistent over the three volumes, his lines are kinetic and well defined. This helps capture the savagery of Conan. A number of times enemy heads go flying, totally severed from their bodies. Nord tends to have a least one full-page spread per issue, with which he tends to pose our hero in a well-done, suitably heroic pose. The various colorists that work with Nord use faded, almost colored pencil-looking inks. This adds to the legendary tale atmosphere. The last story in the collection changes up the coloring, going for bolder, more shadowy inks. The change is the biggest difference in the omnibus and it really sticks out. Personally, I prefer the faded look.
Conan Omnibus Vol. 2 contains a surprisingly rich and developed world for its star to adventure in. Busiek and Nord’s haughty Conan isn’t too much more than the swashbuckling barbarian I expected, but this iteration is hard not to like. The omnibus is a good read for veterans and newcomers alike, assuming they aren’t too intimidated by its size.