Much like with their Star Wars Legends series, Marvel’s huge back catalog of Conan the Barbarian classic stories is basically a license to print money. In the latest collected edition, Marvel is putting out one of the greatest Conan miniseries ever put to print with The Jewels of Gwahlur this week. It’s also packaged with two other stories by some of comics’ greatest creators.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Conan the Barbarian hunts one of the world’s greatest treasures! In an action-packed adaptation by P. Craig Russell, Conan seeks the prized Teeth of Gwahlur. But when he discovers that a former dancing girl is being compelled to pose as a long-dead oracle, can he use this knowledge to outfox his opponents on the hunt for the jewels? Plus: In more action-packed tales by top-flight talent, a king’s daughter is kidnapped by a sorcerer — and only Conan and the girl’s sister can save her! And intrigued by a leader known as the “Mad King of Gaul,” Conan joins his army — but when tragedy strikes, will Conan be worthy to wear the crown?
Why does this matter?
Do you like Greg Capullo’s art? You’ll be right as rain with P. Craig Russel’s main three-part story here. The art is fabulous. Do you like Jimmy Palmiotti? Okay, pick this up for his one-shot, “Conan and the Daughters of Midora.” How about ruthless barbarian violence? Get this for Darick Robertson’s “Conan: The Weight of the Crown” also collected here.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
“Conan and the Jewels of Gwahlur” was originally published in 2005, republished in trade in 2006, and is finally back in print with this series. The 88-page story by P. Craig Russell tells a tale that’s filled with adventure, wonder, and surprises. It also leans heavily into the violence, the damsel in distress, and features nearly every heroic trait of Conan ever put to paper. We’re talking wall climbing, sword fighting, clever thinking, and good planning. It has everything you’d want in a story, complete with literary-style captions. Russell delivers an art style that has an elegant line, but also a darker ink work that feels natural and real. The use of silhouette is a great way of casting a sense of doubt and darkness you’ll see in this story. It opens with an adventurer feel, tells a flashback to how Conan even knows of the treasures locked away in a secret temple, then offers mysteries and surprising turns. It’s a story that evolves as you turn the page and feels very natural.
Also collected here are three additional one-shot tales. If you’re a Conan fan you’ll know the best adventures are tales that begin and end in a single issue. The first of the bunch is written and inked by Jimmy Palmiotti, and it’s dense with story and interesting twists. Conan is forced to help a king after being caught, befriends a rejected daughter of the king, is forced to fight monstrous orc-like creatures, and eventually comes to realize the truth of the entire quest. It even comes with a twist of sorts at the end that reminds us sometimes lies and deceit can help in the end.
Closing out this collection is a story by Darick Robertson that reveals a much more barbaric war-time Conan who slices and dices on the battlefield. It’s not a look we often see for Conan since he’s typically staying out of giant battles and that adds a little extra to this collection. As the story pans out we see Conan become king and eventually face off against a foe who probably can’t win, but should. It’s a story that shows how Conan is fair and good and knows when to do the right thing. The art in this story by Robertson is dark and heavy on the inks and it leans into the muck and dirt of chaotic battles.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The main story collected here by Russell can be overly wordy and slow in its approach. There is a sketchbook interview in the back of the book that does add a lot of context including why he went with a wordier approach. That said, the story suffers a bit from these longwinded captions (purists of the original tales will love it I’m sure), which hinders the overall enjoyment a tad.
Is it good?
I enjoyed this collection for how it packages three distinctly different Conan stories and yet each one offers a different slice of Conan and his identity. It’s a good place to start if you want to understand the multifaceted nature of this character.