Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Classics - Conan the Barbarian #25

This issue of Conan the Barbarian was a bit of a shock.

With the exception of a two-issue fill-in story drawn by Gil Kane, the penciling on Conan's comic (up to this one) was provided by Barry Smith (now Barry Windsor-Smith).

As I've mentioned before, Smith made amazing progress as an artist in that (more or less) two-year span. His first issue was frankly crude, but his final issue of the color comic was amazing - detailed, loaded with characters and life and showing off Smith's unique style.

And then issue #25 came along - and Smith was gone. It wasn't his last Conan work - he'd draw the adaptation of Red Nails for the Savage Tales magazine - but he had built a rabid fan base and we were shocked when he left so suddenly. (He is credited as the co-plotter on this issue, which is cover-dated April 1972.)

Luckily, one of Marvel's best artists took up the reins, and put his own indelible stamp on Conan's career.

"Big" John Buscema wasted no time in giving the book a different look. His Conan was a big, powerful, snarling brute, with long black hair and a square jaw. In virtually every panel he's hurling himself into action or snarling angrily.

The art wasn't as detailed as Smith's, but Buscema made up for it by amping up the dramatics and filling each page with interesting characters, intense events and loads of action.

Buscema must have enjoyed the title, because he stayed with it a long time, and also penciled a significant number of stories for The Savage Sword of Conan magazine.

He flourished (and suffered) under a vast number of inkers - I always thought his best work was seen on the rare occasions when he inked his own work. In this issue he gets solid treatment from his brother Sal Buscema. The great John Severin is also credited as an embellisher, but his work appears on a two-page Kull flashback that looks like pure Severin to me. Just to keep it all in the family, John's sister Marie does her usual outstanding work providing the colors.

Lest I forget to mention it, the writing was by Roy Thomas, of course, and it's a terrific story of wizards, some deadly mirrors and a gruesome fate.

I was a big fan of Conan before this comic came along, and I was so pleased with how well Marvel adapted that hero's adventures (though they had to sanitize things a bit, of course).

And kudos to Buscema for taking over a title that was so locked into one artist - and making it his own.

Grade: A-


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