That said, I feel like I almost slip into a negative mode by default when it comes to the Dark Horse comics. Perhaps its the eternal contrarian in me, or maybe I'm just one of those kinds of nerds. In any case, I notice that the public at large seems to utterly love Conan, and many fans consider them to be the closest Howard adaptations ever. I disagree: they're about on the same level as the Marvel adaptations, but in different ways. Classic Marvel couldn't depict the stories with anything near the level of violence, nudity or sexuality in the original stories, and Thomas was prone to making weird decisions to "improve" the story for a comic format. I'm pretty sure Stan Lee had a hand in some of the very weird early issues, too.
Yet even though Dark Horse doesn't have the CCA to contend with, they still manage to make divergences that don't make sense. They go against Howard's descriptions in many areas, alter the stories to fit into their arc, and they insert their own characters all over the place. I can only guess it's part of Paradox/CPI's design to create a single homogenous "look" for Conan, and unfortunately, it's one that includes Aquiromians, Greco-Hyborians, Uberboreans, and Thoth-Amon as Nemesis. I plan on covering the various Conan adaptations in comics in the future: one of the most notable cases is in the Marvel and Dark Horse iterations of "Black Colossus."
While I liked many aspects of Truman's adaptation of "Black Colossus," there are also many parts I didn't: the complete mischaracterisation of Kutamun, the pointless alterations to dialogue and exposition, the ham-fisted attempt to humanise Thespides - all in addition to the things Dark Horse does in most of its arcs, like shoehorning in Thoth-Amon, and persisting with the stupid Greco-Hyborians and Uberboreans. At least the Prince and Vizier don't make an appearance. It isn't a perfect adaptation (and I admit, it would be hard to picture a truly perfect adaptation), but I'll accept that there are some people who like it. But not as much as this guy.
I’ll let you into a (not so) secret. As far as I’m concerned, Conan, the book currently being published by Dark Horse, is by far the best adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s most beloved creation to have ever sprung from the fevered brow of writer and artist alike. Want to know why? Doesn’t really matter if you do or don’t, because I’m going to tell you anyway, so pay attention kiddies, here’s the reasons. It’s entirely faithful to, yet at the same time, lovingly expands upon, the world in which the Cimmerian roamed. Take ‘Black Colossus’, a short story that’s been fleshed out to fill the holes in Conan’s life created by pulp deadline necessity, but at no time does it feel like the story has been fleshed out. Truman is the vessel through which Howard’s spirit flows, it guides him and helps him, as he crafts Conan’s journey and our becomes a captain in a Mercenary guard and defends Khoraja and the cities fair Princess Yasmela against the desert Sorcerer Nahtok, a guise adopted by the ageless sorcerer Thugra Khotan and his horde of Set worshipping warriors, before defeating the unholy deities puppets and their master with hardened steel, sinew and battle born courage. Warfare, blood, swords and sorcery, all the ingredients that bring the tales of Conan to vivid life are present, yet never get in the way of , or become the whole, story, and in Tomas Giorello, the barbarian has finally found his definitive artistic muse, a man who work almost drags the reader into Conan’s ancient, vicious, heroic age. I swear, Truman’s run on this book just keeps getting better and better, and it’s easily one of the top five books out there at the moment. Howard would be proud of how far his favourite son has come…
OK, this is bordering on the ridiculous. While I won't begrudge someone liking Truman's work, to call him "the vessel through which Howard's spirit flows"? More astonishing, to call Giorello Conan's "definitive artistic muse"? Are you serious? I wouldn't even say that of Frank Frazetta, and anyone who's read my blogs knows how much I adore Frazetta's work.
For one thing, it isn't "entirely faithful" by any stretch. Even the very dialogue is changed, character motivations are altered, small details are altered for no discernible reason, and the expansions are haphazard. Sure, it adheres to the plot and characters, and so can be considered broadly faithful. Yet, Howard's dialogue and prose are some of his best qualities: it seems bizarre that you'd replace that with trite modernized facsimiles. As well as that, some of the original story is actually truncated - you'd think that you'd try and expand the story as much as possible before injecting narrative epoxy, rather than shorten parts of the original story to add in your own stuff. Sound familiar?
Is Dark Horse's Conan truly the best adaptation of Howard's creation? Frankly, I think it's debatable whether it's better than the classic Marvels, let alone the Savage Swords - at least before the later Thomas, or Fleischer/Jones/DeMatteis eras. It isn't even the best adaptation of "Black Colossus" - that's still the three-parter in Savage Sword #2. Sure, there are some groaners, like Thugra Khotan's mummy-face and the persistent Greco-Hyborians, but nearly everything else is pitch-perfect. The art is incredible, the script and story faithful to a degree Truman barely approaches, the composition of the page is fantastic. I can't even call it nostalgia, because I didn't grow up during the heyday of Savage Sword, and I read it only a few years before Dark Horse's version came out.
I guess Mr Martijn and I just two very different people, is all.