Many moons ago, there was a mammoth publication titled “The Savage Sword of Conan.” This was in a time when Conan was a Marvel sales success and the readership was there. More recently, Dark Horse has taken over the Conan mantle and here they decide to open the “Savage Sword” doors once more to expose readers to the varied glory of Robert E Howard’s collected works. This is a grab at nostalgia – usually such a desperate and poorly executed idea – and yet it is a completely successful mix of everything you want and love from this sort of title in both new material and a reprinted work.
Five different characters are represented in 80 pages and we get a variety of introductory vignettes, stand-alone one-shots, and a great little text piece, as well as an old sprawling epic. There’s a little something for everyone and it is this variety that makes the publication so very effective. Nothing feels like it’s got the same formula as the other sections. Everything feels like it comes from the same school of thought but is still presented in independent ways.
It is really refreshing that this isn’t just trying to cash in on Conan. Some might even think it doesn’t offer enough of the Cimmerean but if they like him they’ll love the others available here. Robert E Howard was a prolific writer and his other creations have graced the four color page in diverse ways throughout history. We get a tease of El Borak who will get his comic debut in the next issue. We even have Tim Bradstreet on the art. This is truly a celebration of everything that made Howard such a fan favorite.
The writing on display is all reverent to Howard and yet still crafted to match the tone and pace of a comic page. Conan is written well by Tobin and this tale, a three-parter, should come together in fine style. Allie gives an erudite turn in the John Silent short that packs a very intriguing and well played ending. Andreyko on Dark Agnes is the weak link of the collection and yet is still good fun. The text piece is the sort of thing I love these collections for, so that is appreciated. The final tale, and the bulk of this issue, is a reprint of an old Roy Thomas tale of Bran Mak Morn. You expect it to be laborious due to its age but instead it comes across as a pleasure to read and a surprisingly deep and nasty tale.
All the artists work within the scope of what a Howard comic should look like, and yet their individual styles are given more than enough room to work their magic. There might not be a Cary Nord here, but Wellington Alves more than makes up for it with his fantastic pencils. Dewey and Atkins works their tales well and the title looks good but soon we see it’s all sorbet before the Windsor-Smith main meal. There is a reason that this man is known as an industry legend and this ancient tale of dread and monsters is a great example of why this is. His work, published in 1976, still looks brilliant by today’s standards. There’s a dusty quality to the work and some of the layouts are pure genius. It’s a slice of old school mastery that reminds of EC horror classics and Berni Wrightson and it caps this publication off perfectly.
“Savage Sword” is a near perfect collection of what makes Robert E Howard a master creator in his field and his creations the perfect fodder for atmospheric and brutal comics. This captures the nostalgia of what made these old magazines define childhood discovery but it also updates and makes this collection something that you must own if you are a fan of the genre. The gamble has worked and will pay off for us all as we see a new dawn of savage tales of our favorite barbarians and warriors.