Barbarians fascinated me since I was a child, yet, it was only recently that I understood why. It is not their infamous barbarity, nor their notorious masculinity, albeit, I would be lying if I said that I don’t enjoy these things. Rather, the barbarian is the embodiment of a defiant soul, an individual who never settles, who strives for the impossible, but also one who abides by their own code of honour. Of course, not all barbarians abide by this archetype, yet, there is no better suitor for these values than the barbarian who started it all, Conan.
In 2018 Marvel reclaimed the rights to Conan the Barbarian which made me realize that I haven’t read the most well-acclaimed Conan comic series yet, i.e. his Dark Horse era. “But wait,” you might say, “Dark Horse? Marvel? I’m lost.” Don’t worry, I was a bit lost as well. So, before we dwell upon the intricacies of Conan’s Dark Horse era, let’s have a quick (I promise, it won’t be long) lesson on Conan’s publication history.
A Brief History of the Conan Publications
Robert E. Howard created Conan in 1932. He first appeared in Weird Tales, an American fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine. Since Howard’s death in 1936, Conan’s copyrights exchanged many hands (including some later-to-be very famous authors) spanning multiple mediums, books, comics, movies, TV series, and video games.
Yet, the comic version of Conan is a simpler one. Conan’s first comic appearance was in 1970 for the series Conan the Barbarian, mostly written by Roy Thomas, which lasted for 275 issues, until 1993. After this, Marvel initiated a few reboots between 1994 and 1996 but without having been as successful as the original series. Consequently, in 2000 Marvel ceased all Conan publishing and our favourite barbarian was limbo until 2003 when Dark Horse acquired the publishing license.
Conan’s Dark Horse era would last 15 years before being reclaimed by Marvel, and would produce seven series, namely: Conan, Conan the Cimmerian, Conan: Road of Kings, Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Avenger, and Conan the Slayer. The seventh series, named King Conan, ran in parallel to the rest and featured stories of the time of Conan as King. In addition to the above, Dark Horse published several one-shots and multiple mini-series.
Dark Horse republished the first six series into 22 volumes, of which you can learn more here. The seventh series, King Conan, was republished under the title of The Colossal King Conan. Finally, Conan’s most successful one-shots were republished under the title of The Conan Reader. Thankfully, nowadays the aforementioned 22 volumes are fairly cheap. I managed to buy Vol. 1 in excellent condition for only £12 on eBay. However, this is not the case for The Colossal King Conan and The Conan Reader which are significantly more costly.
The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories
The first volume of the repacked series is titled “The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories” and it consists of issues #0-#6 and the first fourteen pages from issue #7 of Conan. It is written by Kurt Busiek who is mostly known for Marvels, and illustrated by Cary Nord.
The cover depicts Conan in a snowy area wearing a somewhat appropriate armour possibly struggling to stay alive. Overall, I really like this cover as not only it looks cool but it gives a very accurate taste of the events taking place in this volume. The illustration is also representative of the contents.
Young and ambitious Conan the Cimmerian travels north to visit the wonderous Hyperborea, an alleged paradise where people live forever and the women are beautiful. To reach Hyperborea Conan must pass through Asgard, a land where the two most prominent tribes, the Aesir and the Vanirmen are in constant war. Of course, Conan inevitably involves himself and things escalate.
For obvious reasons, I don’t want to spoil anything but must emphasize that Kurt Busiek does an amazing job on two fronts. He makes it very clear to the reader that Conan is way more than a brute. He a dreamer, an achiever, and he is driven by honour, yet Busiek manages this while keeping an excellent pace with constant action. The most important aspect of Busiek’s writing, however, is that in his eyes Conan is above all human. He makes mistakes and he suffers.
We have already established that Busiek’s Conan is a multifaceted hero, but what about the surrounding characters? Once again, Busiek does a great job writing about characters who feel real and are likeable. While none of them really shines, all of them, at the very least, are interesting to read. As for the villains, I cannot get into the details to not spoil anything, but I will say that they also evoke emotions which is the best proof of good writing.
This is where The Frost Giant’s Daughter truly shines. In only 192 pages, while being bombarded with back-to-back to action, we get to know two separate civilizations, the Asgardians and the Hyperboreans, along with their history and their customs. Furthermore, we read about several other regions and nations as a prelude of Conan’s future adventures. If Conan’s spirit made me excited about this novel, the worldbuilding is what hooked me. I simply need to know more about Hyborea’s lands and its inhabitants.
I really enjoyed Cary Nord’s art style. It’s brutal but also easy on the eyes and I think that it serves Conan very well. Tom Yeats does an excellent job with colouring as well. His colour palette complements Nord’s style beautifully. Overall, artistically this volume feels natural and complete and I wouldn’t mind if every issue of Conan was illustrated like this.
Like I mentioned earlier, Busiek does an excellent job in terms of pace. Interestingly, the pace is actually linear which is usually a bad thing, however, in the case of this volume, the pace is constantly very quick. To illustrate my point, I forced myself to stop reading after every issue just to make sure I won’t finish the volume very quickly.
The Frost Giant’s Daughter is the first Dark Horse Conan I’ve read and it’s not going to be the last. In fact, this volume was one of the most entertaining comics books I’ve read in a while.
Should You Read It?
Honestly, if you’re even a bit of a fan of sword and sorcery, I would definitely recommend The Frost Giant’s Daughter to you. It’s not only a great introduction to Conan but it’s a genuinely good and fun to read standalone story.
Conan is a vastly misunderstood character. People not familiar with Howard’s creations assume him to be just a brute who slays men and gets all the girls. However, while these arguments are factually correct, Conan is much more than that. He is first and foremost a warrior in spirit while his body and skills are simply the narrative mechanic of depicting his defiant soul. If you haven’t read anything Conan-related before, The Frost Giant’s Daughter is a great start. Have you read The Frost Giant’s Daughter? If yes, what do you think about it?
Alt. Title: Conan v. Vikings v. Immortal Mages Creators: Kurt Busiek, Cary Nord (Illustrator), Tom Yeates (Illustrator) Publisher: Dark Horse Published: April 12th, 2005
Artwork: ★★★★½ Characters: ★★★½ Cover Art: ★★★★ Enjoyment: ★★★★★ Pace: ★★★★★ Story: ★★★★ Worldbuilding: ★★★★★ Overall: ★★★★