Conan Vol. 1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories (Comics Review)

Of all the heroes over the years who have left their mark on the wider world of fiction, few if any come close to the pedigree of Conan the Barbarian. Multiple movies, hundreds of comics, numerous novels and short stories. Decade after decade goes by and he is always there in some form. Dark Horse Comics, who have held the license for the comics on the character for several years now have done a great job of shepherding Conan through various iterations, whether as a young warrior first stepping out in the world, or as an aged king. That is where we start with here.

Conan Vol.1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories is a collection of some of the earliest Conan stories, chronologically speaking, where we meet Conan as a young adventurer who barely knows of the world outside of Cimmeria but is eager and willing to explore. Writer Kurt Busiek weaves the many stories together into a stunning narrative that is enhanced by artists Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates, Dave Stewart and others. The story is a little fuzzy here and there, but the creatives here have captured the essence of Conan really well and delivered a stunning package.

I actually read this collection a couple years back or so and only recently reread it since I wanted to delve into this series full-on and see how it fared. Add to that the fact that I’m also a fan of some of Kurt’s other work, and Conan is one of my absolute favourite heroes, and I was sold on this from the first few pages.

The Conan we see in this collection is young and untested with a loose temper and wild fantasies about unexplored and mythical lands. I have usually only read the stories where he is much more seasoned or is in the twilight of his life as a King, so the transition is a little jarring but no less enjoyable. After all, every hero starts somewhere and this is very much the beginning of Conan’s long, long journey where he learns of the wider world and learns to control both his temper and his interests. And the thing is that Kurt writes a Conan who is very much unrestrained as a character, which makes for a visceral experience as a reader. Fiercely loyal and an absolute brute in a fight. That’s what I’m always looking for in a Conan story and Kurt delivers that in spades.

One of my main attractions to the story as it unfolded was how well Kurt captures the developing narrative. I’ve read some of his work where it is almost as if you are reading a prose story rather than a comic, but that is not the case here. His dialogue and scene description is short and to the point, always giving the reader just enough info to keep them going rather than bogging them down in the words. In that sense, his pairing with Cary Nord is absolutely fantastic.

The titular story of the collection is also a wonderfully haunting tale about the dangers of the northern lands, which Conan has no experience with. Placing a character totally out of their comfort zone is a tried and tested strategy and Kurt pulls it off well, drawing Conan further down the rabbit hole once he is caught in that web. I loved the Frost Giant’s Daughter as a character and a pseudo-antagonist and though that particular story was over quickly, it was just the start of his troubles.

The main story in this collection is what happens when Conan finally gets to go to Hyperborea, the mythical land his grandfather told him tales of as a child. Characters in the first half of the collection treat the Hyperboreans as a grand secret that is not worth telling, but we do get to see the land and its peoples and it is an even more chilling encounter for our hero than with the Frost Giant’s Daughter. If before everything was brutal action, now it all turns into a deep emotional rollercoaster. I won’t go much into details here, for it is something worth reading yourself, but suffice to say that Kurt delivers a masterful tale of an ancient empire and its citizens who leave a lasting impression on our young hero.

Throughout the collection, another highlight is Cary Nord’s pencils, Dave Stewart’s colours and the letters by Richard Starkings & Comicraft. The Conan you might usually remember is one who carries a blade at his side and wears little more than a fur loincloth or the like. The Conan presented by the cadre of artists here is one who dresses for the weather, i.e., logical clothing. And he wears decent armour to protect himself. Often in these kinds of stories, the male hero is presented as a muscle-bound brute who shows off every inch of his honed-and-toned body. But there is a way to do that without making the character look utterly at odds with his environment and that’s what we have here. It just… makes sense.

Even beyond that, I think that Cary Nord is an amazing artist. I’ve already mentioned how him and Kurt are a great team, and that holds true for the entire collection. The action scenes with Conan wading into the thick of battle, enemies all around him, or in the quieter moments when he’s interacting one on one with others, everything is perfect. Dave Stewart’s colours then enhance all those scenes, bringing them to life, making the internal art truly a visual feast. There’s just so much going on here where the art is concerned and there aren’t enough words to express all of it.

For me, The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories is a wonderful collection of stories about Conan’s earliest days. Kurt has taken a classic story and woven a larger narrative around it so that the rest of the stories following all fit into a single adventure as we continue down the series. Cary, Dave and Richard also make for a great team of artists who leave their own mark on the character, which makes the entire collection a stand-out read.

Rating: 8.5/10

More Conan:

  • Conan the Avenger #1;
  • King Conan: The Conqueror #1, #2, #3, #4;
  • The People of The Black Circle #1, #2, #3;
  • Conan the Barbarian #1-3, #4-6;
  • Conan/Red Sonja: #1, #2.
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Posted on May 8, 2017, in Comics Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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