Monday, June 11, 2007

The Second Coming of Roy Thomas

Been a couple of weeks since I mentioned Savage Sword of Conan. I've been steadily working my way through them, though, reading the entire run. I'm coming up on the end of the series, now reading the last 40 or so issues, the ones that actually revived my interest in the series and started me on my quest for the full run.
See, issue 190 was when Roy Thomas returned to writing the series after being off the book for almost a decade. Roy had been the original writer on the Marvel Comics color Conan the Barbarian Comic and on Savage Sword as well. After he left, both comics lost a lot of their zip in my opinion. Few of the other writers that Marvel brought on either the color book or the black and white mag really seemed to get the idea of Robert E. Howard's Conan. Instead they tended to treat the character much like Sinbad, or some other standard fantasy hero. They didn't quite seem to grasp the dark nature of REH's work. Thomas, on the other hand, managed to write quite a few original stories that fit very well into the established world of Conan as well as adapting REH's work. Without Roy Thomas, Marvel's Conan franchise lost its focus.
Thomas spent the next several years working for DC, First, and other comic companies before finally returning to Marvel in the early 1990s. He took over the writing chores on Savage Sword of Conan with issue 190 and wrote the book until its final issue, 235. During that time he made a good effort at undoing a lot of the damage done by writers like Michael Fleischer, and attempted to return Savage Sword to its glory days. Thomas, always skilled at adapting the works of other writers, returned to his habit of adapting Robert E. Howard's stories in between original adventures. He also got permission to adapt various Conan novel pastiches by writers such as Leonard Carpenter and L. Sprague Decamp. He wrote text features and solicited articles by REH scholars, just as he had in the old days. He even brought back inkers like Tony Dezugnia and Alfredo Alcala to work with veteran Conan artist John Buscema.
In many ways it was old home week for fans of the Marvel series. Thomas brought in characters from his original run on the book like Red Sonja and Zula. He wrote sequels to earlier stories like Red Nails and the Treasure of Tranicos and added a back up feature with REH's other barbarian hero, Kull. He also wrote one of my favorite two-parters of all time, a two issue team up of Conan and REH's puritan adventurer, Solomon Kane.
In the end, none of that seems to have been enough. Savage Sword was cancelled 45 issues after Roy's return. Not sure what the reasons behind that were. Most likely falling sales and the cost of keeping the license to the character. I'll have to look into that.
Anyway, I'm rolling up on the end of the series, and enjoying the ride. Kind of hate to see it end.
( PS. The only other writer who had a good, if uneven, run on Savage Sword was Chuck Dixon. Dixon excels at tough guy characters and he seemed to have a lot of fun writing Conan. More about him another time.)

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