Today I bring you a first for Crushing Comics – a guide to a licensed character who has lived with two different publishers over the course of his nearly 5o-year comics career: The Definitive Conan Comics Collecting Guide and Reading Order!
In fact, I’d say that Conan might be Marvel’s best-collected hero of all time – better than X-Men and Spider-Man! More on that, below.
I’ve always been fascinated with Conan, starting from catching scenes from Arnold’s 1982 film on my parent’s TV as a kid and a tattered old copy of Conan The Barbarian #62 I somehow inherited straight through my first attempt at penning new releases posts in 2015.
It was in researching that post that I became obsessed with how deep Conan’s reprinted archives were – Dark Horse had issued dozens of paperbacks covering his entire primary run at Marvel as well collections covering over 100 issues in the new Dark Horse continuity.
As I said then, “[N]ow I kind of want to read Conan. This is how it happens.” I’m a sucker for long runs, and an even bigger sucker for coherent collected shelves.
While I’ve managed to avoid the siren call of collecting these dozens of books, I couldn’t resist trying to untangle the various releases.
Marvel held Conan license from 1970 to 2000 and produced several distinct continuities of Conan in that period – including 23 years of Barbarian (the majority written by Roy Thomas) plus a magazine called The Savage Sword of Conan and King Conan, a title with stories of the more mature hero.
Marvel rebooted Conan in 1994 before Dark Horse acquired the rights (which included rights to reprint Marvel’s stories!). Then, in 2003, Dark Horse launched their own Conan continuity, originally written by Kurt Busiek and hewing very closely to the original Robert E. Howard stories.
Dark Horse’s Conan has run through s sequence of titles ranging from 12 to 50 issues in length, starting with plain old Conan, followed by Conan The Cimmerian – even though that’s actually a befitting title for an initial volume considering it’s how Robert E. Howard originally described him:
Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”
Between the two publishers, they’ve printed over 850 original Conan comics across multiple continuities and timelines – which definitely merits some guidance when it comes to collecting, especially seeing as some volumes have nearly the same names as each other! And so my Guide to Conan was born.
Just how collected are those Conan issues? Would you believe over 90% of them are available in a modern collected edition from 2003 and forward? Keep reading to learn how it breaks down.
First, let’s take a look at Conan’s Marvel years. Note that for the purposes of this chart an issue that was all reprints of other issues that have been collected has been counted as collected.
|1970||Conan The Barbarian (1970)||275||271|
|1970||Conan The Barbarian (1970) Annuals & OGNs||17||13|
|1971||Savage Tales (1971)||5||5|
|1974||The Savage Sword of Conan (1974)||235||235|
|1974||Giant-Size Conan (1974)||5||1|
|1980||King Conan (1980) + Conan The King (1984)||55||55|
|1982||Conan Movie Tie-ins||3||0|
|1998||Conan the Adventurer (1994 – 1995)||14||0|
|2000||Conan (1995 – 1996)||11||0|
|2010||Conan vs. Rune (1995)||1||0|
|2011||Conan the Savage (1995 – 1996)||10||0|
|1997||Conan Returns (1997 – 2000)
[eight 3-issue series]
Whoa – that’s 89% of all Marvel Conan Comics collected! And, if we only count Marvel’s original set of Conan stories – ignoring the 1994 reboot and forward – we’re talking about a 97% reprint rate thanks to the release of the final Chronicles of Conan this week!
There is no other Marvel hero whose series are that well-covered – not even Uncanny X-Men or Amazing Spider-Man, which are two of Marvel’s most-reprinted series of all time! Maybe Dark Horse should handle ALL of Marvel’s reprints.
Now, let’s see how Dark Horse’s Conan is doing on reprints. Dark Horse was subscribed to the “season” system of titles long before Marvel’s constant reboots – they’ve continued their main Conan series to new titles five times now (along with a half dozen mini-series and their own King Conan stories).
|2003||Conan (2003) #0-50||51||51|
|2004||Mini-Series & One-Shots (2004 – 2008)||23||23|
|2008||Conan the Cimmerian (2008) #0-25||26||26|
|2010||Conan: Road of Kings (2010) #1-12||12||12|
|2011||King Conan (2011 – 2015) [five series]||24||24|
|2012||Conan the Barbarian (2012) #1-25||25||25|
|2014||Conan the Avenger (2014) #1-25||25||25|
|2008||Conan minis and one-shots (2008-2016)||25||24|
Hold the phone … 99%?! Can that be real? Has Dark Horse really only skipped a single issue of reprints prior to the launch of Conan the Slayer in 2016?
Yes and no.
Yes, they skipped a single issue. Yet, we probably shouldn’t even count that issue. It was 2011’s Conan the Barbarian: The Mask of Acheron one-shot, which was a tie-in to the 2011 Conan the Barbarian film. It has absolutely nothing to do with Dark Horses’s several ongoing Conan continuities.
Effectively, Dark Horse’s Conan has been 100% reprinted – and is likely to stay that way forever.
That puts Conan’s collected grand total at 92%, which is unheard of across pretty much all long-lived pre-2000 comics properties. If Dark Horse decides to attack Marvel’s 1994 Conan relaunch now that their original trio of reprint series have ended, it will only take a few more years to push all of collected Conan to 99% reprint status.
If you’re anything like me – a completion fetishist – that makes you want to read some collected Conan comics!
If you love epics fantasy and heavily narrated late Silver Age comics, the Chronicles of Conan series is for you. Each issue is like it’s own novel – they’re not quick five-minute reads!
If you’d like something a bit more zippy and modern, but still with the epic, classic tone, you want Dark Horse’s Conan starting from 2003 – and they’ve conveniently begun re-collecting huge swaths of it into extra-long paperback omnibuses!