Have you ever had the urge to just pack it all in one day? You know: quit the job, sell the house and the car, give responsibility a peck on the cheek, grab your favorite broadsword and head out into the hinterlands for some good, old-fashioned high adventure? Sure you have. Well, if you’re like most of us, the responsibilities just won’t go away and you’ve never really been as good with that broadsword as you always wanted to be. If that’s the case, Conan: The Hall of the Dead is the collection for you. Hall of the Dead reprints selected Conan stories published by Dark Horse under their current series simply titled Conan. HOTD makes for some pretty good reading and does a great job of pulling the reader in and transporting them to the world of Robert E. Howard and his muscle-bound Cimmerian. Better still, this hardback version makes a beautiful collection to the bookshelf, with or without the colorful book jacket.
Busiek, Mignola and Truman are all industry pros so the writing in HOTD is just what you’d expect: crisp, clean, concise and well-connected. Each writer manages to “catch the baton” without jarring the reader’s overall sense of continuity. Busiek passes off to Mignola, Mignola passes off to Truman and the reader hardly knows where the seams are. Of course, this isn’t to say that the writing here is “cookie cutter.” Far from it. Busiek, Mignola and Truman all have very unique writing styles. Busiek tends to be the most dialogue driven of the trio with Mignola taking the opposite end of the spectrum and, essentially, placing his characters in “the quiet corner.” Truman finds himself somewhere in the middle having a good mix of dialogue-driven scenes and silent, image-driven scenes. However, there still remains a flaw in HOTD. In spite of the fact that these three great writers managed to smoothly tag-team the pages, none of them ever really seem to want to actually give Conan much internal exploration. Sure, Cnan’s a crafty thief and can punch/kick/slash his way out of any predicament but, at times, that seems to be all the book is about. So much time and attention is given to paying homage to Howard and putting the Cimmerian into a new, more dangerous predicament than the last that there just doesn’t seem to be much time for character development. By the end of the book, sure, I’d had a good time, but I didn’t really learn anything new or interesting about the Cimmerian other than the fact that, when battling a giant frog-god, a sturdy loin cloth is all he really needs in the way of armor. As much as I loved this book, I wanted to see Conan develop more than just his sword arm.
On pencils, Cary Nord seems born and bred for the days of high adventure. Again and again I was impressed by Nord’s ability to flesh out the look and feel of Robert E. Howard’s legendary world of swords and sorcery. Nord’s penciling is smooth and fluid. If he has a weakness, it’s only in his tendency to waver, occasionally, in his portrayal of Conan’s physical form. In all of the panels, Conan looms—which is a good thing. The Cimmerian should loom. However, from time to time, Conan seems to gain or lose about twenty pounds of muscle and can go from looking like as protein-enhanced as Arnold Schwarzenegger to a more moderate, unbuff Hugh Jackman. Still, Nord’s a force to be reckoned with in HOTD. Dark Horse would be hard pressed to find another artist as capable of developing action scenes and overall panel layouts as striking as Cary Nord’s work.
Overall: 8 on 10. Great addition to the Conan franchise, but the Cimmerian needs more development.