Conan The Barbarian #1-3 by Brian Wood (Comics Review)
I’ve held a fascination for the character of Conan ever since I first saw the movie duology featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the titular hero ages ago. I’ve seen the duology again and again many times since those days, and I’ve even seen the new reboot with Jason Momoa as Conan multiple times. My fascination with Conan led me to Red Sonja and I’ve had a great time in the last year and a half, reading various Red Sonja comics, and even watching the travesty of the movie that was made with her.
I read a Conan comic last year, Conan and the Daughters of Midora, which was an anthology and featured several stories with the hero. However, that proved to be a rather weak collection. I didn’t get a chance to read another Conan comic until today, when I was just looking for something completely different to the usual superhero comics I’ve been reading so much of late. And you know what, its been a great experience.
This first issue of the new chapter of Dark Horse’s Conan comics starts off with a new high. As I haven’t read any of the previous volumes, I cannot comment on how good they are, but if they are anything like what Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan have begun, then I definitely want to check them out.
Start to finish, this is definitely a swords-and-sorcery story with a healthy dose of nautical adventures thrown in. Brian Wood’s writing style evokes the feel of the original Robert E. Howard novels, which I’ve only glanced through, not read, unfortunately. This feel pulled me right into the story and since Brian/Becky’s Conan is a very young Conan, it got me really interested. First his flight from Messantia, and then his brief introduction to the crew of the Argus, a trading vessel that plies its trade along the Black Coast. Most of the issue is taken up with recounting how Conan found himself in the situation with Captain Tito and the Argus, all of which makes for a really stirring read. And once Belit, the Queen of the Black Coast comes into the picture, the story kicks off into overdrive, and the ending really is fantastic.
Becky Cloonan’s art throughout is top-notch. I really like how she draws Conan, staying away from the over-muscled, hyper-masculine look that is popular elsewhere. Instead, she goes for a more earthly look, something much more normal. This makes Conan’s fighting prowess all the more remarkable since looking at him, one couldn’t guess at his abilities and skills as a swordsman. Her pencilwork is fairly strong throughout, and she’s given me one more reason to love her work, since I’m already fan of hers from the art she did for Scott Snyder’s Batman #12. And Dave Stewart’s colours are also great. He uses strong, bold colours that contrast really well with the rest of the panels.
Where the first issue was all character-work and character-building, the second issue goes the opposite route. If you are not familiar with Conan’s specialties from before, then this issue will… educate you quite handsomely. And violently. And brutally. This issue is mostly action. Conan finally runs into the Queen of the Black Coast herself, the dreaded pirate queen Belit, whom we’ve only seen a brief glimpse of before, and we get to see what happens when these two cross paths.
The action in this issue is unrelenting. We get panel after panel of the action as Conan murders his way through Belit’s crew. Brian Wood’s writing really takes off in these moments and more than before, it evokes Howard’s style. Short, clipped sentences describe Conan’s butchery in a rather dispassionate tone, but at the same time, they pull you in further, keep you turning the pages. That’s how I felt after reading these issues, that’s for sure. There’s a fair amount of dialogue as well here, of course, and in those panels, Brian gives the reader a sense of who Conan is, what his backstory is like, what his training has been like, and what kind of a man he is. Conan’s character is very much laid bare in this issue, but it is never excessive, far from it.
Becky’s Conan, when in action, is a large part of why I loved this issue so much. With her pencil-work, she gets across his lethality again and again. First we see him as an archer, then as a swordsman, and then as a killer waiting for his next obliging victims. The action scenes flow together really well, thanks also in part to Dave’s colours, who excels himself once again. Brian’s script moves at a very fast pace and the art keeps up with it all the way through, without fail.
All the frenetic action from the first issue is replaced with more character-work as we learn more and more of both Conan and Belit. This is the issue that finally begins to give a glimpse of the true legend of Conan, and how the Queen of the Black Coast fits into those legends. While almost all the action from the previous two issues is missing here, that is not to the detriment of the script at all. In fact, it is all the more cerebral and enjoyable. It gives the creative team a chance to scale things back and focus on the characters themselves, show us more of what makes them who they are.
This is especially true of Belit since we learn now of how she came to have a crew of her own and how she gained her reputation as the most fearsome pirate on the Black Coast. Through various members of her crew, the tale is teased out for Conan (and for the readers), and it gives an added perspective on her. She is no raging madman or a cold-calculating villain or anything else along those lines. She’s a pirate, yes, but she’s also much more, a goddess to her crew and something more to Conan himself. There’s a slight bit of a pacing problem in the issue, right in the middle pages, but it doesn’t last long. And the way that the issue ends, we will be finding ourselves back in Messantia ‘ere long, and that’s going to be a fun tale.
Becky and Dave continue to show off their art with this issue as well. Everything that was good about their work in the previous two issues holds true for this one as well. But at the same time, I bet this was more of a challenging issue to draw and colour than the others, because there is a lot of ground to cover in each panel. The characters are well and truly the focus in this issue and in that respect, neither of the two artists disappoint at all.
Dark Horse’s relaunch of Conan is certainly off to a great start. I definitely need to go ahead and get the rest of the three issues that together make up Conan Volume 13: The Queen of the Black Coast. And also, Brian and Becky have finally gotten me interested in reading the original Robert E. Howard novels, so I guess I’ll be reading them at some point in the near future. One can hope!
Posted on October 1, 2013, in Comics Reviews, Review Central and tagged Becky Cloonan, Brian Wood, Comics, Comics Reviews, Conan, Conan the Barbarian, Dark Horse Comics, Dave Stewart, Fantasy, Review, Review Central, Swords and Sorcery. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.