Conan the Barbarian #4-6 by Brian Wood (Comics Review)
When I reviewed Conan the Barbarian 1-3 by Brian Wood a couple weeks ago, I’d mentioned how much I like the character, and how much I enjoy the Hyborean setting and the associated mythos and all. What Robert E. Howard created in those early days of sword and sorcery is something that’s obviously still very much relevant today, considering how much Conan and Red Sonja are popular right now, whether it be comics or movies or what have you. There’s something in his works, and their modern derivatives that speaks out.
Brian Wood’s beginnings on Dark Horse’s popular Conan the Barbarian title reflects that core draw of the character, and the setting. He writes the character really well and his early explorations with the setting really do speak out as well. Its taken me almost two weeks to finish his first arc on the title, but the time in between has definitely been well worth it.
Issue #4 begins a new arc for the title, and it is a direct continuation of the previous arc, The Queen of the Black Coast. In this one, we see Conan and Belit return to Messantia, specifically Argos, in order to raid the city. The cinch is that they don’t plan on doing it openly, and they have a plan involving some deception and play-acting on the part of Conan. The drama that results is both fascinating and enjoyable because of how much Brian Wood is able to explore Conan as a character. We get a really in depth peek at what makes Conan who he is and why he is who he is. All the self-introspection offer excellent material to develop and make the character grow. That Brian Wood chooses to do so this early on in his run also shows that he is comfortable doing it. And he’s pulled it off beautifully.
But that’s not all this issue is about. Brian also explores Conan’s relationship with Belit, building on what he established in the first three issues, specifically the third one which is heavy on the interaction and relationship between the two of them. Their romance is being built up as a saga, a grand tale that is going to be remembered down the years, and I love how Brian is doing it. It definitely pulls you in and makes you take a moment to ponder just what exactly he is doing.
There’s not a lot of action in this issue, compared to the previous ones, but there is some fair amount and Brian Wood balances it with the narration pretty well. It wouldn’t be a Conan comic without some action at least, just like a Red Sonja comic wouldn’t be one without her being all badass and in that respect Brian definitely delivers.
James Harren steps in for this three-issue to fulfill the art duties since Becky Cloonan isn’t around and what struck me was that his art style matches very closely with what Becky did in the first three issues. His characters are slightly different, especially Belit who now has a much more expressive face, but by and large he fits in really smoothly with this issue. I didn’t even realize that the artist was different until I was done with the issue and was re-reading it. I don’t usually look at the credit pages so I missed that early on. He also gets the intimate scenes between Conan and Belit really well, infusing them with the passion that can be seen in the dialogue or in the narration. With Dave Stewart sticking around for the colours, there is an even stronger art consistency in the issue despite the change in the primary artist. As before, he does an excellent job with the colours, portraying both the colourful and the not-so-colourful panels effortlessly. He can do the dark dreamscapes. He can do the scenes of market-time in Argos. He can do anything really.
Once again, picking up where the last issue left off, #5 continues the tale of Conan, Belit and the crew of the Tigress creating such a spectacle in the Messantian city of Argos that it will be ripe and open for them to raid it and make off with all the riches of the city that the pirate ship can carry. Where the last issue was heavy on the character work and the narration, this issue is all about the action, unrestrained and bloody violent. There isn’t any other comic I can name that has so much violence in it. Chopped heads. fountains of blood, uncontained fury. In the hands of any other writer and artist duo, this could very well have been a flop issue because of how such a promising script would have been executed, but Brian Wood and James Harren, alongwith Dave Stewart, rise to the occasion and prove once again why they are such a great team.
However, that’s not to say that there isn’t any character work here. There’s plenty of it actually. But the thing is that Brian Wood has packed this issue with so much engaging (and relevant) action that it gets a bit overshadowed. With this issue, Brian highlights that the romance between Conan and Belit isn’t some fling or anything, but that it is a real romance with consequences and with… benefits, I suppose you could say. There is a certain level of trust and respect in this romance, this relationship, and that’s what’s prominent first and foremost in this issue.
And the action, well damn. The action was simply amazing. I’m minded to think that as great as Brian’s script is, those action scenes wouldn’t be anywhere near as awesome if James Harren wasn’t on hand to draw them and Dave Stewart wasn’t on hand to colour them. Lots of excellent energetic choreography that showcases the prowess of the Cimmerian and shows him in the best light as possible in that regard. If, like me, you’d thought that the action scenes from #2 were something, then wait till you see these ones. Brian, James and Dave set a really high bar this time.
First and foremost, that is one hell of a cover. Possibly one of the best covers in the year and a half I’ve been reading comics. Massimo Carnevale is an absolute genius and this cover proves that he is a master of his craft. It reflects the intimacy of Conan and Belit’s romance while also hinting at the events within the comic, where the crew of the Tigress is busy looting Argos blind. Perfect composition and perfect colours all around. Carnevale has been putting out one great after another for this title and I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store next once I get around to the next arc’s worth of issues.
If anything, what this issue is that it is pitch-perfect, and it is a fantastic place for Brian Wood to end his first arc on the series. This is the issue where he pretty much gets Conan’s dialogue and the mysticism of the Hyborean Age setting. This is the issue where his understanding of the character and the setting really shine, and I say that as someone who hasn’t really read any Conan novels or short stories or anything. What I mean is that if there is one Conan that I’d love to see on the big screen, it is Brian Wood’s Conan. Hell, I’d be all for Brian to write an original Conan novel and I’d be the first in line to get it even.
As with the previous two issues of the Argos Deception mini-arc, Brian gives us a lot of narration paired with some really excellent action sequences. In both mind and body, this issue has a Conan who is free of any kind of inhibitions, not that he had many before. Its really stirring to watch this Conan in action, whether he is hurtling through the streets looking for Belit, or whether he is defending a crewmate from the Tigress. The heart of this issue is in two key sequences: the first is a confrontation between Conan and the Argos city guards, and the second is another confrontation, but this one involves Belit as well. In these two key sequences, Brian once again solidly establishes who and what Conan is. What makes him tick. They are all about the loyalty he feels towards his crewmates and the depth of his love for Belit, a love that she returns in equal measure.
Another thing that Brian deals with in this issue is Conan’s rough moral code. He’s never been an out-and-out hero, and he’s never been a villain either. He sits comfortably in between and he can generally be said to be a good guy. What sets him apart is his moral code, because even though he can, without qualms, ally himself with people who think nothing of causing fire and mayhem in a city just to loot it, he can also reflect on those choices and he can understand them. This is what really makes him special I think, what makes him more than who and what he has been thus far.
Finally, the artwork. There isn’t really anything else that can be said for how good the artwork is in this issue. The sense of scale, the sense of speed in some of the panels, its all really good. There are some minor slip-ups in the pencilwork here and there, but nothing major. As a whole, this is an issue with very solid artwork in all respects.
All I can say at this point is that I’m really, really enjoying this series. I remarked last time that Dark Horse’s Conan reboot was off to a good start and after reading these three issues, that opinion hasn’t changed a bit. Brian and Becky Cloon stepped in with a really great mini-arc, with Brian and James delivering the coup de grace on top of that, in a good way of course.
More Conan the Barbarian: #1-3.
Posted on October 16, 2013, in Comics Reviews, Review Central and tagged Brian Wood, Comics, Comics Reviews, Conan, Conan the Barbarian, Dark Horse Comics, Dave Stewart, Fantasy, James Harren, Review, Review Central, Swords and Sorcery. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.