Conan and the People of the Black Circle #1 by Fred Van Lente (Comics Review)

I’ve been on a sort of Conan kick recently, thanks to Brian Wood’s excellent relaunch of Conan the Barbarian from Dark Horse Comics, of which I’ve read only the first volume so far and have the second waiting to be read. As a fan of the character and the setting he is a part of, the comics have been quite enjoyable and with Wood’s run coming to a close quite soon, Dark Horse has brought in Fred Van Lente to carry on next year with #26, and in the meantime, Van Lente is penning a mini-series featuring the world’s most famous sword-and-sorcery hero.

From what I’ve seen generally, as well as with an ongoing title, Conan thrives in the mini-series section, and several have been written and illustrated over the years. Van Lente’s Conan and the People of the Black Circle is just another in the line-up and where my previous experience with such has been mixed, this new one is giving me a lot of reasons to stick around and carry on with things.

Conan and the People of the Black Circle 01There’s no way to talk about any Conan comic without referencing the excellent work that Wood has been doing over in Conan the Barbarian of course. He’s got the narration down pretty well, he really understands the character and the setting, and he really knows how to tell a story in the same style as the source material. Van Lente’s Conan differs in those aspects quite a bit, not the least of which is that the setting that he is using here is completely different from the traditional Hyborea that I know and remember. However, while the differences might be many, I still enjoyed this first issue because it provides a very different type of storytelling experience altogether and I think that its a pretty good addition to the modern Conan mythos as well.

Van Lente doesn’t deal with Conan until the last few pages of the comic. Till then, he spends time building up the current predicament that the hero will find himself in later, and he also builds up the secondary protagonist, the Devi Yasmina of Vendhya, sister to the dying King. Vendhya is a really interesting setting for a Conan story as it turns out. Van Lente mixes in some Mughal architecture with traditional Indian social castes and locations, all of it bounded by what appears to be a Persian cultural framework of sorts. What I’m getting at is that Van Lente uses a lot of material to inspire the concept of Vendhya and he’s created something rather unique with it. The entire Subcontinental feel really resonated with me, as an Indian, and I enjoyed it because it is so different from the usual narrative choices that writers make when writing such classic Western characters as Conan.

There is a lot of build-up of the entire setting here, whether we talk about Vendhya itself or the lands outside of its borders, and Van Lente keeps the story moving at a really good place. We see how the King has been murdered, how his sister takes up his cause and vows vengeance on his murderers, how Conan fits into everything, and then he ends the issue with a really good action-packed cliffhanger.

Given how little Conan is seen in this issue, we don’t really get to find out much about him, except that he is a stranger to these lands and that despite such a handicap he has come to lord over a tribe of the Afghulis, who are in conflict with Vendhya as it turns out. Some of Conan’s dialogue is a bit too formal (but not as much as what see in the early pages with the King), too… rigid, but the writer sails past that handicap so that it doesn’t affect the story negatively too much.

The art in this issue is by Argentinian artist Ariel Olivetti, who’s done a really great job here of bringing Vendhya and its characters to life. Olivetti has a very strong painted style to his art in this comic and I found it to be a great counter-point to what Becky Cloonan, James Harren and Dave Stewart did on Wood’s Conan the Barbarian Volume 1. Each panel is immaculately drawn and the art really pops off the page. Not cinematic per se, but strongly visual, I guess you could say. I really enjoyed the entire artwork. Definitely a major strength of this issue, and hopefully those to come as well.

Rating: 9/10

More Conan: (Conan the Barbarian Vol.13) #1-3, #4-6.

Note: While writing this review I was checking up on some Conan stuff and found that Robert E. Howard penned a novella ages ago titled Conan and the People of the Black Circle. That makes Van Lente’s story here an adaptation rather than an original, and thus Vendhya isn’t his creation but Howard’s. Since I was entirely done with the review, I didn’t want to go back and rewrite this entire part, hence this note. The point stands that the setting is something I found to be remarkable and notable for its incredible diversity, which Van Lente and Olivetti have seemingly done their best to bring to the comics medium.

Posted on October 25, 2013, in Comics Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

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