Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Conan The Cimmerian #11

This issue is what we call a bridge comic - it doesn't have much purpose other than to provide us with exposition, character moments and link major plot points together. This sort of comic is fairly common with any story written in the Decompressed style a.k.a. Writing For The Trade. It's fairly common to see this sort of thing in chatty, wordy comics like Starman, the later story arcs of Sandman and pretty much everything ever written by Brian Michael Bendis. It is fairly rare to see it in a comic like Conan.

There are several reasons for this, the main one being that the action-based focus of most fantasy stories, set as they are in worlds where life is cheap and every day a struggle, leaves little time for introspection. Besides, who wants to see Gorak The Destroyer waxing philosophical over a campfire when he could be slashing demons to ribbons and throwing wide-hipped maidens over his hefty shoulder as he flees The Temple of The Unspeakable Nine-Eyed Goat God? Even those of us who know Conan, as a character, to have a certain crude eloquence that lends itself well to the speaking of insults if not the honeyed-words of poets wooing women, do not expect a lot of talking in your average Conan story.

In the case of Brian Reed on Red Sonja, which I reviewed earlier this week, we know what he is doing. Like a poor stage magician, we see how he gestures one way with his hand in order to distract us from what he is doing with the other. But he cannot hide the flowers up his sleeve. He is trying to tell an epic fantasy tale about the quest for a magic talisman but we cannot help but notice that the tale is delayed with the description of action we have already seen and flashbacks to the conclusion of fights that are not seen in their entirety.

Tim Truman on Conan, on the other hand, is a master magician who takes a trick that we have seen many times before and makes it seem new.

This book is the fourth part of an adaptation of the classic Robert E. Howard Conan story The Black Colossus (available for free on-line at the preceding link) and it is a credit to Truman's talent as a writer that he is able to create this comic out of what amounts to one chapter of Howard's original work or four pages of text in the print edition. And yet, because of the way it is shown - with Truman's original dialogue and descriptions adding detail to various passages, like the depravities committed by the dark mage Natohk - it seems very much like a new Conan story even to those of us who know well how the tale will end.

The art by artist Tomas Giorello and colorist Jose Villarrubia also deserve praise for fully bringing the world of Robert Howard's Hyboria to life. Giorello's light pencils mixed with Villarrubia's bold colors and deep shadows creates the feeling of a woodcut painted over. This further adds to the feeling that what we read is true history and no mere comic.

There is not much in the way of action or excitement in this issue as it sets up the final battle, with Conan now a general leading an unwilling army, the princess who both fears and lusts for the young barbarian insisting on coming along for the ride and Conan running into an old comrade from his days as a thief, whom provides the info dump of just how ancient and horrible the evils our heroes face truly are.

Still, it is to Truman's credit that the new reader could - in theory - pick this book up and read through it without being terribly confused. I would still suggest that anyone wishing to try Conan for the first time start with Issue #8 rather than this one but all in all, it is a serviceable issue for what it is - an adaptation of the one slow chapter of a classic sword-and-sorcery story.

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