Sunday, February 19, 2012

Conan The Barbarian (2012) #1 - A Review

Continuing on from where Roy Thomas's 12-issue Conan: Road Of Kings mini-series ended, this latest Conan The Barbarian book starts in the the thick of it. As the book opens, Conan is rushing for the docks of Messentia with the guards in hot pursuit. Just barely making the leap onto a departing boat, Conan explains to all assembled just why he was in search a hurry to get out of town.

Luckily the ship's master, a merchant named Tito, proves to be no friend of the corrupt courts of Messentia and is all too glad to have an experienced swordsman on his ship given the recent troubles with raiders. One group of reavers in particular, led by the pirate queen Belit, has become particularly infamous. But while Conan is quick to pledge his sword in defense of his new friend, a part of him cannot help but wonder about this woman who sounds as fierce and dangerous as Conan himself...

Following Roy Thomas, who first adapted Robert E. Howard's Conan for comic books almost 40 years ago, would be a hard act for any writer to follow but Brian Wood proves to be up to the task. Wood is a wonderful adapter, thus far showing a perfect sense of when to quote from the original text and when to paraphrase or add a little of his own material. A prime example of this comes early on, as Wood captures the essence of Howard's original prose while still condensing it into language that will fit more easily among the illustrations.

I am glad to see that this scene remained intact, for this scene - to my mind at least - shows more of Conan's true character than any other scene in the Howard canon. Far from being the mindless brute he is so frequently portrayed as, Conan does have a certain wit about him and proves to be no mean storyteller, quickly winning over the sailors whose ship he has hastily boarded through sheer charisma. Conan is not one to waste words when action is needed but he can wax eloquently when necessary.

Later, we see see one of Wood's additions to the story, which I approve of as it makes a good deal of sense. As Tito tells Conan of the Belit, we see how Conan's mind wanders. Tito speaks of the evil that this dangerous she-devil has wrought upon the peaceable sailors but all Conan can think of is how much she sounds like the warrior women of his own people's legends. It's been long-established that Conan - while not being particularly picky about whom he shares a bed with - has always had a particular affection for women who share his own sense of adventure and that he always dreamed of a woman who had steel under her silken skin. Not only does this make Conan a more realistic hero (what young man DOESN'T think of his dream woman at least once a day?) but I believe it also will serve to make his later efforts to romance Belit somewhat less sudden. Those of you who have read the original story know what I mean.

The artwork by Becky Cloonan is equally praiseworthy. Cloonan stands among that rare group of artists who managed to design a Conan who does not appear boorish, brainless or bull-necked. Howard most often described Conan in comparison to great cats - tigers and panthers - a man as fast as he is strong, yet most Conan artists draw Cimmeria's favorite son as a mass of muscle. That is not the case here. Cloonan's Conan looks lean, cunning and wolfish.

Her Belit, from what little we have seen so far, looks equally formidable - looking like a goddess with ivory limbs and hair black as a Stygian night yet capable of handling herself in a fight. Colorist Dave Stewart, too, deserves praise for his choice of pallete. The day scenes, night scenes and dream sequences all have their own unique color schemes, which helps to subtly move the story along.

If you have not been fortunate enough to experience the adventures of Conan of Cimmeria yet, now is the perfect time to jump on board and set sail for high adventure!

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