Brandon Borzelli's Geek Goggle Reviews
Conan The Barbarian #1-18
Dark Horse Comics
Wood, Cloonan, Harren, Lolos, Shalvey, Mutti, Gianfelice & Stewart
Dark Horse Comics has made great use of the Conan license over the past ten years. Much like the novels, the comics have covered a wide range of continuity and not in sequential order. Wood's specific part of the sandbox focuses on a younger Conan. A Conan that is roaming the country after departing Cimmeria, as he enters manhood, seeking adventure and action. A Conan that finds the love of his life. I know, I know, a Conan comic that centers on him falling in love doesn't sound appealing, but Brian Wood takes the character into some interesting adventures along the way, but make no mistake the comic is a love story at its heart. It's good book and is certainly a departure from the norm. It's definitely worth checking out.
Wood's approach is three issue arcs, which is a great way to tell concise stories that move the overall story along allowing for the larger story to leap ahead in time quickly. The downside is that this allows the series to rotate artists every three issues, which is not the most consistent way to present the overall series.
The first arc, Queen of the Black Coast, quickly introduces this younger Conan to the reader. He's on the run and finds a boat (of all things) to escape the port city. These events are directly tied to those where the Conan: Road of Kings leave off, but that story is not required reading for this series. He quickly endears himself to the crew. While plotting a course to avoid his pursuers, they run into the most dreaded of pirate boats. Conan defends his newfound friends against the Queen of the pirate ship, Belit (Beeh-LIT). The battle does not end well. Conan, defeated, finds himself spared because Belit has taken a liking to the warrior. A new union is forged.
Each of the next arcs explores aspects of Conan's relationship with Belit. Each challenge is one for each of them and to some degree a test on their relationship together. The comics are filled with adventure, love, blood and hardships, but the core of the story is how this odd relationship can stand the tests thrown at it from every possible direction.
The arcs deal with trust (arc two: Argos Deception), rejection (arc three: Border Fury as Conan returns home), death (arc four: The Death), separation (arc five: Woman on the Wall) and hope with a dash of doubt (arc six: Nightmare of Shadows). The sixth arc is perhaps leads to the desired serenity that a young Conan might dream of. It's very powerful.
The comic throws a lot of tough concepts into these issues as the characters deal with a plague; they struggle with duty versus loyalty and they sacrifice being true to themselves in order to be with the other. There's just enough Conan in these comics to keep the die-hards satisfied, but make no mistake, this comic is a love story that bends and turns as many relationships tend to do.
It's no secret that Wood has excellent command at character work, particularly females. While his Conan isn't exactly the quick-witted, intimidating, invincible version that you might see in Truman's version of the character, he does have that spark in his eye that you expect to see from the character. The charm is unmistakably there throughout albeit a bit muted. Wood presents an excellent Belit. She is powerful, beautiful, seductive and authoritative. She is the perfect blend that makes up a fitting pairing for Conan.
The art rotation is kicked off by the incomparable Becky Cloonan. Her opening arc is stunning and helps to rope in the reader from the first panel. She sets the tone for the entire series, but she also sets the bar impossibly high. Subsequent arcs are held together with Dave Stewart's colors as this helps to keep the entire series looking very similar in tone while the pencils are slightly different. The arcs are penciled by Harren (arc two), Lolos (arc three), Shalvey (arc four), Mutti (arc five) and Gianfelice (arc six). They are all very good and they all contain some epic scenery and a number of close-ups to punctuate the emotions. The arc by Shalvey is particularly gut-wrenching and the pencils help drive that emotion deeper. I enjoyed the art tremendously even though it might be a cleaner version than the more classic grizzled looking Conan.
Conan in love just doesn't sound like a comic worth reading eighteen issues about, but that really is the case here. Don't get me wrong this series has epic battles, heads getting loped off and plenty of ugly men doing barbarian-like acts. However, the casual reader with passing knowledge of Conan may be taken aback by these comics. I think the fringe reader or the die-hard is going to look at the spin Wood is taking here and love it. After all, Conan needs to have some failures in his life before he becomes king, right? I am loving this series and I hope to see more strange arcs and epic battles while Conan and Belit figure out if they are truly meant for each other or not. Check this series out.
4 out of 5 Geek Goggles