Over 80 years since his creation, the muscle bound Conan still inspires devotion among his fans, but after all that time and all those stories, is there anything left to tell?
Previously In Conan: On a seemingly deserted beach, Conan and his comrades discovered several pungent and disturbing skeletal totems, and shortly thereafter a band of Turanian warriors ambushed the group. With Conan preoccupied dispatching the Turanians, a monstrous sea troll emerged from the waters and dealt a vicious blow to Conan’s head. While unconscious the Cimmerian was taken back to the troll’s lair where its mother awaited…
Who doesn’t love Swords and Sorcery?
Ok, silly question, clearly a lot of people aren’t appreciative of any particular genre, but for years it was one of my favourites. Strangely enough as I have gotten older I find that while I can be fascinated by a subject in one medium, it never seems to work well in others. I love science fiction on TV, superheroes in comics and fantasy in books. However I find sci-fi books to be heavy on the science and painful to read, superhero’s seem to lose their visual impact when converted to budget constrained TV and what seems epic and real in a fantasy story, ends up looking like bad larping in any visual media.
So while I have always appreciated the Robert E Howard novels, I have never been impressed with any of the Conan films and I have steered clear of the multitude of comics that have been created for him. But a script with Cullen Bunn’s natural wit and glorious art by Davila (not to mention the fantastic cover art) has persuaded me to give this book the time it deserved.
I. Hate. Thought. Bubbles.
This is a long running issue for me, and I realise it is a personal issue that I need to suck up and get over. It probably stems from my misguided attempt to read Marvels entire 616 back catalogue, in order, a few years back. I did reasonably well, I got most of the way through the 1960s, but that isn’t as big a success as you would think seeing as their entire 1960s output was less than a single year is now. The one thing it did do for me is create this incessant unending hatred of though bubbles. Stan Lee wanted to put multiple text boxes in every single panel and if there was no one for the character to talk to, he would think exactly what he was doing on panel. For me it became so infuriating that it put me off comics entirely for nearly 6 months.
The occasional thought bubble in a comic I can cope with, and for the odd series that is told entirely in the first person, they make sense, however as an alternative to visually showing what the character is thinking, they are a terrible substitute. This maybe the Conan style, I would not know as this is the first Conan book I have looked at since the odd black and white one from the 1970s, but the first part of the book is full of thought-narrator-text squares.
I get the impression they are trying to invoke the feeling of a Conan pulp as they are printed in a terrible looking typewriter font, complete with jagged edges as if they have been torn from a book. If I want to read a Conan book, I will, but I don’t; I would like to immerse myself in a modern comic and this just completely jars me out of it. Also, exactly the same as my issue with Stan’s over-writing from the 1960s, none of it is really necessary; I don’t need to be told that he’s just woken up, the picture clearly shows it; I don’t need to be told that the skeleton smells, it has yellow vapour pouring off it; and I certainly don’t need to be told that he’s ‘bound and bleeding on the wet floor’ it is all there in perfect colour for me to see.
To reiterate, I hate though bubbles!
The journey is half the fun
Fortunately the worst of the unnecessary thought bubbles passed in the first few pages and that let me calm down enough to enjoy the rest of the book. I was worried that there weren’t any stories left to be told, and probably that was true. I don’t know if this exact witch-nymph-troll switch has been shown before, but for me it was blinding obvious what was going to happen. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as 10 years of Columbo showed us, it is not necessarily the destination that is interesting, but the path by which you get there. Knowing, or at least strongly expecting, what was going to happen did not diminish my enjoyment of this comic.
And enjoy this comic I did.
Apart from the though boxes, the dialogue was suitably ‘Conan sounding’ with the slightly old fashioned speech pattern you come to associate with Swords and sorcery, but most importantly without the thee’s and thou’s that turn it into a parody.
The art was wonderful throughout with hideous trolls, demonic visions, lovely nymphs and suitably gory eviscerations. I was particularly impressed with the colouring which gave the book its own otherworldly feeling. However I am not a fan of this ‘scratchy’ black shading, which is fine in small amounts, but across large shadowy areas just looks like the artist pen was running out of ink.
However what really impressed me was this books ability to be both a single enclosed story, while at the same time progressing a larger plot. Clearly the opening and ending of the book were linked to past and future comics, while the body of the book was mostly self contained. I either got very lucky reading a random story like this, or the writer has planned this series perfectly to allow people to jump in wherever. As it’s written by Mr Bunn, I am definitely going to assume the latter and it succeeded in his plan; I missed the first 2 issues without concern, but I am certainly not going to miss any more of them, even if I have to put up with the thought bubbles!