By d. emerson eddy — Know, oh prince, that there would come a day that Marvel would regain the license to Robert E. Howard's Cimmerian...
Conan, as a property, is near and dear to my heart. Dog-eared copies of some of the old Ace paperbacks were among my favorite things to read as a kid. They filled me with a sense of wonder and sparked my imagination in regards to mythology, archaeology, and history, having a lasting effects that endures to this day. Later, I got into Marvel's Conan comics, mostly under the Epic imprint, but I normally took to Conan as a prose literary experience.
It wasn't really until Dark Horse took over the license—and began publishing the beautiful series from Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord, as well as reprinting those early Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith stories—that I really began to appreciate the comics experience more. Timothy Truman, Cullen Bunn, P. Craig Russell, Kelley Jones, Greg Ruth, and countless other creators tapped back into that sense of wonder I had as a kid and reignited a passion for Conan and his world. (I also highly recommend checking out The Conan Reader this week from Dark Horse that collects a wide cross-section of some of their best in a thick volume.)
It made me wonder, though, about Marvel regaining the license. Would it be as good as what Dark Horse had accomplished?
I don't know what the future holds, but this first issue is off to a good start. The artwork from Mahmud Asrar and Matthew Wilson is beautiful. Capturing the action, violence, and feel of Conan perfectly. There's a weight and a grit to Conan, the background characters, and the world conveyed through the artwork that enhances the atmosphere of the story, especially during the fight scenes. You feel and hear the chunk of the axe and the slash of the sword, which I think is interesting since there are no accompanying sound effects like you'd normal see here. That seems to be a testament to how powerful Asrar's line art is in representing the action.
Which is not to say that Travis Lanham is absent throughout the book; he's given a lot of dialogue and narration to tackle, just that most of the sound is left to the art. Lanham's lettering definitely captures the spirit of an old tale from the Nemedian Chronicles in appearance.
And then there's the plot and execution of the text of the story. To my mind, Jason Aaron was born to write Conan comics and it shows in this first issue. It's rich in lore without being side-tracked by too much explanation. It's the right kind of wordy, being dense in narration and dialogue, but not feeling over-written, cramped, or cluttered. It's not quite the same style as Roy Thomas, or Howard himself, but that's the general feel.
It jumps between two different time periods, connected by a dead god and a witch, and it feels like it gives a holistic view of two of the major time periods of Conan's history, as a pit fighter starting out and then as a king, while building something larger. It's a good introduction to Conan and tells an interesting story in its own right. I'm very intrigued as to where Aaron, Asrar, Wilson, and Lanham take this.
Conan the Barbarian #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Travis Lanham
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d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on twitter @93418.