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Conan The Barbarian #1
posted February 14, 2013


Creators: Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan, Dave Stewart, Massimo Carnavale
Publishing Information: Dark Horse, comic book, 24 pages, February 2012, $3.50
Ordering Numbers:

imageConan comic books were a pretty underwhelming part of the overall comics-reading fabric of which I availed myself as a kid. You'd think they would have been a bigger deal. I was a big prose fantasy buff and a big comics fan, so something like Marvel's Conan series should have been right up my alley. I also loved the art of John Buscema. Still, my memory is that reading Conan was an intermittent experience of pleasures derived from vastly reduced expectations. I went into every issue I read hoping for a moment or scene that would stick in my imagination and few of them ever did. I learned to grow content with the flashes of solid art and the general bounce of the character's alpha-male qualities tossed up against various z-movie obstacles. It was a sturdy relationship, not an exciting one. Today I have a hard time remembering anything about the comic other than the basic look of the Buscema-drawn protagonist and the longing it be something else.

I enjoyed this first issue of the latest Conan comic book series by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan just fine, although I'm catching up to it as bargain-bin material rather than a new release. The comic channels the Roy Thomas/John Buscema spirit of era-defined professionalism, with craft chops of all types on display. Thomas/Buscema were pros; so are Wood and Cloonan. One supposes the story draws more directly on the prose source material. I would also imagine that its stylistic breaks with the longtime comic-book standard probably enraged a few of the folks that look on Conan as a Pneumatic Competence Avatar. There's more thief than videogame tank in Cloonan's bronze barbarian, and more charming braggart than dour killing machine in Wood's. It does seem leisurely paced, at least for a first issue, in a manner that for me at least made the story seem smaller than grander. We see Conan join a small sailing ship, ingratiate himself with the crew, tell a funny story as to how the town guardsmen in the story's opening came to be hot to see him dead and then, finally, lust after the legend of pirate queen Belit -- a future, longtime lover. That's not much of a satisfying story. At best, it's a prelude to one.

I lack the requisite interest in Conan himself to find whatever he does compelling. This extends to both the rote barbarian adventure and a comic that pushes against those cliches. I'm not sure how effective this slightly off-model -- in comics terms -- version of Conan will be beyond the novelty of those differences. This was a perfectly fine genre comic book, though, one that would have provide happier memories for me if it had come out in 1978. If more like this first issue find their way into my hands for a buck or less, I would likely get something out of reading them: something other than being upset for their doing it "wrong."