Readers, take note: you gotta love your barbarians. These days, they’re certainly in short supply. Though fantasy has made and continues to make a grand resurgence, what with THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT theatrical adaptations along with HBO’s mostly stellar GAME OF THRONES gaining steam on the boob tube. Still, there aren’t too many characters who resemble the singular Cimmerian. He’s quick with a quip and even quicker with his sword, and he’s always willing to rush headfirst into battle, perhaps doing like Indiana Jones did by ‘making it up as he goes.’ To my delight, Dark Horse is adapting one more tale inspired by the works of Robert E. Howard, and this one goes under the name THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE.
Let’s dissect, shall we?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the book’s editorial page: “The devi Yasmina attempted to coerce Conan into helping avenge her brother’s murder, but he kidnapped her instead. Wazuli tribesmen attacked them, but luckily the chieftain, Yar Afzal, was an old friend of Conan’s. However, when Khemsa, a Seer, kills Yar, the Wazulis believe Conan is responsible. On the run again, Conan and Yasmina spot the black peak of Yimsha …”
I’ve honestly been waiting patiently for this tale – this one involving the people of the BLACK CIRCLE – to actually take of in some recognizable fashion; and, thus far, it hasn’t. Issue 3 opens up with yet one more peaceful exchange between Conan and some secondary characters, and I’m now fully inclined to believe that – for reasons I may not be able to fully explain – this just isn’t one for the ages. As I think I’ve maligned in my reviews of the first two issues, there just isn’t any action or adventure here, despite the fact that there are deaths of nobles and princesses and dark sorcerers and everything else one might expect from a Conan yarn. What there isn’t is cohesion.
When a man filled with brutal abilities can (dare I say) talk his way out of every legitimate encounter, one has to question why he honed his skills with a blade for so many years? Instead, why didn’t he spend some quality time with learned nobles and/or court jesters or others with a penchant for persuasiveness? Why cultivate the reputation of a brawler when all one need be for the story is a braggart? It seems like such a waste of muscle mass, much less cardio.
Again, scribe Van Lente pays close attention to packing his pages with the fewest panels in order to allow more space for speech bubbles. Conan lectures the princess on trickery here. They debate the merits of the geography there. Thankfully, it’s only a few pages in when our featured pair come face-to-face with the dastardly sorcerer on a hilltop … where they spend another page just exchanging barbs. Then – out of nowhere – there’s an entire wandering circus of lizard-faced sorcerers apparently in conflict and … bah! This really makes so little sense! The already kidnapped princess gets kidnapped again, and the BLACK CIRCLE is now off in yet some other unforeseen direction.
Still, the “barbarian” (I’m taken with using quotes on that word from now on because I’m not sure that Van Lente understands its meaning) meets up with that villain who wanted to take his life only two pages earlier. Instead of handily dispatching the already ailing source of evil, Conan lets the man have a peaceful death. Gone are the days when rugged adventurers speeded the enemies into the afterlife; now with left with an older, wiser, kinder, and gentler Conan who holds his adversary’s hand while he dies.
I’m getting too old for this stuff.
CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE (#03 of 04) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The script is adapted by Fred Van Lente; the artwork is done by Ariel Olivetti; with the letters provided by Richard Starkings & Comicraft. For those of you who grew up on an island, this tale and Conan’s creation rests entirely on the shoulders of Robert E. Howard. This issue bears the cover price of $3.50, and – as much as that matters – it’s a bargain available only to those who have it to spend: Dark Horse’s reputation for quality is second-to-none so far as this reader is concerned.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. THE BLACK CIRCLE appears to finally be heading for some big finish – there’s the hint that the Cimmerian will storm a mountain in order to kill the four masters of some dark magic – but it all comes more than a bit too-little-too-late for this reader. It’s all been handed with far too much talk and so little action that I’ve lost caring about seeing the bad guys dispatched to the Underworld. More likely, they’ll all turn up in some book club … with Conan leading the discussion!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE #03 of 04 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution in no way, shape, or form contributed to my evaluation of it.
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