On occasion, I tend to be the lone voice in the wilderness I’ve found when it comes to some of Dark Horse Comics’ take on the CONAN material. Having read a handful of Robert E. Howard’s original works, maybe it’s just that I’m not expecting a hard-and-fast adherence to all things REH envisioned for his signature strongman. While I’d agree that can be as positive as it could be negative, I tend to think that I look at each storyline looking for its narrative strengths so far as the plot, artwork, and characterizations go; if they work for me on those levels, then I’m likely to give it an endorsement. And the truth is – at the end of the day – none of us know exactly what Howard might think of these contemporary interpretations, despite what we might insist.
(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 publicity materials: “Nursing his broken heart, Conan drinks himself into a stupor in the troubled city of Shumballa- until a brazen act of thievery launches the Cimmerian into a wild hunt and a supernatural adventure!”
This inaugural issue of CONAN THE AVENGER essentially serves to start an all-new storyline exploring the continuing adventures of the Cimmerian, and, on that level, “Shadows Over Kush, Part One” is a serviceable introduction to the people, places, and events that are likely to play prominently into the unfolding yarn. To put the lead in context, Conan is still smarting from the loss of one of his great loves – the pirate queen Belit – and he finds himself drowning his sorrows in the local watering hole. A few things go on in the background – the significance of which is hard to determine, possibly because this is all set-up – but by the time the next sunrise rolls around the barbarian will find himself the motivation to find himself once more thanks to locals who’ve treacherously underestimated who the man is and what he’s capable of.
Also, Fred Van Lente’s script presents a second storyline that parallels Conan’s plight, that of Commander Amboola. The commander of Shumballa’s spearman, Amboola’s ire has been raised over the death of his wife caused by the demon she only recently brought into the world through childbirth. The commander suspects that witchcraft at the hands of his king’s relations put his life on this path to ruin, and his anger will fuel a turn of events to himself that mirrors Conan’s dark spirits.
As a first issue, AVENGER works fairly routinely, setting Conan in a particular time, a particular place, all meant to service this tale and this alone. Clearly, there are hints to his frame-of-mind and the events which transpired to deliver him to such a lowly state; however, the Cimmerian really only serves as a background character while necessary others are given more ‘screen time’ to put this new adventure into motion. By half-way, it’s clear that AVENGER seeks to return Conan to prominence; all he needs is a catalyst which comes by way of those who seek to profit from his depression. Needless to say, they’ll soon fear the monster they’ve awakened.
Artistically, AVENGER looks like the natural next evolution in much of what’s come before from Dark Horse circa the last two years (or so). Brian Ching’s lines are bold and dynamic while Michael Atiyeh’s colors are necessarily somber for the mood of all involved. There’s been a great synergy of art and story coming from the Horse’s mouth for some time – that hints at the controversy I mentioned in my opening paragraph; as much as others have somewhat dismissed it as being ineffective, I’ve quite warmed to the economy of visuals and language.
As one would expect, it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, one that’ll undoubtedly be quickly resolved with the next issue. I, for one, think it all could shape up very nicely in the months ahead.
CONAN THE AVENGER (#1) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Fred Van Lente; the art is provided by Brian Ching; the color are by Michael Atiyeh; the letters are by Richard Starkings & Comicraft; with cover art done by Iain McCaig. Of course, Conan is the creation of Robert E. Howard.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. There’s plenty to like about this new ongoing monthly from Dark Horse Comics, CONAN THE AVENGER. The script by Fred Van Lente (adapted loosely by materials penned by Robert E. Howard himself) is fairly lean, giving less context to Conan’s larger existence and instead choosing to situate him in this time frame’s here and now. The artwork by Brian Ching is solid, even if the signature Cimmerian appears a bit thin for my artistic tastes. Based entirely of the strength of the inaugural issues, I’ll definitely follow along to see where it’s headed.
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 THE AVENGER (#1) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.