I realize that part of my issue in evaluating CONAN comics is that because I’m such a big fan of the Cimmerian, his worlds, and these tales I’m probably predisposed to liking just about anything on any given day. Still – as a media critic – I do tend to be fairly hard on some aspects of entertainment: I’ll dismiss minor story elements as fodder if they don’t meet up with my expectations as soon as they’re introduced unless there’s some clear indication that the author has a larger vision that’ll be revealed shortly. I don’t want to wait for the long haul to get to the main course; I like to know the path I’m on as soon as is logically possible.
How has CONAN THE AVENGER shaped up from issues #1 to #2?
(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: “After the death of his pirate crew and his beloved Belit, Conan journeys alone to Shumballa, the inland capital of Kush. In the shadow of its walled inner city, El Shebbeh, he drinks away his sorrows, only to wake up at the bottom of a garbage pit, his gear stolen and his body painted with tattoos. No sooner has Conan recovered his boots than Agara, a witchhunter, attacks the Cimmerian, convinced he is the culprit behind the occult deeds plaguing the city, even as the true witch looks on …”
“Shadows of Kush, Part 2” adds quite nicely (and with terrific logic) over the events set into existence in Part 1. As one would expect, the cliffhanger is resolved handily, and the two combatants find themselves as unlikely allies on a mission to expose whatever dark, sinister forces are at play in the region. Needless to say, they don’t expose all of the answers to questions they’ve raised in these pages – essentially, their introductions are completed and how they might serve one another is only just introduced – but they’re well on their way toward understanding the strength in collaborating with instead of merely accommodating one another.
Scribe Fred Van Lente is certainly familiar with the Cimmerian, and he goes to great lengths to underscore just how Conan’s strengths as a fighter, a thief, and a colleague have been put to challenge by the events of late (and those occurring just before AVENGER came into being). While the hero can’t entirely wash his hands over all he’s lost, he makes progress emotionally in the only way he ever truly knows how: by engaging in combat, by vanquishing his immediate enemies, by serving whatever cause might bring him the most (and best) coin. Conan hasn’t healed – in fact, Van Lente shows us just how deeply he’s still ‘haunted’ by his lost love – but he’s no longer looking to bury his burdens under drink.
Likewise, artist Brian Ching serves up more of the same as what graced the pages of the inaugural issue. As I mentioned there, his Conan is leaner and meaner – almost like some Hyborian Age MMA fighter, not so much the Schwarzenegger muscleman most commonly associated to the character – almost as if this is a younger barbarian still trying to find his way in the world. But wherever there’s room for some zombified skeletons I’ve found great delight, and “Shadows” brings plenty of the Undead to be dispatched from the end of Conan’s blade.
Once our two heroes have suitably joined forces, Van Lente introduces a coda meant to show us that the forces of evil are still afoot. Though the dastardly wizard may have dashed hopes for his initial plans, he’s still well on his way toward accomplishing a greater villainy, one that’ll no doubt require the strength and cunning of a noteworthy Cimmerian in the issues ahead.
CONAN THE AVENGER (#2) 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 Kilian Plunkett. Of course, Conan is the creation of Robert E. Howard. It comes with the cover price of $3.50, a bargain by any measure.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. A solid first entry gives way to much of the same in CONAN THE AVENGER (#2). An unlikely partnership is forged in the heat of battle (against reanimated skeletons!); magic still exists in both the dark and light forms; and the barbarian remains under the curious spell of his dearly departed Belit. Ala cinema’s Casablanca – but with vastly more bloodshed – “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
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 (#2) 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.