Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse has been consistently knocking it out of the park with their series of Conan comics since they began publishing them in 2003. Unlike the much maligned recent film version from last year, these comics have faithfully adapted the Robert E. Howard stories that introduced the brawny Cimmerian warrior to the world as well as provided original tales that help bridge the gaps between the adaptations. This month brings us the first issue of a brand new Conan The Barbarian ongoing series by one of my all-time favorite creative teams, Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. These two have previously worked on indie masterpieces Channel Zero and Demo, but it was probably their run on Vertigo’s acclaimed Viking book Northlanders that got them this gig bringing Conan to the comics page yet again. This first issue of the book’s opening arc adapts one of Howard’s most popular Conan stories “Queen of the Black Coast,” and it portrays the iconic hero in a way that will appeal both to hardcore fans and new readers looking to get into the character for the first time.
“Queen of the Black Coast” begins with Conan hopping aboard a freight ship to evade a gang of lawmen who had unjustly locked him up for a crime that he did not commit. After sharing his tale with the ship’s captain and his crew, Conan extends his gratitude to them for allowing him to escape with them and pledges to protect them from any perils that might come their way. The ship’s captain then tells the Cimmerian about Belit, a ruthless pirate queen who terrorizes the waters that they travel. Never one to back down from a fight, Conan tells them that he will gladly fight off Belit and her crew, but Wood and Cloonan eventually show us through Conan’s inner dialogue and a beautifully-rendered fantasy sequence that his interest in Belit may extend further than a hunger for battle. The issue ends with him locking eyes with his would-be opponent, which heightens my anticipation for the second issue to see how their first meeting will turn out.
In just a few short pages, Wood and Cloonan do a fantastic job of summing up Conan’s character for new readers while at the same time avoiding the reliance on exposition that would bore longtime fans of the character. Instead of telling us who Conan is through extensive flashbacks, they reveal his character through his own actions and words so that any reader can easily grasp who he is and what makes him tick. Cloonan’s art, masterfully enhanced by colorist Dave Stewart, is the perfect fit for this type of adventure story. Her Conan is portrayed as a young, brash hotshot, which is quite a departure from the older, more world-weary Conan in Tim Truman’s series from a few years back, and her rendition of Belit has the perfect mix of danger and raw sexuality, making her the perfect woman to rev Conan’s engines. While there’s not a whole lot of action in this debut issue, Wood’s use of setup and character development instantly make us identify with and care about Conan and makes the reader anxious to see what happens when he finally comes into contact with this fearsome yet alluring femme fatale. 4.5 out of 5 shouts of “CROM!”