In Review: Conan the Slayer #1

This book deserves its title: Conan is a slayer, and Crom help you if you get in his way.

The covers: A threesome to find if the gods have anything to say about it. The Main cover is by Lee Bermejo and it’s quite a powerful piece. It’s a close up of Conan whipping his sword over his head with a scream as blood charts its path from a victim. This is a big, bad Conan that the fanbase enjoys seeing in action and Bermejo has certainly delivered it. This is poster, print, and tee shirt worthy. The Mark Schultz and Dave Stewart Variant cover has the Cimmerian wearing a wearing a chain mail shirt and bearing a shield, which has several arrows protruding from it. He looks manic as he’s about to swing down upon some of the vikings that are trying to overpower him. Powerful imagery with good coloring that sets this moment in the appropriate time period. The San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive cover is by Rafael Albuquerque and it’s a gorgeous wraparound image. A woolly giant (and this could be debatable) is on it’s side facing the reader, blood lies before its throat, and Conan is kneeling on its neck, pulling his sword out of the creature’s head. Wow! Powerful, cool image that I’m going to have to pick up at this year’s convention! Overall grades: Main A, Schultz Variant A, and San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive A+ 

The story: Walking through the desert, covered in gore with arrows protruding from his back, is Conan. Before him is death and behind him is death, comprised of the men who followed him. He only knows he is staggering “toward the certainty of his own demise.” However, it could be coming sooner than he knows because he is being hunted. A group of four Turanians on horseback want him dead before nightfall. Anyone who is vaguely familiar with Robert E. Howard’s character knows that things are not going to go well for the hunters, and they don’t. However, what a reader cannot know is how writer Cullen Bunn will have Conan take these men down. The answer is spectacularly. I haven’t read a Conan solo book in some years, though I have enjoyed both Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite’s team-ups with Red Sonja. In fact, the last time I read a Conan story it was probably published by Marvel. I had a few expectations going into this book and Bunn far exceeded them. This was a violent, take-no-prisoners barbarian. His skill is with the blade and he more than adequately shows it off, especially in the last panel on Page 10, which cements the tone of this issue. He finds a place to seek respite, but his hosts aren’t exactly the most friendly. I liked the justification for why they take him in and their leader’s conversation with the title character is fantastic. Without spoiling things, Conan is in a very unique physical situation and he is absolutely the most dangerous person in the room…er, tent. Every sentence that comes out of him is filled with venom. This is the strongest I’ve seen his icon act in years, yet he should be in the weakest position. Some new arrivals on 18 change his situation, but increase his peril. This was terrific. Overall grade: A

The art: Sergio Davila gets to begin this book with Conan at a low point: wandering through the desert, gravely wounded. He looks like he could drop at any moment. The location is inhospitable, and it isn’t just a desert, there are several rocky mountains that could contain many distant or near threats. Pages 2 and 3 are a double-paged splash that shows what Conan has left behind him, which is an incredibly brutal scene of bodies littering a field: weapons are embedded in bodies, animals scavenge the dead, smoke pollutes the sky, tattered banners proclaim victory over their dead, while one pale figure in a decrepit brown cloak and glowing red eyes makes its way through the carnage. Conan’s state is completely understandable with this image now shown. The four chasing him are perfect opposites. They are buff, naturally, but uninjured, on horseback, and well rested. When they engage the hero it’s a brutal battle with the violence matching the primitive times. I’d like to think I’ve seen just about all there is to see in a sword fight, but Davila schooled me on Page 9: the way a man was disarmed was surprising as was how another is taken out of the fight, ending in a brilliant facial reaction at the bottom of the page. And then the final panel on 10 showed me that Conan is not one to trifle with. The momentarily flashbacks on 11 were a neat way to see how he lost the battle and his men. The location he arrives at on 12 is terrific and the arrival of the group’s leader on 13 even better. The scene that follows has the Cimmerian stuck in one position, yet Davila makes Conan the most frightening character: this is really impressive. There’s impressive point of view panel on 17 that shows Davila is also a master of angles. The penultimate page was quite a shocker, showing Conan in an entirely new mental state. Davila is going to make this book look good. Overall grade: A 

The colors: The desert setting is made of the blistering oranges and tans one would expect to see, and Michael Atiyeh shows them on the opening page, but Atiyeh puts a lot of work into the bedraggled barbarian, with every muscle defined by flesh and sweat. The double-paged splash of 2 and 3 is a complete shift in colors, being grays and blacks with splotches of red everywhere and on everyone. I like when characters in the foreground of an image have darker colors than those in the background, and Atiyeh does this several times successfully, making the action in the back of the illustration important for the reader to focus on. The crimsons that splay out in this fight are startling and add a lot of reality to the situation. The dark colors again return during his flashbacks, which greatly clash with his present. The group’s leader Mykylo has a red cape, instantly marking him as important for the reader and to other characters. The oranges of the last panel give an apocalyptic feel for events to come in future issues. Well done, in every way. Overall grade: A

The letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft create narration and dialogue for this issue. The narration is brilliant. I’ve never read a Conan adventure where the narrator’s voice is done in a font like typewriter letters, making it seem as though Howard is plugging away on his own writing device to create this tale. It made the book seem so much more authentic. There were, sadly, no sounds in this book, and there were several opportunities for there to be some in the melee that Conan participates in. This was not the letterers’ call to insert, it was Bunn’s, and I’m hoping that some are added in future battles. Half the fun of a comic book are its sounds, and I’d like to see some. Overall grade: A-

The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob: This is a one-page mini-story by Jim and Ruth Keegan about Howard. It documents a moment in his life when he was having a conversation with an important individual. I like how the Keegans are able to create a mood, with shifts in emotion, in only one page. Very nice. Overall grade: A

The final line: This book deserves its title: Conan is a slayer, and Crom help you if you get in his way. A strong story with fierce imagery. Long may this Conan make his way. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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