As a disclaimer here, I’ve never read a Conan comic or story, and I only saw the movie once as a small child. I constantly misquote that one line about hearing the cries of the women and victory and whatever it is. So I’m jumping headfirst into Conan the Avenger knowing nothing about Conan except that apparently his word for God is “Crom,” which is kind of cool. Here goes: There’s a lot of backstory in this issue. Like, a lot of backstory. Enough that there’s only really one incident that happens in this issue, and the rest of it is people talking about what has happened previously, with the kind of proper nouns that make me wish I had a glossary at hand for the universe. I don’t know if this storytelling pace is because this is how Dark Horse does their books, as several series of mini-series, but if it isn’t, I’ve made a huge continuity mistake.
This is a very strange way to kick off an ongoing series, honestly. Conan spends a large part of the issue getting drunk and trying to forget a dead girlfriend, some other characters hunted down a witch who cursed a nobleman’s wife, and those plot threads come together, predictably. We get very little about him as a character, and a lot about the place where he is, which seems backwards. Is Conan assumed to be a cultural absolute who needs no title anymore? I mean, you tell someone it’s a Batman story, everyone knows Batman. But does everyone know Conan? I legitimately wondered this the whole time I was reading.
Van Lente doesn’t give you a lot of introduction, especially for an issue one. He drops you right into the middle of the world, but he doesn’t do much in the way of bringing you up to speed, he just keeps right on moving. It’s ballsy, it’s a legitimate way to tell this story, and I’m sure for the fan of Robert E. Howard, this all makes sense; for me, I’m just lost with a character for who I have no frame of reference. The series is apparently based on an unfinished synopsis Howard left behind, and it’s been previously published as a finished story by other authors, including some Marvel dudes back in the day, so this isn’t the first time it’s seen the light of day. That alone makes me wonder what they hope to accomplish with this series since the last time it was produced as a comic, it was only two issues. If this is going to be an ongoing series, there’s going to be some serious decompression going on.
Brian Ching is someone whose art I’m not familiar with, but I like where he’s taking this world. He’s straddling a good line between Frazetta and someone like Matteo Scalera, with great character designs and sketchy linework. He does good work with the script he’s given and the characters who populate the issue. I could have done with more detail (and explanation) on Conan’s cosmological tattoos, but that’s their call. I have no complaints, which may be me damning the art with faint praise.
I didn’t love this comic, but I certainly didn’t hate it. If it’s the sort of thing that you like, if you’re a fan of what Dark Horse has done with Conan, I can only assume this is more of the same, but it didn’t do much for me. Honestly, I spent a lot of the issue trying to figure out why it was called Conan the Avenger since he mostly mopes and gets mad about stuff, and doesn’t seem to really be avenging anything. If this is the set up for a larger story about Conan, I didn’t get that sense from the writing. If this is going to be a series of small stories told in one ongoing, it’s hitting that mark fairly well. But the cliffhanger doesn’t leave me with an emotional beat to hook on to, it just leaves me with an action beat, which could have been anything and it would have functioned the same way.
I don’t think I’m the target audience for this issue. It was extremely capably drawn, and the dialogue was dense, but not wooden. These are capable artists who seem to know this world, I just couldn’t seem to crack it myself.
Writer: Fred Van Lente Artist: Brian Ching Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 4/23/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital