I’m slowly finding my way through the Cimmerian jungle of Conan the Avenger and it’s starting to reveal more of itself to me. I said early on that I’m not much of a swords and sandals guy; however, it’s turning out that I might be a “cynical badass in the desert” guy. We pick up this issue with the political prisoner of Princess Tanada being murdered by a giant pig-man, which is honestly a really good place to start. Any time a giant pig-man gets to murder someone viciously, I’m in. We pick back up with Agara the Witch Finder, who recruited Conan into a partnership at the end of last issue, and now he’s being manipulated by forces that are far from supernatural: turns out he’s not a great political maneuverer. Conan is haunted by the ghost of Belit, his pirate lady friend, while he wakes up in the arms of two Kush prostitutes, and he eventually comes to the aid of an unexpected target. His loyalties are divided, but there’s some flashback evidence to show that he may never have been comfortable as or in the company of a Witch Finder anyways.
I think a lot of what threw me off from Conan in the beginning is the same thing that always comes up against new readers in the comic book industry; backstory. Continuity can be your best friend or your worst enemy as a writer, but as a reader, you have to be able to jump in and get hooked on the story and then want to go delve back into previous stories. I’m sure there’re only a scattered handful of people who have been reading Avengers for 50 years, y’know? Part of what I’m up against with Conan the Avenger is that this was issue 3 of that arc, but issue 115 of the continuing Conan series. It’s an enjoyable story, but it didn’t have the immediate hook that would make the Casual Reader version of me sit still and pay attention.
Having sat still and paid attention as the Professional Reviewer version of myself, though, I’m continuing to dig what this series is about. Each issue there’s some fresh new horror for the characters to face, and Van Lente and Ching are doing a great job of building the anticipation for the inevitable moment when Conan gets to put a sword through those horrors. I’m not sure if I’ve made this comparison before, but Ching’s artwork reminds me of Tony Moore/Charlie Adlard, and their sort of sketchy humans and gorgeously rendered monster and gore. It’s growing on me issue by issue.
Van Lente is building a good story here from what I can only assume are source materials that are somewhat lacking, being an unfinished short story from early on in Robert E. Howard’s career. My only issue is that it still feels like I’m supposed to be familiar with all the previous Conan work to jump into this one, as there is not a whole lot of character building for him going on. It’s largely a book about political intrigue, which is fine and good, but in a political intrigue, you have to know who the protagonist is and where they land on the issues they’re faced with.
This series is guaranteed fun every month. Last month, we got a zombie infestation and a secret graveyard; this month, we get a locked-door mystery with a gigantic pig-monster. I can only hope Van Lente and Ching up the stakes next month, because I’m having a lot of fun riding up this roller coaster, waiting for it to plummet down on Conan’s head.
Writer: Fred Van Lente Artist: Brian Ching Colorist: Michael Atiyeh Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 6/25/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital