In this, the fourth part of the ongoing Conan the Avenger book, I’m still not sure where I’m going to end up. This is the story of a warrior lost, a warrior adrift who is trying to find himself in a new land with new people in it, whose only escape is the thrill of battle. Make no mistake, the battles in this book are thrilling and generally worth the price of admission; the aimless hero makes for a tough protagonist, though. In this issue, Conan has taken his place at the head of the King’s Guard, commanding a battalion of half-Chaga/half-Gallah bastards (luckily, according to Big C, “Crom loves bastards”), and they defend the city from an attack of Gallah tribesmen. This scene alone made this book worth buying. Van Lente has a real knack for pacing out action scenes to give you a sense of scale and a sense of the violence in the scene. I mean, Conan stabs a guy through the face at one point, and then later... Well, I don’t want to spoil later. Let’s just say Van Lente and Francisco bring in some gear of war that I’ve never imagined, and it’s cool enough that I am nothing but impressed.
The lion’s share of this book is spent on political maneuvering. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good way to go in this day and age. There’s a reason Game of Thrones is doing so gangbusters, after all. The issue is that by the nature of the medium, the political intrigue in Conan the Avenger feels rushed every month. There are legitimately interesting things happening behind the throne of Kush (which, editorial aside, this isn’t where rappers got a nickname for weed, is it? Conan the Barbarian stories? I hope so), but they suffer from brevity. For example, I think this issue might be the first time I’ve ever seen the King of Kush (new rap name, called it, back the fuck up). There’s even a line in the script that Conan has no idea what the guy’s name is. If he’s not super important, there’s at least two pages worth of real estate they could get back instead of focusing on him.
Meanwhile, Conan is delving into some psychosexual territory with Bêlit and Tanada, which I am digging. The sex in this book has been pretty rampant, but also pretty respectful for a sword-and-sandals yarn. The women are largely nobility or slaves, which oddly have roughly the same dress code, but there’s not much salacious about it. It’s sort of like that Joycean scenario where it’s sexual but certainly not sexy. Is it intended to titillate? It’s possible; scantily clad women are probably titillating to a certain class of person no matter the scenario. But of the women in the story, I’m never concerned that one of them will descend into a mindless bimbo state from which they will never recover. I am concerned some of them will die horribly at the hands of a pig monster, but that’s a whole different thing.
Eduardo Francisco steps in for series regular Brian Ching on art this month, and while they may have done him a disservice by drawing the comparison between his interiors and Fiona Staples’ gorgeous cover, he’s still got a pretty grand style. He takes drama of court and drama of battle and makes them both sing. He’s definitely smoother in line than Ching, and relies less on scratchy inks, but his style still fits the world, and presents it with clarity.
At this point, I’m digging the story of Conan the Avenger. I have problems with its pacing, but I’m enjoying getting to know the land of Kush and Shumballa and the Cimmerian warrior without honor (honor is only to convince the weak that they are better than beasts). I’m not sure whose cup of tea this series is; I think if I weren’t reviewing it, after the first arc it would not be mine. But for those who enjoy a good sword-and-sandal badass feast every month, this is surely the ticket.
Writer: Fred Van Lente Artist: Eduardo Francisco Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 7/23/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital