I was originally going to frame this issue as another solid comic, a good pick for fans of the sword and sorcery genre and Conan lovers. But something about that treatment didn’t seem right to me. So I reread it a few times and then I went back and took a look at issue #1 of this series. That was when it hit me. This isn’t just a good comic; it’s a stepping-stone.
I read the first issue of Conan the Slayer the old-fashioned way. It was before I was working here on the site, so I went to a shop and bought a copy. In the first few pages, I noticed something wrong. In Conan’s first dramatic panel, the narrator describes his attack as silent, making a point to say that a lesser man would have screamed as he turned to engage his pursuers. On the same page the art depicts Conan jumping out from behind a boulder, eyes wide and mouth open, clearly screaming. I bring this up because that panel is a great summary of the comic. It felt off-balance, like Cullen Bunn and Sergio Davila hadn’t found their groove yet. This issue, on the other hand, feels like they’ve found their flow.
Davila’s style is great for this genre. Kinetic and full of energy, Davila has a talent for connecting action. The layouts are simple but efficient, mirroring the barbarian’s ability to slice through his enemies. There are a few great bloody splash pages, a staple of the Conan series. His monsters are also creepy and well detailed. A huge improvement over the last issue, I think Davila is just starting to get a feel for the series, I’m hoping for more great panels to come.
As for the plot, Bunn isn’t playing any games. The story is straightforward for most of the issue, ending with a twist that is surprising but not out of left field. He does an excellent job of hinting at his intent to surprise. This issue revolves around the family of a tribe leader Conan has befriended. The leader of the tribe and his sons are not the deepest of characters, but each has a clear motivation. As for Conan, he’s a little bit older in this series, cynical but at this point in his life it’s a hard-earned cynicism. We’re still early in the story, but given the twist at the end of this issue, the ending is still open-ended.
My only real critique of this issue revolves around character design. I don’t know if it was a collaborative process or strictly Davila or Bunn’s doing, but the tribe’s leader, Mykylo, and his two sons, Taraslan and Kyrylo, do not make any kind of design sense. First, Mykylo the father, is a white guy with a light brown Mohawk and mustache, leading a group of people who look nothing like him. Both his sons as well as every other tribe member in the community have very different facial features and black hair (everyone pretty much has the same body builder tan). It really doesn’t make any sense and I hope there is some kind of explanation later in the book. At least that way he would make some kind of sense in the narrative. The bigger problem with him is that once again the creators have put a white guy in charge. There is really no reason to do that. It makes the story harder to tell because now you have an audience wondering why there is a white guy running the show. If the creators had stated that the tribe was a multicultural one, it would be fine, but according to the younger brother Kyrylo, they see themselves as an individual ethnic group.
Speaking of sons, their character design also presents a confusing problem. The oldest son, Taraslan, is set to become the next leader of the tribe, but when compared to his younger brother Kyrylo, he appears years younger. It is as if Davila has intentionally made him look less mature than his younger brother. It’s a small problem, but it does take me out of the story a bit when I have to remind myself that the older brother isn’t the one with the stronger features and mustache. The older one is the baby-faced guy with the little tuff of hair. Can we at least give the Taraslan a decent man-bun?! Or have his hair be at an impressive length? This could be intentional; it is possible the creators are trying to emphasize Taraslan naïve personality by giving him a younger feel. I can understand their effort, but when you have characters this early in the series, and they are pretty much solely defined by their position to the leader, this type of design does more harm than good.
These are small problems. And in some case, my critiques can still be fixed through storytelling. Overall this issue is a dramatic improvement from the last issue. I feel as though the team is working their way up. The pacing is there, and the art feels strong enough to deliver. It’s problems still bring it down to the ranking of “good”, but it’s a “good” that has the potential for more.
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Conan the Slayer
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Sergio Davila
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital