Conan #1

Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Cary Nord with Thomas Yeates
Color art by Dave Stewart
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

As far as marketing strategies go, it’s a pretty cunning one. In October, Dark Horse released the first of four volumes reprinting Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith’s run on Conan (with the second and third volumes released in December and February). In November, they released a special twenty-five cent comic, Conan: The Legend, letting Kurt Busiek, Cary Nord, and Dave Stewart show their take on the character. All of this, of course, leading up to Conan #1 being released at the end of February. Now that’s how you build up excitement for a new comic series.

Just sixteen years old, Conan journeys have taken him out of his homeland of Cimmeria and into the lands of the Aesir. What he finds is a village under siege, with defenseless women and children being attacked by the Vanir’s warriors. Attempting to save the innocents in the village, Conan has once more plunged himself into the heart of danger…

Busiek’s story in Conan #1 hits all the right buttons for a fantasy comic; a fast-paced beginning, a political struggle, mistrust directed at a potential savior, and a protagonist stuck right in the middle of it all. Conan himself comes across very well to new readers; you instantly get a feel for the sort of man he is, as he stands up both for others as well as himself, but never giving you a feeling that he’s someone particularly safe to be around. Busiek’s usage of the names Aesir and Vanir certainly raised my eyebrows, making me wonder if he’s tying this into Norse mythology or if there’s something entirely different going on. (EDIT: Or I’m just not terribly familiar with Howard using the names in the original stories. Sorry about the gaffe, Conan fans! -G) This is clearly the first chapter in a larger story, but he’s laid enough of the seeds that you want to see more.

Nord’s art (with assistance by Thomas Yeates), colored by Dave Stewart directly off of the pencils, has an interesting painted look to it thanks to the synthesis of these two talents. It works best when Nord’s going for a “big picture” sort of look, like the illustrations showcasing the lands south of Cimmeria, or the fabled kingdom of Hyperborea. There, we’re treated to a mythic, larger than life glimpse at these far away lands that you can see gracing the covers of pulp novels. Likewise, the quieter moments of Conan work well, with careful renderings of Conan’s and other people’s faces as they strategize and trade stories. It’s the action sequences which are the most erratic, though; one minute you’ve got a tense chase through the woods, with Nord bringing across a great sense of movement and body language to the page. Then you turn to the next image and it’s an incredibly stiff-looking, posed drawing of Conan chopping off a Vanir’s head. (Incidentally, am I the only one who wonders how one could sheathe a sword when it’s longer than your entire body? Or even balance it?) It’s odd, because half of the battle sequences are drawn wonderfully, with a real sense of menace and movement, but the occasional freeze-frame just looks so fake it throws you out of the comic.

Artistic hiccups aside, Conan #1 is a strong beginning to Dark Horse’s new ongoing series. Dark Horse did a great job of building up interest around the series before its debut, but Busiek, Nord, and Stewart grabbed the baton and proved that their comic was worth the hype. In a market that seems only recently to be really embracing fantasy comics again, Conan is an instant success. Well done, all involved.

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