Conan #29

Written by Mike Mignola
Based on a synopsis by Robert E. Howard
Art by Cary Nord
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

If you’d told me three years ago that Conan was not only returning as a comic book but would be one of Dark Horse’s biggest comics, I may have laughed in response. It’s Dark Horse who is no doubt laughing now, having proven to understand how to make Conan a hit. Their secret? Top creators working on exciting stories. (Simple, isn’t it?)

Conan is travelling to a ruined and forgotten city in search of an amazing treasure—a jade serpent with emerald eyes. He’s been told that many have tried to capture it but none have succeeded, but first he’ll have to deal with an old enemy’s attentions. And attention is just what Conan should be giving to the city and not his existing enemy, for what lies inside the city is by far the more dangerous of the two…

Mike Mignola’s three-issue story works off of what was little more than an outline that Robert E. Howard left for an unwritten story called “The Hall of the Dead.” (Author L. Sprauge De Camp, like Mignola, has also created a polished and published version of Howard’s story idea.) It’s good thing for Mignola, because while the basic ideas were laid out for him he’s got a lot of room left to inject the sort of mood he wants to see in the comic. It works well, starting off with a loud and over-the-top sequence of events as Conan deals with an ambush, but then shifts into something much more subtle and atmospheric. It sounds strange when talking about printed material, but Mignola’s first issue of Conan starts out very loud and then slowly drops in volume until it’s almost too quiet in its stillness, as the situation that Conan’s in begins to make itself clear. It’s very effective, luring the reader into a false sense of complicity just like Conan himself, as well as making for an excellent cliffhanger.

Cary Nord has truly made himself one of the archetypal Conan artists over the past couple of years, his art bringing the muscle-bound warrior and his world to life in all its glory. Like Mignola’s script, Nord’s art at first seems most effective when drawing the big things, like sword fights and collapsing mountains. Don’t get me wrong, Nord is indeed quite good at things like that, showing off the spectacle and massiveness of these scenes. What I think he’s also proving to be just as good at are the more personal moments in comics. The look of nervousness and fear and compensation that cover Conan’s face at the end of the comic as the chanting begins is perfect, bringing all of those emotions to light in a way that would seem clumsy with narration explaining as much. Special recognition also has to go to Dave Stewart, whose color work over Nord’s pencils give the book a gorgeous, lushly painted feel that has become a real hallmark of the series. This is a thoroughly attractive book.

I’ll admit to having been a bit worried when I heard that Busiek was no longer writing Conan, but Mignola’s stint as a guest-writer for three issues has reassured me. Sure, he’s not the new regular writer but what I took from this (aside from it being a really enjoyable comic) was that Dark Horse is continuing to take a great deal of care and thought into matching the right creators to the book. All fantasy comics should try and be as good as Conan. Well done, all involved.

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