It’s no secret I love Conan the Barbarian. From the Dark Horse stories to the recent run of Savage Sword of Conan and Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar’s epic reintroduction of Conan to Marvel Comics, I can’t get enough of the guy. Props need to be given to Conan editor Mark Basso, who has pulled off a flawless return of the greatest barbarian in fiction. So it’s with that introduction that I reveal this is a 10/10 first volume. Read below to see why.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
The greatest sword-and-sorcery hero of all returns to Marvel! From an age undreamed…hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet. Conan’s travels have brought him to the far reaches of the unknown, from his birthplace in Cimmeria to the kingdom of Aquilonia and all in between. But as his fighting prowess lets him carve his way through life, so too does it attract the forces of death! And few are more deadly than the Crimson Witch. Robert E. Howard’s legendary barbarian stars in an all-new ages-spanning saga as the destiny of Conan — and King Conan — are forever changed!
Why does this matter?
Conan has always been an episodic sort of series with the hero going on a new adventure every issue. This collection is no different. The genius of this series is how it has subtly introduced a new plot that is running in the background. It connects things, but also adds something brand new to the series so that it feels a bit updated and new.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The beauty of this series is how there is a taste of every type of Conan story. From Conan at sea and fighting pirates, to King Conan, to Conan fighting in wars set in the desert, there is a little bit of everything here. The opening issue delivers a gladiatorial battle for those looking for blood-soaked swords and properly sets up the new characters who are plotting against him.
Jason Aaron does a fantastic job establishing Conan’s legacy, first being born on a battlefield, then becoming king, and then cutting to when he was younger, fighting men for gold and wine. His life is storied and the way this issue is plotted that is made very clear. There are plenty of fight scenes, magic afoot, and a promise by the end that Conan may be facing his most challenging battle yet.
New fans are going to easily get into this book. A lot of blood does flow and heads do get lopped off. It’s marked with a parental advisory for a reason. This book delivers on everything that makes Conan great, whether it’s his strength, his tenacity, or his love of women and wine. This book lives up to the aptly titled barbarian in more ways than one. Opening with two full-page splashes and following that a double page splash, it’s made clear this is an epic tale that spans time, many deaths, and a hero’s journey like no other.
Asrar and colorist Matthew Wilson are cooking with gas in this collection. Moody nighttime jungle scenes, piles of bodies stacking up as Conan cuts through armies, and a great sense of emotion comes out of Conan at every turn. You’ll be crying out with the intensity Conan brings to the battle. The use of shadow is quite impressive too, helping to convey the adventure element at every turn. Shadows of branches might border panels, or how the shadow over a character’s eyes can help convey sorrow add up to a reading experience that draws you in.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
Conan was originally a literary character and in many cases that literary element enters the comic books. It does so here too and it can make the comic a heavier and thus slower read. Dialogue can be quite heavy at times, especially in the second issue collected here. Some word bubbles practically take over panels which shifts the focus away from the art and onto the dialogue. Thankfully there’s always a deeper meaning that runs alongside everything.
Is it good?
The sword and sorcery in The Life and Death of Conan Book One are topnotch and the first volume is like a love letter to fans new and old. It’s hard not to come away from this collection and not be hyped for more bloodshed and debauchery. Robert E. Howard put it well when he said:
“And barbarianism must ultimately triumph.”
Indeed this collection does.