Conan the Barbarian is a character who’s as tough as nails, kills with impunity and knows life is a blade’s edge away from going back to the mud.
This series however is more often than not the opposite; which is why it’s so refreshing to read writer Brian Wood’s take on the character. Through the last fifteen issues Wood has given Conan a lover, made him a king of the seas and portrayed the barbarian in many new ways. Which makes his vision quest in issue #16 all the more interesting! A new take on a hero isn’t always successful, so we must ask, is it good?
Conan The Barbarian #16 (Dark Horse Comics)
This issue opens at a bathhouse/brothel where Conan and his pirate queen Belit are knocking boots. A drug dealer interrupts them mid coitus, and asks them if they want to trip out on drugs. More specifically he offers a pill. Did they have pills back then? Eh, anyway, what proceeds and takes up the entire issue is a vision quest, as the characters travel through myth, memory and their own deepest losses and desires.
This can only end badly…right?
I’m not sure how, but Brian Wood seems to suggest the characters share this vision quest. It seems the fearless Conan, admittedly younger in this series than is usually the case, has a lot of fears to deal with. This allows Wood to open Conan up in a symbolic sort of way that’s at once interesting and exciting. I’m not sure if it’s all that clear what is being said in this issue, but it’s fun nonetheless.
I demand they be nude in this shot much like the cover!
In a sense Wood uses the drug splurge in this issue to explore the character’s state of mind after the long and tenuous journey he’s been on. It’s a wonder to see Conan going through a journey such as this, especially considering 80% of the comics he’s appeared in over the years require him to slash through necks and give battle cries. Wood’s Conan is more emotional and realistic because of the probing he does. I can’t help but think his pirate queen lover may not have a happy end in her future and it could be her death that turns Conan into the cold as stone character we’ve grown to love.
Conan with a bow! Unheard of!
The issue isn’t all trippy dreamscape though, and ends with a nice quest in the real world as well. Artist Davide Gianfelice, known for his work on Northlanders, does a good job keeping things just trippy enough to be a vision quest, but not so crazy we’re transported into the 70’s. He also does a good job keeping Belit voluptuous and sexy. The only thing that I questioned was her wearing a g-string at one point, which is hot and all, but did they really have those back then?
I told you this wasn’t going to end well!
- Conan versus a mythical bear!
- Introspective story works
- A little meandering in its pacing
Due to Brian Wood’s ability to write a strong character driven story one might argue Conan has never been this fleshed out before. While other authors have developed the incredible world, Wood sticks to the character and his internal psychosis. It’s different for Conan, but because it’s so different it’s worth reading.
Is It Good?
Conan the Barbarian isn’t as barbarous as we’re accustomed to in this well crafted story…. but it still makes for a damn fine read.