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Conan the Barbarian # 5 review

I had no idea before the previous issue of Conan that I could enjoy the tales of the Cimmerian so much. Pulpy tales of a barbaric drifter conquering in a time that never was. No thanks. Not really my thing.

Then Jason Aaron grabbed my attention and over the course of the first four issues he beat it into me that this may not be superhero, crime, early Vertigo, current Image, or any of the other books I enjoy… but once I read it that enjoyment was guaranteed.

If the first four issues made me a believer and turned me into a fan what lay in store for issue five? Pirates? A tale at sea? Really?

I should’ve known better. The next stop on Jason Aaron’s tour of duty through the Hyborian age maintains the level of quality the book has put down since its debut.

No, I didn’t care for pirates besides movies about Somali captors or blockbuster franchises. After reading this issue I’ll admit I’ll be on the lookout for more seafaring adventure this good.

Aaron writes the inner torment and isolation of Conan so clearly that you absorb it through the page. As the situation turns from battle to a bleak and dire fate, your heart will sink to its lowest depths as if you were stranded in the same hopelessness as the titular character.

The skill with which Aaron can snap from the wallowing lull to berserker battle scenes is a jolt to the spine. The way the writer embraces what could very easily be corny pulp dialogue instead elevates the authenticity of the experience, not only placing you in the situation with Conan but stuffing you right inside his head as he negotiates his fate.

At a distance Mahmud Asrar seems as good a choice as any to be the next artist in the rotating roster of creators bringing Aaron’s story to page. I thought his work on All-New X-Men was great but underrated his ability to depict the wastelands and battle fields in a book like this.  Again, I was wrong.

His battle scenes are splash pages of rage and fury that communicate the severity and primal fire of the moment perfectly. His interpretation of the script and his character work is something else. In what is essentially Castaway, but with Wilson replaced by a broadsword, it’s the close-up tight shots of Conan pondering his mortality and yearning for some hope that really drive this issue home.

The horrors of the seas and the triumph of victory are well drawn, but the shots of Conan nearly accepting his fate are the most impactful and haunting scenes of the book.

Matthew Wilson shies away from the neon bright colors of The Wicked + The Divine to wash over Conan’s world with an appropriately bleak tone. The flashbacks on land and in the scenes at the books end convey a warmness and sense of dazzling riches. But the darker the story goes thematically, so too goes the colors to add further depth and sincerity to the images.

There’s something in the air with comics today. The audience now, more than ever, are exploring different genres and different types of stories. Conan the Barbarian blends tales that stand the test of time with a modern intelligence to give the readership that something different it yearns for.

Conan the Barbarian # 5 review
Is it good?
By Crom is it good! For quality writing that gives you battlefields and internal explorations rendered by artists who relish working on something different do not go past this title.
Esad Ribic's cover art
Brutal battle scenes
Fantastic, unique storytelling
Bonus prose chapters
Octo-rats!
it's one of five books with Conan in it. Risk of overexposure.
Slight risk of scurvy.
8.5
Great
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