ADVANCE REVIEW! Conan the Barbarian #10 will go on sale Wednesday, November 7, 2012.
After a three-issue slump that saw some of the worst Conan comics I have seen, writer Brian Wood and new artist Declan Shalvey pull an astounding recovery with Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast #10. Right from the first page I knew the slump was over, and that I was in for a treat — for the next few issues, at any rate.
Conan and Belit are back where they belong, treading the decks of the Tigress and living a life of fire, blood and plunder. There is a fantastic little five-page montage that finally shows them as scourges and sovereigns of the Black Coast, fierce pirates who take what they want and live for battle. Life is good. Too good, maybe. Ships no longer put up a fight, but hand over their stores at the mere sight of the Tigress. They are all rich as kings but their appetite has never been for riches. Adventure. Excitement. This is what Conan craves. Belit is bored, and worries that Conan too might be growing restless of their too-easy lifestyle. She consults the shaman N'Yaga, who goes into a trance able to whisper on the words "The Death."
Issue #10 was like water to a thirsty man. Finally, I get what I have been wanting, to see Belit earning her title as Queen of the Black Coast, with Conan as her sword-arm. I loved everything about this issue, the sparse dialogue, the brooding atmosphere, the oncoming sense of fatalism as a simple decision dooms them all.
Declan Shalvey's art is gorgeous, and eminently suited to Conan. The art has the right touch of weight and humanism, of strength and sexuality. Conan's heavy browed face has hints of Buscema and Belit — while not as rawly sensual as when Becky Cloonan draws here, he looks every inch a powerful and beautiful warlord.
And man, those boats. Shalvey draws magnificent boats. The Tigress has character, and broods in the ocean. There are some shots from above of ships in the water that look like a photograph. I think Shalvey did some serious research before setting down to his drawing board. This also is the first time I have got the sense of how small the Tigress is, of confinement from living on a world consisting of some planks of wood in a vast sea.
The King of Colors Dave Stewart enhances the atmosphere with his usual skill. I love his use of the sudden color transition, of full-block panels colored red or white to engage an emotional impact. Or the reverse of a sudden blue panel to bring a moment of dour seriousness in the midst of a passionate love scene. Beautiful.
Issue #10 is of my favorite issues in the series so far (not quite as awesome as issue #3, but close). Every note came off perfectly, and I think even the crustiest of Conan fans is going to have to admit that something cool is going on here. To any readers who dropped off during the last disappointing story arc, allow me to sound the All Clear alarm. It is safe to come back to Cimmeria.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.