ADVANCE REVIEW! Conan the Barbarian #6 will go on sale Wednesday, July 11, 2012.
Conan the Barbarian #6 comes pretty damn close to being perfect. There are certain scenes, certain panels, certain bits of dialog that give you everything you could want from a Conan comic. There are times when Wood just nails Conan, getting right to the core of the character, and times when Harren and Stewart combine to give us the Hyborian Age in all its gritty wonder. But then they are followed up by another panel that just doesn't quite click, or some art that goes too far one direction or the other, and the momentum of enjoyment fades.
Fortunately, the good bits outweigh the not-so-good bits. Issue #6 may not be perfect, but it is a hell of a good comic.
Here's what I loved:
Conan's confrontation with the guardsmen is beautiful. Wood reaches down into the essence of Conan and finds that primal warrior who thrives on instinct and savage swiftness. Wood's little grey boxes are in full effect again, saying that Conan "is not a soldier. He is a warrior from the North, the savagery of the mountains reflected in both his character and his skills in combat." Harren's art in this scene was great as well. The speed lines I hated so much last issue are more subdued, and so the effect is more powerful. Dave Stewart shows his mastery as well, with one shocking orange panel reminding you why he is the greatest colorist in comics.
The Belit/Conan dynamic in this issue was fantastic as well. There is a moment when Conan looks at the town on fire, the people killed, and realizes that Belit has no qualms about causing this much destruction just for a robbery. Conan is by no means a "good guy," but Robert E. Howard gave him a certain rough moral code, and it is a code that is shaken when he sees just what Belit is capable of, and what it will mean to him to be the companion of such a person. I like seeing these kinds of moral quandaries in Conan, who is a killer but never a wanton one. It shows Belit on a whole different level from Conan, which is where she should be.
The Conan /N'Yaga dynamic also continues to be strong. N'Yaga is a necessary voice of wisdom in the series. It's going to be sad when N'Yaga is eventually killed off, something he has been foreshadowing since almost his first appearance, and does so again here. For the time, he is a good anchor for Conan.
And here's the not-so-much:
Although Wood is usually a demon with dialogue, some of the exchanges here are a bit stiff and formal, almost a parody of fantasy dialogue.There were a few times when I think more could have been said with less, and with greater impact.
Less-is-more would work for Harren's art as well. There are panels here that are just so perfect it got me thinking THAT IS CONAN!, looking better than he has since the series started. But then in the next panel Harren goes expressionistic, and Conan's eyes pop and his muscles go all knotty and twisted, to where it looks like Conan is hulking out. Harren would do well with a little restraint, a little subtlety, and a little humanity. Conan is a human character, and his looks needs to be human as well.
And this is a bit of a spoiler, so be warned.
My biggest issue was towards the end, where Belit's in a damsel-in-distress situation and needs Conan to come save the day. That just doesn't sit right, considering Belit's amazing scene in the previous issue. I don't mind Belit needing Conan's rescue — he is physically mightier than here, and is the brawn to her brain—but if Belit is going to be knocked to her knees I want it to be something more than a handful of nameless mooks that bring her down. That’s beneath her. Save Conan’s rescue for a truly mighty opponent, and preserve Belit’s reputation as the Queen of the Black Coast.
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.