It seems you never realize how much you miss someone till they come back in your life. That’s the case for me with the art of Rafael Kayanan. I always liked his work on books like Fury of Firestorm, Captain Atom, Turok and the ’90s Conan series back in the day, but I don’t remember him being this good. Rafael has obviously been working hard on his art in the last few years, and he turns in a job on this comic that is gorgeous. Just look at the two-page spread on pages two and three to see the detail and energy he gives to the comic. Or look at the intensity of Conan’s fury in the battle towards the end of the comic. This is a Conan who is a terrific warrior, completely at home fighting bizarre foes. Nothing scares him; any enemy just makes him angrier and stonger.
What’s most cool about his work here, though, is that Kayanan doesn’t try to emulate the artists who came before him. He’s not doing Barry Windsor-Smith, though his art really evokes its time and place. Kayanan’s not emulating John Buscema, though several scenes pulse with energy. And Kayanan’s not channeling Cary Nord, though his work is fabulously detailed. Instead, Kayanan has a vision that’s particularly his own: an intriguing, intense and very spooky world. I found myself really dragged into this comic by Kayanan’s artwork, and I hope he’ll work on future issues.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as crazy about Kurt Busiek’s script. It contains many of the requisite elements of a Conan story; there’s a mysterious prophecy, bizarre monsters and a beautiful woman in the story. Those pieces worked very well for me. The monsters in particular are really well-designed and quite spooky and bizarre. The problem with this issue for me was that it skips around a bit in time and is overly confusing. Busiek tries to be clever in this issue, jumping between different time frames without transitional captions, but it’s just too clever for a hack-and-slash story like this one.
Conan just doesn’t do well with this kind of story. With Conan, forward momentum is the thing. Create a quest or an adventure, stick in some nasty foes and some interesting allies, and let the story hurtle forward in a bluster of sword fights and double-crosses. Don’t bother trying to make the story more complex than it needs to be. Just don’t muddy things up. The insets were just distracting from the straight-ahead power of the comic.
But maybe I’m complaining too much. This is a perfectly fine story aside from a few odd elements, and Rafael Kayanan’s artwork is spectacular. Someone please find this man a steady gig. I’m craving more.