Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Cary Nord with Thomas Yeates
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
As Conan continues to travel with the group of Aesir warriors on the trail of the fleeing Vanir who attacked an Aesir village while the men were away, we see he's far too trusting of his allies, as there are members in the group who resent his presence among them, and while they befriend him they have made plans to betray him. However, while the Aesir are able to capture the Vanirmen, we see both groups are set upon by a host towering Hyperboreans, and thanks to a cowardly betrayal Conan and the others are captured and dragged into slavery.
I know this is going to come across as sounding like I'm not a fan of Conan, as I suspect one of the primary reasons that his assembled his army of fans is largely due to his ability to wade into an army of blood-crazed opponents and emerge as the last man standing. However the most enjoyable moment for me in this issue was the scene where Conan is taken down from behind, as it sells the idea that he is not an unstoppable fighting machine. I mean there's only so much enjoyment one can draw from a character who is able to walk into every battle with the final outcome etched in stone, and this issue manages to nicely present the idea that there will be moments when Conan will fall in battle, and this in turn will add a needed sense of uncertainty to his future battles. This book is also supposed to be set relatively early in Conan's career as a traveling barbarian so it having moments where he doesn't know he's walking into a trap, or dealing with a back-stabbing traitor act as a welcome reminder that he's a young man, and not a battle harden warrior. I also rather enjoyed the scene in the opening pages where Conan is forced to consider the idea that judging people by the rumors that he's heard is not the best way of moving through life, as it nicely plays off the scene later in the issue where he lashes out at the fleeing cowards while in the same breath he insults one of his allies, as it deftly spells out the idea that Conan has yet to grasp the idea of judging a man by his actions rather than the prejudicial stories that he's been told about them by others.
Cary Nord has come a long way as an artist and I hope his work on this project opens a lot of doors for him in the future, as it's work like this that should have people sitting up to take notice. This issue is a pretty solid display of his ability to keep things visually exciting when there's no action, as it does a lovely job capturing the various emotions of Conan, from a wonderfully wistful quality in the panel where he is busy talking about the wonders of Hyperborea, to his expression when the first battle is brought to a abrupt halt with an unexpected surrender which managed to capture his wary nature. Of course this wouldn't be an issue of Conan without the sword swinging action, and this art manages to offer up a lovely double-page shot that captures the chaos of the battle, as one really should take a moment to study this image to notice that there's far more going on that simply a crowd of characters holding swords. The giant creatures who fall upon out group are also pretty creepy from a visual sense, and there's something inherently cool about the idea that their primary weapons look to be hammers.
There are element to this issue that feel a little too familiar such as the scene where the two bands of enemies are forced to work together against an even greater evil, or the cowardly warriors who run from the battle that their own actions had set into motion. There's also a rather questionable quality to the plan that the one commander comes up with for opening an escape route for the others to slip through, as the scene felt more like an excuse for Conan to fall victim to a cowardly betrayal than a plan that had any real hope of working. One has to openly wonder what possible contribution could Conan have made to the battle from up on that bluff with his sword. In fact the only real advantage to having him scramble up that bluff is that it's a high point that he can be kicked off of, which means that when he is betrayed Conan doesn't have the opportunity to instantly retaliate. I also have to say there's not really any sense of excitement to the battle, as these giant creatures appear from the shadows, with no real seeming motive for their attack beyond the claim that they capture humans for use as slaves. In the end they aren't all that interesting a threat, as they are little better than an obstacle that Conan encounters, rather than a threat that has been developed. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I'd like to see a little more time spent developing the villains that Conan faces, as the threats he's faced thus far have been little better than warm bodies that he can sink his sword into. In the end he's been battling flying monkeys when I want to see him squaring off against the Wicked Witch.
It's The Knights Of The Neep:
A pretty enjoyable chapter in Conan's early adventures as this issue nicely established the idea that he's far too trusting when it comes to his dealings with others, as even the most novice of readers had to see that moment coming. The issue also manages to nicely present the idea that at this stage of career Conan is very much lead by his emotions rather than his head, as he's driven by a desire to visit a fantasy realm than sounds too good to possibly be true, and one has to love the idea that in the middle of a heated battle when he should be paying attention to his rather precarious situation instead he's far to invested in lashing out verbally at the people who betrayed him. I also like watching him take these early first steps, with the little moments like his flash of pride as he picks up the trail of the people they're following being a solid presentation of the idea that his store of knowledge isn't all that expansive at this stage of the game. The issue offers up a moment where we see Conan does have a warrior instinct for spotting trouble though, as he does sense that something is wrong when the enemy surrenders, but he dismisses it when the obvious source of trouble is done away with. The final moments of the issue also do a nice job of setting up a fairly exciting situation for Conan to deal with in the next chapter.
What did you think of this book?
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