“Blood for Blood”
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Cary Nord (p), Thomas Yeates (i), Dave Stewart (c)
Publisher: Dark Horse
Decapitations this issue = 0
Noteworthy death(s) this issue: Splitting a villain in half, lumber-jack styles; three deftly thrown nails embedded in three heads; shoving a sword through a guy’s mouth and pining him to the ground.
Having escaped the fortress of the Hyperborean sorcerers, Conan makes his trek through the barren and frozen lands and arrives in the nearest village. Buying food and board with some of the golden trinkets he salvaged from the suicide pit, Conan finds and kills the two men that were responsible for his imprisonment.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to a new character, the agile assassin Janissa.
Upping the ante from the previous issue, this latest installment is perhaps the best book in the series’ run thus far. It is only the seventh issue, and yet so much has happened. From seeing our first battle with Conan, to his imprisonment, to his escape, the storyline flows at an excellent pace. What’s more is that not only do we get some harrowing action, but each issue also gives you something to think about from an intellectual point of view. Not on a Gaiman-level, but there is definitely substance to each chapter.
Several issues back, Conan and his Aesirmen allies were betrayed to two honorless men who sold them into slavery. Having escaped the subdued, but nevertheless darkly powerful sorcerer’s tower in Hyperborea, Conan wants only one thing: revenge. Could he take it on the Hyperboreans, I do not doubt that is where he would begin. However he knows that he cannot -- what he can do is go after the two men that are responsible for causing all of his pain in the first place.
We get an excellent sequence where Conan hunt’s down the two treacherous men and disposes of them in the only way a Cimmerian barbarian can: gruesomely. There are moments in each issue where we are reminded that while Conan is our title hero, he is also in many ways a murderer. He doesn’t stop to contemplate his actions or question if both men truly deserve death; he simply introduces them to his sword. Then, after the bloodshed he stops to think on his actions. This is what makes him such a compelling character. He represents the primal part in all of us, and his thirsts must be quenched -- usually with blood. Furthermore, while Conan does murder the two men, you also realize that did deserve what they got and this is what keeps Conan from becoming an anti-hero or villain. He does what he does because he has to, because honor or an oath or the Gods demand it. And may Crom help anyone who gets in his way.
Finally, it must be said that the last few pages of the issue that serve as a teaser for the next arc (with assassin Janissa) was the icing on the cake. It was so well executed, with such agile deadliness and intrigue that you can’t wait to find out who this character is and how her and Conan will thrown down; by the looks of her, most probably in more ways then one.
As always, Nord’s art is splendid. Combined with the unique coloring technique, everything looks excellent. However, there are a few panels where a bit more detail would have added to the impact of the panel. Not all wide-angle drawings have to be featureless.
Finally, you’ve got to appreciate the fact that (unlike certain Marvel books) not only does Dark Horse actually provide us with a title for the issue, but at the back we get a nicely varied letters column, a continuing comic-strip featuring stories from the life of Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan), and a few paragraphs from the editor, Scott Allie, answering questions and giving us a glimpse of what to expect next issue.
One of the best monthly books out there. It is already starting to cause some waves amongst readers and if Busiek and Nord can keep this up, look for those waves to reach tidal proportions in the future. This issue provides us with a gripping story of revenge, and an interesting peek at the next major arc. Pick this book up, you won’t be sorry.
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