"Helm" and "Conan's Favorite Joke"
Writers: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza
Art: John Severin and Bruce Timm
Colors: Michelle Madsen
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
The book follows a helm that Conan lost in an earlier adventure, as we see it passes through the hands of a number of individuals, and the tragic ends that several of the helm's wearers meet soon earns it a reputation that it is cursed. Needless to say the helm finds it's way into the hands of a fortune teller, who states that this helm is destined to be worn by a future king. We also get a second story where we learn what makes Conan laugh.
This opening story of this issue isn't really a Conan adventure, but rather it's a somewhat engaging voyage through the various regions where Conan has his adventures, as the book follows the voyages of Conan's helm which was left behind when he was kidnapped by the Hyperboreans at the end of third issue. Now truth be told this story is a bit of a one-trick pony as the running gag would seem to be that anyone who puts on the helm and doesn't act like a proper warrior quickly finds themselves struck down. Still, the issue does earn marks for the sheer number of hands that the helm passes as over the eighteen page story it manages to land on the head of eight different characters, five of whom come to a bad end. Also if one was extremely curious about where Conan managed to get his hands on his helm this issue also offers up the back story of the helm's creation, and a fortune teller also offers up a look at the future path that this helm will take. Still this opening story doesn't really do much beyond give readers a rather scattershot tour of Conan's world, and the idea that the helm is cursed doesn't really go anywhere interesting, as I had pretty much grasp the idea when the second wearer took an arrow through their neck, so the accidents that followed began to feel a little repetitive. The last page also leaves the helm in a rather interesting place, as one is left to question if that young child is destined to become the man that the fortune teller spoke of. As for the second story which features the art of Bruce Timm, it weighs in at a rather slight four pages, but it does make good use of its pages to offer up a nice little bit of dark comedy. In fact to discuss the story in any real detail might spoil the fun, so all I'll say is that these pages do a very nice job of playing with Conan's personality, as it makes perfect sense that he would find what happens to be the height of hilarity, and I did find myself rather enjoying this little bit of comedy in a title that really isn't known for being all that funny.
I do believe my only previous exposure to John Severin's work before this issue was his work on "Cracked", as back in my teen I was a loyal reader of that magazine, while my best friend was a loyal "Mad" reader, and we would swap magazines after we had finished reading them. In any event John Severin really knocks it out of the park on this issue, from the amazing double-page spread shot of the battle that opens the story, to the sheer intensity of that final page as we see the massive army advancing on our young hero, as how can one not be impressed by the expression on his face in that final panel. I also enjoy the level of attention on the little details, like the puffed up appearance of the con-artist who is using the helm to sell the idea that he's a great warrior, to the sorry state of the blade that the mother gives to her son. Bruce Timm also turns in some solid work on the second story, as while he's not the type of artist who jumps to mind when I think of Conan, he does a lovely job on the page where Conan reacts to what occurs, and this was the most important element of this story.
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