Writer: Joe R. Lansdale
Artists: Timothy Truman, Dave Stewart (colors)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Songs of the Dead represents a great pairing of creators for a Conan comic. I have respected the work of Joe R. Lansdale and Timothy Truman for a while now, and to have them teamed up once again for a project is a joy indeed, particularly since this project is definitely in their wheelhouse. After their outstanding work together on Jonah Hex a decade ago, I’m really excited about what they can do with Conan. Dark Horse’s celebration of Robert E. Howard’s 100th birthday has produced a lot of different takes on the Cimmerian over the past six months (Demons of Khitai, Book of Thoth, the regular series written by Mike Mignola). Keeping with this diversity, "Songs of the Dead" is a very able, entertaining story that focuses primarily on the brutish characteristics of Conan, displaying him as the wandering warrior full of lust. While this selfishness won’t endear readers looking for a sympathetic hero, Conan fans should love the results, as this is the fearsome fighter in full force. Gosh, I sound like Stan Lee!
Lansdale continues to write stories with violence and sex as the major components and Songs of the Dead is no exception. The first scene of the issue has Conan tackling a wild dog in full gallop and biting out his jugular. Talk about setting the tone early on! Throughout issue #1, blood is spurting, and slinging blades are everywhere, showing Conan as an "action first" kind of guy. I wouldn’t say there’s bountiful humor apparent in this first issue, but there is definitely a lighter tone than you’d probably expect. As Conan finds Alvazar buried up to his neck in desert sand, he remarks, “You look a little warm, my friend…You look like a plant growing in the ground.” It’s a mean-spirited comment, but funny nonetheless. Nothing in issue #1 is as dark or evil as it appears, including the final scene where Conan and Alvazar encounter the sultry Djinn of the Stones. First off, what brings about this encounter is a phallic root that Alvazar had stolen, which the Djinn has them stick into a very provocative wall opening (I can’t give you any more details unfortunately. Kids might be reading!). Then, the Djinn discourses on her loneliness and, lo and behold, her and Conan go at it, while an embarrassed Alvazar says, “I’ll just wait in the other room.” This kind of absurd situation is typical Lansdale, as is the random sex and sexual imagery. Needless to say, the final page literally shows Conan getting caught with his pants down…
As for Truman’s art, he is an uber-talented artist who delivers the goods on every comic book project that he takes on. Songs of the Dead has the same gritty realism that we have all come to know, and his visual representation of Conan is one of the best I’ve seen. The violence is this issue is exquisitely bloody and kinetic without movement lines (most of the motion is shown either by splatter or other small dark dashes around the object). Like the Wild Bunch, this is a beautiful opera of blood, sex, and mayhem that will surely please any fan of fantasy art. Jeez, between Truman, Cary Nord, and Eric Powell, can Conan have any better artists drawing him? I don’t think so! Oh, and let’s not forget Dave Stewart’s typically great coloring work, particularly in the opening few pages. If only all comics could look this good!
Verdict? Well, even though I remain firmly on the Busiek bandwagon due to his intelligent writing, this is a fun ride for three bucks. Issue #1 is fantasy havoc in finest and most beautiful form, though this is definitely an issue to keep away from the kiddies. I really don’t think this will ruffle the feathers of the sensitive types out there, because Lansdale blatantly has his tongue in cheek with Songs of the Dead. Still, if you like your barbarian comics free of blood and sex, I’d look for a more wholesome option, such as Groo. But, in my opinion, blood and sex is necessary to adapt Howard’s original vision of Conan, and I think Lansdale and Truman are dead on in this mini-series, so I’ll be back for Issue #2. Plus, I really want to see what’s up with the Stygian who hired Alvazar to steal the demon root. The pervert!
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