Editor's Note: Conan #49 arrives in stores this Wednesday, February 20.
Plot: Conan gets himself in the middle of a pile of corpses, political intrigue and a sorcererís machinations.
Commentary: If the plot sounds like every Conan story ever written, well, it is. At least every good Conan story written. However, that's why Conan fans like Conan. Robert E. Howard is given credit for almost single handedly creating the Sword and Sorcery genre back in the 1930's. I've read everything written from the original Howard novels to the full runs from Marvel Comics and now what Dark Horse is doing. I originally picked up Dark Horse's adaptation of the original Conan tales and the stories Busiek and company cooked up to "connect the dots" so to speak. I dropped them about the time Busiek introduced the character of Janissa, The Widowmaker. Why you say? Dark Horse's boast was to remain faithful to Howard's original stories, and for a while Busiek and Nord did just that, and then the inevitable artistic license and the creators' desire to put their own stamp on the Conan legend came into play. What did we get? A Red Sonja knock-off. That's when I quit the title.
This issue written by Timothy Truman and drawn by Tomas Giorello is my first Conan issue I've read for quite a while and it looks as if Dark Horse is back on track with adapting Howard's original source material. Truman does embellish the tale a bit, but I did my homework before picking up the issue and read an interview with Truman about his approach to Conan. He goes back to the same historical and mythical source material Howard must have used and mines it to expand on what Howard already did. Now that's the way to put your stamp on a Howard tale. As a result, this entire issue reeks of Robert E. Howard influence. There is blood and there is fire. There are carrion crows and armies on the march. There is death and despair and indomitable will. Basically, everything you could want from a Conan story.
The sorcery is where it belongs in a Conan tale: on the wrong side of the savage laws of the Hyborian age. Too often Conan writers in the past have had Conan using or teaming up with some sort of sorceress sidekick. Listen, Howard set the precedent. For the most part Conan just hates sorcery and sorcerers. They represent all that is wrong and evil about the Hyborian world. True, there are all too human horrors and villains too and those are here but sorcery encroaching upon mortal man's world is the worst of things to Conan. Truman shows us what Howard showed us. It is the weakminded, selfish and petty that turn to sorcery for their gains and all too often they wind up paying the price. So it looks to be the case with King Than and his muttering scheming advisor in the dark arts, Atalis. There is much scheming and intrigue in the palace and a case of mistaken identity. There is the rescue of a beautiful princess which is sure to gain Conan favor with a monarch in the future. These are also staples of Howard's Conan tales. Listen writers: don't try to modernize Conan. People who read Conan like him the way he is. It may not always be P.C., but it all works in the context of the world Howard created for him. Conan's was a simpler, more brutal time. Conan himself had little need for the trappings of civilization and oftentimes did not understand the hypocritical niceties civilized people engaged in. He's rough with men, he's rough with women (though he cannot abide abusiveness) and he's rough on his horses. He stomps and barrels through the Hyborian world righting wrongs and seeking glory, and there is nothing nice and noble about it. Truman and Giorello have captured that sentiment.
I was a bit apprehensive upon learning that Dark Horse has switched artists since Cary Nord did such an atmospheric and almost perfect take on Conan and his world. I'm pleased to say Giorello has filled the gap nicely. He reminds me of a much more polished Leinel Yu. His artwork is very reminiscent of Yu's but he's not as sketchy. All his characters are well-defined as well as the various locales of the battlefield, the palace and stygian chambers in darkness. He does men and monsters equally well. The monstrous army and Nergal's herald look scary and formidable and icky. You just would not want to be around them, and there is that Lovecraftian sense of crawling dread up the spine. So, all around this is a winning issue that keeps close to the source material and expands it in an organic way, going where Howard himself may have gone.
Final Word: I may just start picking up Conan again. Good job and very appealing to fans of Howards's original tales.
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