Current Reviews


Conan the Cimmerian #1

Posted: Monday, July 21, 2008
By: Jon Judy

Timothy Truman
Tomas Giorello & Richard Corben
Dark Horse Comics
“Hunter’s Moon”

The cover of Conan the Cimmerian #1 promises us “A Bold New Era Begins” but it’s a little soon to tell if the creative team – which isn’t new – will deliver on this. So far, however, not so good.

I selected the Joe Kubert cover, and while this book isn’t bad, the cover was easily the best part of it. Kubert turns in his usual great work, giving us a Conan that is reminiscent of the Viking Prince, only more bulky and less “Abercrombie & Fitch” and a face that is reminiscent of John Buscema’s work. Very nice indeed.

As for the story, we find that Conan has pissed of some generic mountain dude but he’s still tough enough to take people down even when he’s badly hurt. Then some mysterious old mystic dude makes an appearance, and he then tells Conan a story about the Cimmerian’s grandfather.

So, yeah, business as usual.

Sure, most of the Dark Horse Conan the Barbarian run was structured around old magic dudes telling stories about Conan, instead of Conan’s grandfather, and they told those stories via scrolls or in person to kings rather than to Conan himself, but those kinds of surface changes hardly constitute “A Bold New Era”.

Still, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the old era, so I’m not complaining about getting more of the same. Hell, the source material was formulaic and repetitive as it is, so one would expect a comic book that was faithfully Howard-esque to do the same. The question then becomes, how well does the creative team operate within the confines of a Conan story – how well do they follow the required conventions and deliver on the expectations of their readers while providing variations on those themes?

Judged from that perspective, this issue is a solid, entertaining enough read. The Conan portion of the story features art by Giorello, and it is terrific stuff – not up to Cary Nord’s level, perhaps, but fantastic nonetheless. The structure – a story creating a parallel between Conan and his grandfather – is an intriguing one, and one that offers a variation on the book’s established conventions while maintaining them as well.

So, yeah, not bad.

On the other hand, once the story switches to Grampy Conan, the quality of the book takes a bit of a decline. I can’t recall seeing any of Corben’s art since he had a run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – or was that Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? – and I have to say I haven’t missed it. My objections to his work are, admittedly, somewhat subjective, but let me attempt to couch them in terms that are as objective as possible. His characters look, well, creepy, which could be fine for monsters or villains, but when everyone looks creepy, it kind of loses its impact. The characters all look unsettlingly realistic and surrealistic all at once – they look like they are real, three-dimensional beings, just not human beings. It’s like some scary, distorted claymation story, a creepy, scary version of a Rankin/Bass production. Well, OK, a creepier, scarier version of a Rankin/Bass production.

There are other shortcomings in this book as well, and while they may be minor they are crucial in a book like this one. As Dave Sim once pointed out, it’s difficult to generate believable suspense in a recurring monthly comic book – we know the characters will survive whatever dangers they find themselves in, or else there would be no protagonists in the next month’s installment. Similarly, it is hard to feel Conan’s grandfather is in any real danger when we know he will survive the threats he faces and go on to scatter his seed’s in grandma’s garden. Ergo, for a book like this one, or any issue of a Conan title, to generate any real impact, all the notes have to be hit with perfection, and nits matter, so let’s pick at them.

Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

In addition to the creepy rejects from The Howling that Gramps picks up, it appears he will be menaced by some monster that launches an attack on the last page, page 22. But how scary can we perceive this creature to be – how legitimate can the danger to Gramps be – when the monster is depicted only as a set of red eyes in one panel and then a dark shape in another? And both of those panels are a mere 1/6 of the size of the page. This was the time for a splash page, an instance in which a splash would be impacting and justified, not merely an exercise in lazy storytelling. The next-to-last page of the book should have ended with the frightened horse, a la panel five on page 22, with page 22 being a splash depicting the monster in all of its horrifying glory about to strike.

This, however, would require finding a way to cut a page from the book. In this case, that could easily be done, and it’s a shame Truman – I’m assuming this was written as a full script, so the writer was responsible for the panel breakdowns – didn’t see how he could have both underscored the parallel he draws between Conan and Grampy and ended this thing with a dramatic splash.

Am I being really nitpicky? Perhaps, but I think that if I’m promised “A Bold New Era” I have the right to expect excellence. This was just OK.

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