For me, Conan comics will always be synonymous with Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Ernie Chan. Their runs on both Conan The Barbarian, and especially on Savage Sword Of Conan throughout the seventies to the early two thousands, captured the raw, visceral, brooding savagery, that is at the heart of what makes for a great Conan story. Together they laid out some of the finest in swashbuckling, sword and sorcery, pulp overindulgence known to man. But it was John and Ernie’s rendering of the barbarian antihero himself that made it all seem so believable. Well, I don’t know if believable is the right word, but as an adolescent boy filled with raging hormones, and an over abundance of energized angst, Conan comics were truly a gift from the gods. Action, adventure, swords, sorcery, half-naked women, and lots of beheadings! What more could a growing boy ask for?
Sadly, I’m sorry to say, I didn’t find any of said fulfillment in this newest re-imagined take on Robert E. Howard‘s epic antihero. In fact, this was such a departure from what I’ve come to expect from a romping adventure through Hyperborea, that I was truly in shock, and struggling to stay awake.
I am a huge fan of Brian Wood’s work, including Channel Zero, The Massive, DMZ, and Northlanders, so when I heard that he was working on Conan, I was immediately sold. Wood based this story on Howard’s short story: Queen Of The Black Coast, which finds Conan on the rough seas, in the arms of Belit, an even rougher Woman. It is a key story in the Conan Cannon, not only because it features all the signatures of a great Conan adventure, but because it features Conan in love—Or the closest thing to it, anyway. He is a barbarian after all, and I think Conan was a lover of Women, not just a Woman. Conan’s idea of love is totally savage, as Belit puts it in this excerpt from Howard’s version: “I have lain in your arms, panting with the violence of our love; you have held and crushed and conquered me,”
This best illustrates what separates the classic Conan from Wood’s version. Wood has tried to approach the story as an epic romance, but in doing so, he has lost all the intensity associated with a Conan epic. The end result is more akin to a fluff-filled romance novel, that lacks any bite.
Even Andrea Mutti’s amazing art does no justice to the barbarian. Conan comes off looking emaciated, and sad, not the hulking warrior, brimming with smoldering strength that we have all come to expect.
Wood’s writing is often profound in its ingenuity, as much as Mutti’s art is gorgeous, but, sadly, both failed to deliver the epic hero that we’ve loved all these years, simply giving us just another barbarian story.
Conan The Barbarian #15 Review