CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1 by Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan, and Dave Stewart
The romance between Conan the Cimmerian and Belit, Queen of the Black Coast was a big part of Roy Thomas’s run on the barbarian hero at Marvel Comics. I remember reading those issues and looking forward to each one with anticipation. Conan had hung out with Red Sonja for a time, but there had never been a woman who so closely matched his skills and his zest for adventure.
I’m surprised it took Dark Horse this long to get around to their take on that saga. Maybe they were leery of it, maybe there were licensing complications, I don’t know. However, I am totally loving what writer Brian Wood and artist Becky Cloonan are doing with the story. I’d read a couple interviews about the upcoming project and was interested enough to pick up a copy, to see what was going on, but I didn’t have any really high expectations.
The first issue has me solidly hooked, though, and now I’m going to dread having to wait a month between each installment.
Brian Wood has a great grasp of Conan, though he may be writing him as more talky than most versions of the barbarian I have read. At least in the beginning. Roy Thomas got more loquacious as he went on with his run on the strip. But this is a Conan I can really get behind, a warrior who talks to other warriors about his exploits and adventures.
From the opening pages where Conan is fleeing for his life, till he’s aboard the ship recounting the tale that brought him there, till his potential confrontation with the pirate queen, the story is expertly paced. Cloonan brings the scenery and action to life. Her version of Conan is a little on the thin side, but the barbarian is still young, still has his full growth ahead of him at this point in his life.
Cloonan’s version of Argos and Kush are fully realized. The marketplace on page one is well-developed and drawn, and it’s just a throwaway piece. Likewise, the seaport and the square buildings and homes that line the coast are detailed and compelling. I felt like those worlds were real, that I could just step onto the page and breathe the salt air.
Belit is going to be a strong character. She’s not even active in the book yet, but you can feel her presence in the pages. The men whisper fearfully about her, and the vision/dream sequence Conan has of her and the conquered ship at the end of this issue is the stuff movies are made of. Just leafing through those pages makes a film version pop into my head. The way Belit looks back over her shoulder at Conan is chilling. I can’t wait to read how the rest of the story goes.