Conan is one of Dark Horse’s most celebrated properties. The publisher has put out countless comics adaptations and original stories featuring the Cimmerian over the years and even as they gear up for an upcoming crossover with Dynamite’s Red Sonja license, they launch a new series with Conan, in which the warrior is shown seeking vengeance. I’ve read quite a lot of Conan from Dark Horse in the last couple years and my favourites are definitely the current ongoing King Conan: The Conqueror and Conan the Barbarian. Amazing art, amazing story, which is what I wanted to see in this new series.
Fred Van Lente penned a 4-issue adaptation mini-series last year, Conan and the People of the Black Circle, with Ariel Olivetti on the art. It started off good but became not so good by the end. So I was hesitant this week in picking up Conan the Avenger #1 but I guess that I shouldn’t have worried because it was a pretty damn good tale. Set in the days after the death of Belit, Conan’s pirate lover, this issue starts off with Conan at one of his lowest points ever and slowly teases him back to his glory. And along the way, Brian Ching’s art stands out as some of the best Conan art I’ve seen.
As I mentioned, Fred’s Conan and the People of the Black Circle with Ariel Olivetti started off as a really interesting story but by the time that it wrapped up, it had become boring, and the art was less than serviceable. Going into this title, I hoped that it would be better and that both the art and the story would be on the same level as what I’ve seen from King Conan: The Conqueror and Conan the Barbarian. While Conan the Avenger isn’t quite as awesome as those two books, it is still pretty good, and I loved both the story and the art in the first issue.
With Belit dead and her ship a burned-out ruin, Conan is drowning in his sorrows and watering his demons in Shumballa. The mighty have fallen far indeed, as is evidenced when he is robbed blind by a trio of thieves who take advantage of his drunkenness. Things move quickly from there and even as Conan is teaching them the error of their ways, we see how Fred Van Lente is weaving in a much bigger story involving black magic, the fate of kingdoms, and unscrupulous merchants and frauds.
The best part of the story however is how Conan deals with the memories he has of Belit. He is haunted by his time with her and wherever he looks, he can still see her. In Brian Wood’s first six-issue arc on Conan the Barbarian, we saw how he fell in love with her and how… perfect they were for each other. In Conan the Avenger #1 we see how their relationship ultimately came to a very sad and tragic end. Fred tells an emotional tale of a broken man struggling to move on with his life and how he gets some sense knocked into him when he realises that the tale of Conan the Cimmerian cannot end in a trash pit. That he needs to fight on because Crom himself looks upon him and sees all that he does.
The story is quite gripping and Fred van Lente’s pacing is pretty much perfect as well. Other than Conan, we also get some significant scenes from the new supporting cast that advance the overall storyline and slowly begin to see how Conan’s future is going to tie-in to these peoples’ present troubles.
With Brian Ching on the art we have Michael Atiyeh on the colours and Richard Starkings & Comicraft on the letters. Brian Ching’s art has a very rough and angular quality to it, which I liked. He overdoes on the details in some places, and the inks as well, but then Michael Atiyeh’s colours bring all the hidden stuff out for the reader. One thing I won’t deny is that Ching’s characters are very expressive, whether by body language or by facial expression, and that is great to see. Plus he draws a really mean-looking Conan during the issue’s big action sequence, which was a thrill to see unfold.
Overall, I’m quite satisfied with how this issue turned out and this comic is definitely going on my pull-list.