Dark Horse Comics 2014
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by Brian Ching
Coloured by Michael Atiyeh
Lettered by Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Seven months ago the witch Salome, twin sister to Queen Taramis of Khauran, infiltrated the queen’s quarters, took her captive, and replaced her. Since then, after publicly challenging the false monarch, Conan himself was captured, crucified, and left to die in the desert. With only the vultures for company, the Cimmerian was on the brink of death—until Olgerd Vladislav, chieftain of the Zuagir, offered him a chance to survive. After enduring Vladislav’s brutal test of his fortitude, Conan must now prove himself among the hostile Zuagir . . .
Okay so I really liked this issue because it isn’t what you should expect to see. After the dramatic events of last issue i’d have expected to see one of two things, A. Conan settling in with Olgerd and his people or B. Salome’s new policies and actions since taking over as Queen. What Fred does here however is fantastic. Two men who left the city, runaways or deserters if you will, have been wandering the desert and happen upon Olgerd and his men. This encounter permeates the entire issue and it gives us everything we need to understand what’s happening.
After last issue’s artist stand-in it’s nice to see Brian back. When you’ve got a series regular artist who has really put signature on it come back after an issue it’s amazing as you feel his passion. The familiarity of the characters through the artwork and the emotion it brings makes me feel like a familiar friend has returned.
There’s a scroll on one of them that tells the story of one person’s experience and observations of what’s been happening since Salome, impersonating the Queen, admitted Constantius and Mercenaries into the city. Here I love what we see as Brian manages to showcase the excess and depravity and yet the characters look miserable as if going through the motions to stay alive. I love how this comes together.
The picture the boys paint here is complete and utterly surprising in it’s depth. Rarely do we get to see just how well words and pictures can meld together to take the story to the next level. What we get here is something quite spectacular and the fact that the time frame from when Conan was on that cross till now while surprising until you think about it. Not only has he needed time to recover but he also needs information and knowledge before going charging in and this is that time when the fates conspire so he knows to act.
Ah the ending of this issue once again displays not only Fred’s imagination, creativity and ability to write and thrill, surprise and engage the reader. I have become this huge Conan the Avenger supporter and telling the world that this series goes beyond what people will expect. That even if like me they weren’t Conan fans this series will make them one as the characterization, story, pacing and plot showcase so much more than mere sword fighting and punching.
This is one of the most complex, interesting and downright fun series that will constantly surprise and thrill readers.