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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Cimmerians Are Best At Telling Their Own Tales

Review: Conan the Barbarian #3 (Vol. 3, 2019)

Conan the Barbarian (2019) #3
Rating: 7 out of 10
Paint Monk's Library Writer

I count myself a Jason Aaron fan. In particular, I have enjoyed large parts of his more than six years on Thor and the two years stint on Doctor Strange. As such, when I learned Aaron was tapped to lead the relaunch of Conan at Marvel, I was unabashedly thrilled, and proclaimed as such anywhere and everywhere I could be heard.

Jason Aaron was exactly what Marvel's Conan needed, short of drawing Roy Thomas back into the fold. Or so I thought.

Look, I get it. Robert E. Howard is a tough act to emulate. Other than the aforementioned Roy Thomas, who has successfully navigated the character? Tim Truman comes to mind. His runs, as both an artist and writer, at Dark Horse were magnificent. Kurt Busiek did alright, as did Joe Lansdale, but there were a lot of talented writers who mishandled the Cimmerian.

Tim Truman's "Wolves Beyond the
Border" was an example of one of
Conan's finest contemporary tales.
I still think Jason Aaron has the potential to be a great Conan author, but three issues in, I'm just not feeling it. He does a fine job of name-dropping all the right Hyborian landmarks, faiths, and cultures, and the plot thus far is serviceable enough, but, trying to put my finger on it, ultlimately it is the dialogue and prose that is leaving me flat.

It's too modern. It's too wink-wink/nudge-nudge.

Reading reviews of the comic, the trend I think, is that young people are digging it. They like the art and the writing style. It suits them. A part of me thinks, maybe I'm just getting long-in-the-tooth? Maybe I've 'outgrown' comics?

But, no, that can't be it. Truman and Giorello's "Wolves Beyond the Border" wrapped in March of 2016 and I would rate it as one of the finest runs featuring Conan throughout the Cimmerian's storied history. The trade paperback is available on Amazon for around $30 and well worth the purchase. 

I believe there's a disconnect that can only be rectified by a restructuring of the industry. There is a rot that has set in and it's well past time that someone cut away the disease so that true healing can begin.

*Spoiler Alert*
SYNOPSIS: Conan the Barbarian #3 (2019)

A seventeen year old Conan finds himself in Red Tree Hill, a small mining community, where the greatest crime a man can commit is to steal gold. Having been captured during an aborted theft, Conan is led to Red Tree to be hung until near death, then fed to hungry dogs.

The Cimmerian's impressive bulk puts too much strain on the ancient hanging tree and the branch breaks. Conan fends off the city guard and topples the Red Tree before the mob descends on him and he is once more incarcerated.

Conan is being held until the head of the Watch heals so that he can swing the axe to behead the barbarian for his crimes. Conan requests a priest of Mitra to use as a human shield and escape, but the watch commander kills the priest and blames Conan for it. One more crime to add to the list.

Is this the first time in Conan's history
that Crom answered a prayer?
When the time comes for the Cimmerian's execution, where he is to be quartered with an axe, the watch commander gives him an opportunity to pray to his gods and Conan shouts out, "Crom damn you!" as a bolt of lightning comes down from the sky, killing the man with the axe.

Conan then escapes, the crowd frightened by what they'd witnessed. It is said the miners began worshiping Crom thereafter.

The issue ends as we see King Conan in the back of a wagon filled with the dead, a guttural "Crom" whispered from his lips. He is being taken by the Crimson Witch and her two child servants back to their unholy lair where the fallen king will be offered up in sacrifice to raise the death god Razazel.

We also get a third installment of John Hocking's Black Starlight. In the previous two entries, Conan and his companions had taken refuge in a deserted town while on their way to Shem, but a mysterious intruder robbed Zelandra's supply of emerald lotus and the Cimmerian sprang into action.

Chasing the thief across the village and over a rooftop, Conan caught scent of something strangely familiar. Passing a corpse in a ditch, it dawns on him that it was the smell of Stygian herbs used in mummification.

He turned as the undead thing rose up from the ditch. The Cimmerian hacked the thing to bits, recovering his friend's emerald lotus, and returned toward the docks.

CAPSULE REVIEW:  Well, it seems we get more of the same as The Life and Death of Conan continues from Aaron and Asrar. The story itself is entertaining enough, but it suffers from decompression. It does not take much to imagine these three comics having easily been writ as a single issue during the heights of the title in the 1970s.

I am noticing a theme in Aaron's approach. Last issue, we met a Pict Shaman who waxed elegantly on the philosophy of barbarism vs civilization while this issue we are introduced to a priest of Mitra who proselytizes on the virtues of faith and the fate of one's soul.

And I think I've hit on the nagging problem I'm having with the title so far, beyond my displeasure with the art and lettering. It's that Aaron is not writing a Conan story first and foremost.

It seems to me that he has a story to tell and is using Conan to do so. That's a big difference, in my opinion.

One of the things that made Conan sing for me as a young man reading Howard original tales was that they felt real. There wasn't an agenda. It was just the recounting of an adventure in a man's life, albeit a larger-than-life man, but still.

Howard said that the Hyborian tales came to him as if they were told to him round a campfire. That's what's missing. It's something that people like Roy Thomas and Tim Truman were able to capture, and something I hope Jason Aaron discovers before this series ends.

On a scale of 1-10 skulls of my enemies, I would rate this issue worthy of 7.

Alba Gu Brath - Bob Freeeman (aka The Occult Detective

1 comment:

  1. Good review. I think the story arc thing is killing the comic. Do we HAVE to wait 9 more issues to see if Conan lives or dies? If he dies, I'm not renewing my subscription.


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