CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1 (2023)
TITAN COMICS/Heroic Signatures
STORY: Jim Zub
ART: Roberto de la Torre
COLORS: José Villarrubia
LETTERS: Richard Starkings of Comicraft
EDITOR: Phoebe Hedges
COVER: Dan Panosian
VARIANT COVER ARTISTS: Roberto de la Torre; Artgerm; Patch Zircher; Mike Mignola; E.M. Gist, Dan Panosian; Jae Lee; Collen Doran; Chris Jones; Dave Wilkins; Mark Schultz; Junggeon Yoon; Ian Nicholls; Eric Ray; Jay Anacleto; Chris Ehnot
32pp, Color, $3.99 U.S. (August 2023)
Suggested for mature readers
“Bound in Black Stone” Part I: “Scourge of the Dead”
Conan the Cimmerian was born in the pulp fiction of Robert E. Howard (REH), first appearing in the magazine, Weird Tales (1932). In 1970, Marvel Comics brought Conan to the world of comic books via the title, Conan the Barbarian. With only a few pauses, Conan comic books have been published for the better part of five decades.
Titan Comics and Heroic Signatures are the new producers of Conan comic books, and they start with a new Conan the Barbarian series. It is written by Jim Zub; drawn by Roberto de la Torre; colored by José Villarrubia; and lettered by Richard Starkings. The new series finds Conan returned to his homeland of Cimmeria just when it faces a terrible new threat.
Conan the Barbarian #1 (“Scourge of the Dead”) opens in Northern Aquilonia, specifically at the outpost known as “Hauler's Roam.” Recently arrived, Conan the Cimmerian is the closest that he has been to his homeland of Cimmeria in eight years. But first, he must extricate himself from “the Bleeders,” the band of mercenaries of which he has been a part.
A weary Conan has returned to his homeland to seek rest and solitude, but a mysterious scout, Brissa, rides into Haurler's Roam” with a warning of an imminent threat on the march from the Pictish wilderness. Will Conan and his new ally be able to hold off this new horde of invaders?
THE LOWDOWN: Titan Comics has been providing me with PDF copies of their publications for review for several years now. Their debut Conan title, Conan the Barbarian #1, is the latest.
When Marvel Comics resumed publishing Conan the Barbarian comic books in 2019 – for the first time since the late 1990s – I was somewhat exited. I read a few issue, and while they did recall some of the best of classic Marvel Conan for me, I saw no reason to keep reading past the first six months of the revival.
Titan Comics and Heroic Signatures' debut Conan the Barbarian #1 seems a bit edgier than Marvel Comics' 2019 Conan the Barbarian... at least, in hindsight to me. Part of it may be that writer Jim Zub's introductory story fits itself in with some of the literary Conan chronologies. For instance, “Scourge of the Dead” references the “Sack of Venarium,” also known as the “Battle of Venarium,” which is depicted in the 2003 Conan novel, Conan of Venarium, written by Harry Turtledove.
Conan is apparently 14 or 15 at the time of the battle, but Zub may be setting his age at 16. Eight years later, this story, “Scourge of the Dead” begins, and Zub references Conan's “twenty-four summers.” In an interview, Zub said that this story takes place after the original Robert E. Howard Conan short story, “The Frost-Giant's Daughter.” In some Conan chronologies, Conan is almost 30 at this point.
That said, by firmly planting Conan in a literary tradition, Zub makes this story feel like something substantial in the catalog of Conan fiction and storytelling. This is something more than just another licensed comic book tie-in. Also, having Conan face a seemingly unstoppable horde of ravenous killers also gives the story a kick.
The art and storytelling by artist Roberto de la Torre is what really sells Zub's script. De la Torre's art here resembles of mix of the late John Buscema's Conan the Barbarian comic books and the late Joe Kubert's Tor comics. De la Torre makes me feel the blood, violence, and the heat of bone-breaking, and he creates a sense of foreboding and then, terror when the horde strikes.
The art looks even more gorgeous under the colors of José Villarubia, one of the best and most skilled comic book colorists working in American comic books over the last three decades. Richard Starkings' lettering is the cherry on top of this excellent graphics package.
Will I lose interest in this new series? There is a good chance that I will, eventually, but I may stick around for longer than I did with the Marvel relaunch. This new series is not standard Conan the Barbarian, and I like Conan enough to have watched three Conan films: Conan the Barbarian (1982), Conan the Destroyer (1984), and Conan the Barbarian (2011), many times.
I READS YOU RECOMMENDS: Fans of Conan comic books will want to try Titan Comics and Heroic Signatures' Conan the Barbarian.
[This comic book includes the essay, “Robert E. Howard and His Ages Undreamed Of,” by Jeffrey Shanks.]
Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"
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