While “Conan the Barbarian” had a good run in Marvel Comics, even bringing the character into the modern day for “Savage Avengers,” they only held the rights for a short time. Now Conan is back in Titan Comics, and a new run is about to begin. Jim Zub returns to the character, but what does he have planned for the famed barbarian? Let’s find out.
Written by Jim Zub
Illustrated by Roberto De La Torre
Colored by José Villarrubia
Lettered by Richard Starkings
ROBERT E. HOWARD’S LEGENDARY CONAN IS BACK IN A NEW TALE OF BRAVERY AND HEROISM! CONAN THE BARBARIAN FCBD EDITION LEADS INTO THE DEBUT ISSUE!
Years after the battle of Venarium, a weary CONAN returns to his homeland to seek rest and solitude. However, a mysterious scout rides in to warn the Cimmerians 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?
Recently, at San Diego Comic Con, Jim Zub explained that his run on “Conan” for Titan Comics would take the character back to his bloodier roots, outside of the limitations that Marvel placed on the comic. From nearly the first page, it’s clear that he’s making the most of it, with plenty of bloody violence, and a little gratuitous partial nudity for extra flavor.
In fact, the entire comic radiates an old school style of Conan from the narration to the artwork down to the style of the lettering. It’s intentionally designed to harken back to the style of comics from the 70’s, with rougher, grittier artwork and more subdued colors, not to mention plentiful narration in yellow text boxes.
There’s plenty of narration to go around, too—when the characters aren’t talking, the narration is telling us exactly what’s happening and what they’re thinking, and when a battle scene breaks out, the narration describes exactly what we’re seeing. But this is also an intentional choice, not only calling back to an older style of comic narration, but also to the original novels by Robert E. Howard.
Fortunately, Jim Zub knows exactly what he’s doing. After all, he’s written “Conan the Barbarian” comics before, so he gets the character, and with his acclaimed runs on comics like both the “Pathfinder” and “Dungeons & Dragons” series, he’s mastered the art of writing sword and sorcery stories. He’s clearly aiming to give the narrative the same flavor and style as Howard’s novels, and his love for the source material comes through in it.
So with that established, what kind of “Conan” story are we getting? Like any other, it’s filled with action and no shortage of fight scenes, but also does a good job reintroducing Conan as a character. The violence isn’t just for the sake of violence, but demonstrates his sense of morality among other mercenaries, as well as demonstrating his prowess and durability. The scenes that follow tell us all we need to know about his character, his wants, and his current internal struggles.
And of course, the story also brings us new characters and new dangers. Once more, Zub leans into the sword and sorcery stylings with a mighty warrior woman to join the cast and a horde of undead to battle against, which gives us the familiarity of a zombie horde while still demonstrating the threat they pose against unprepared villages who fight with swords, spears, and shields.
Plus, zombies make great enemies for protagonists to cut down in swathes without any kind of moral issues.
As mentioned, the artwork by Roberto De La Torre is very intentionally designed to resemble older comic styles, leaning heavily into grittier designs with thin lines, heavy shadows, and plenty of crosshatching to add shading and details. This is by design, because we’ve seen De La Torre’s artwork with a more modern style in the pages of comics like “Age of Apocalypse” and “Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and even Marvel’s own “Conan the Barbarian” comics. But one look at De La Torre’s Instagram page is all it takes to know that this man is a huge “Conan” fan, and it comes through in the amount of effort put into every image.Continued below
The color work by José Villarrubia has the same effect, relying heavily on neutral tones against brighter backdrops and using watercolor techniques clearly reminiscent of Frank Frazetta’s style. The earthy tones stand out against the red of the bloodshed and crimson-pink skies, with just enough subtle shading to the tones to add depth.
The new run on “Conan the Barbarian” is, without question, a love letter to the franchise. This is a creative team that clearly loves the character and the many adventures he’s been through, and are putting that passion to work in creating a comic that captures and pays tribute to the classic style in every detail, whether through narration and dialogue, art and color styles, or even Richard Starkings’ font designs for the lettering. Everything about it shows a team wanting to capture the mood and feel of a classic “Conan” adventure, and so far, they’re off to a strong start.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – A callback to classic “Conan” that fans of the franchise’s sword and sorcery roots will love.