“Conan the Barbarian” #3 continues Aaron’s high standard on this iconic reboot with a window into Conan’s early years, in all of their impetuous, monosyllabic and intense glory.
Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by Mahmud Asrar
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Travis Lanham
THE CRIMSON WITCH GETS CLOSER TO HER GOAL AS “THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CONAN” CONTINUES! Hungry and desperate, CONAN’s experience in “civilization” takes a dark turn… When Conan is caught thieving, he’ll discover the penalty is DEATH! But how does this figure in to the CRIMSON WITCH’s plan?
Jason Aaron’s been a lifetime fan of Conan, and it shows in all the right ways in this series. I’ve been a fan for little over a year after seeing the movie, and “Conan the Barbarian” #3 is, in my estimation, a full rendering of young Conan in all his brutish glory.
I’ve never read the Howard stories, and I’ve never read a single comic featuring everyone’s favorite Cimmerian until Aaron began his run a few months ago. However, I’ve picked up enough to know that Conan is a deceptively tricky character to master, and Aaron’s conceit of single stories told in flashback throughout Conan’s life as they relate to a current moment of peril is a solid one. This choice lets the creative team play with all aspects of the Conan archetype, from brooding youth to cunning, weary king. “Conan the Barbarian” #3 tells the story of an early brush with death by route of civilization’s most twisted institution: the law. Conan’s to be hung for his crime of rampant looting, and the story unfolds expertly from there.
Asrar and Wilson’s combined skills bring subtle changes to Conan at all ages. Asrar’s young Conan still appears to be hewn from stone, but he’s got a lean, feral quality of recent boyhood. His hair’s a little flatter and shinier, his eyes burn a little brighter and his face is more expressive, because while he learned from an early age to hide emotion, he’s not adept at hiding all forms of anger. He appears in the shell of the man he’ll be, but doesn’t always fill it in this issue’s confined spaces. Asrar’s equally skilled at cartoonish facial expressions and shadowed, moody profiles. While his physical prowess can’t be denied with multiple references to the guards he’s slaughtered along his execution path, he’s not the best strategist just yet, and it’s clear from his perpetually sullen expression that he knows it. Asrar gives him fewer scars and a lot less weather, and Wilson adds a tinge of red to his cheeks in certain scenes that helps sell his youth. Layouts are decent, with uncomplicated compositions that showcase Asrar’s precise line and Wilson’s grim palette, brightened only by conflict and the clash of weaponry. There’s just enough panel variation to keep things interesting without falling into an overly ornate fantasy trap.
Lettering is an interesting challenge in a comic like “Conan the Barbarian,” because narration is such a key conceit in an operatic tale. Aaron’s text is tight, which means Lanham’s working with exactly what needs to be on the page. Narrative boxes are picked out from dialogue with a pleasant gradient bronze, and the font is suitably styled in a swashbuckling, epic manner that remains easy to read. Lanham makes a wise choice to keep to just one font as well, and avoids the perils of ornate narration that so easily slays the eyeballs. The sound effects are suitably bombastic and each is unique, from the jeering crowd to the memorable weather high spot later in the issue.
It didn’t take much to get me on board with Conan as a character, but I can see how it’d be easy to miss the mark on telling these strange, violent and desperate tales. Conan’s landscape is ultimately apocalyptic, however humorous it may be at times, and he’s a man whose might and character is at odds with an uncaring god and the constant specter of death. No matter how many skulls he crushes or jewels he seizes, he always seems to be aware of something just out of reach, and his near-total understanding and mastery of himself sets him wholly apart from most other men in the world.Continued below
Similarly, Conan is a tool by which civilization makes itself and thus has no use for once it’s scrambled atop the corpse of its predecessor, and that tension is clear in each of the issues this creative team’s put together so far. Aaron understands all of this on a very deep level, and is bringing a lot of love and fascination to “Conan the Barbarian”. Issue #3 offers a great window into the legend when he was young and lacked the experience and wisdom to temper his base anger, and I can’t wait to see where we’re headed next.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – “Conan the Barbarian” #3 showcases young Conan at his most stubborn, impetuous and brooding in a brush with death rife with divine implications most sinister.