Review: Conan the Barbarian # 8

By | September 13th, 2012
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

This book has been garnering a ton of praise, and not all of it from contributors for this website. Yes many of us are unabashed Brian Wood fans, but that is because he writes fantastic comics. With preferred partner-in-crime Becky Cloonan by his side, “Conan the Barbarian” has been an epic saga so far. There is, however, one small caveat for this issue, which is Becky Cloonan didn’t actually handle the art duties. This is unfortunate, because Wood and Cloonan work so wonderfully together. This disappointment aside, the overall enjoyment of this issue is barely affected.

Written by Brian Wood
Illustrated by Vasilis Lolos

At home in Cimmeria, Conan feels a confidence he hasn’t experienced in some time. However, Bêlit is unsure of herself among Conan’s family and clan in this strange, frozen land, a dangerous variable as the two face not only the impostor Conan, but also his vicious army!

* Conan and Bêlit in Cimmeria!

* New artist Vasilis Lolos

The plot of this issue is simple enough. Conan and Bêlit have traveled to Cimmeria, only to learn that a Conan imposter is running around, raping houses and burning women. Or is that the other way around? Never mind. The point is, everyone who has known Conan for about two seconds knows that he is not going to take this situation laying down. True to form, Conan exclaims something along the lines of, “By Crom! Son of a bitch must pay!” The real story here is the relationship between Bêlit and Conan, and how the harsh land of Cimmeria causes their dynamic to shift. Bêlit is clearly out of here element in the North, where no one respects her and the land threatens to break her. This is a drastic shift away from the Bêlit of the Black Coast, who was mysterious, powerful, and respected. In Cimmeria, she seems meek, diminished and carries no more respect than a good farm animal. Returning home has changed Conan as well. His care-free lust for life on the high seas is now far away, and Conan has become as cold and harsh as the land that birthed him. Each of the main characters know that this journey will drive them apart, and only partially because Bêlit just cannot keep up. This type of character study may seem out of place for a Conan book, but it is a type of writing Wood excels at. The most impressive aspect of this issue is that very little of this character development actually occurs through dialogue. Most all of the changes in the characters dispositions are expressed through their body language and the way in which each interact with the environment.

There are very few comic writers out there whose prose flows and possesses the same poetic quality of Brian Wood. One is Neil Gaiman, and the other is perhaps James Robinson. If you are fans of either of these veterans, you can probably agree this is some pretty high praise. Both of these writers are older, more well known, and combined, four times as British. Wood is just that good. Wood also doesn’t just rely on the strength of the words you read either; The way in which Wood can step back and let the artist convey the story visually, sometimes with barely a caption or dialogue for several pages, this lets you know that there is strength and craft to the words you never read as well.

The art in this book is a mixed bag. It would be a lie to say there wasn’t an automatic negative reaction when it was discovered Becky Cloonan wasn’t illustrating this issue. Instead, we get excellent visual storytelling, beautiful sweeping backgrounds, and some really strange looking characters. Vasilis Lolos can pace and frame a story beautifully, no question, and there is a beautiful element to his art that looks like Japanese woodcuts. However, the downside to his art in this issue is also that it looks like Japanese woodcuts. The backgrounds are amazing, and feel like meticulously labored over backdrops for a theatrical production. However, this quality doesn’t translate over to the characters, in particular their faces. Everyone looks like they are wearing eyeliner, with too big manga-esque eyes. Everyone’s face looks far too elongated. Specifically, Conan just doesn’t look like Conan. All of the eponymous barbarians features are far too soft. There is no power or harshness to his face or figure, which is very much a defining characteristic of the character. All in all, Conan resembles more of a bored samurai than, with no ability to emote. This look is probably perfect for some other book, but definitely not Conan.

The final count for this book goes something like this. This issue continues what is so far an excellent run by Brian Wood. The writing is top notch, which is to be expected. Vasilis Lolos can pace a story well, and frame everything against gorgeous backdrops, but isn’t the right fit for a Conan story. That said, don’t let one or two gripes about the art stop you from enjoying this book, because there should be some excellent payoff down the road.

Final Verdict: 8.2 – Let it keep pillaging your wallet.

Matthew Boren

Lover. Poet. Former educator. Now that he is here, he cannot be stopped. Matt's love affair with comics started with the Batman and X-Men animated series in the 90's and shows no sign of stopping. When not writing for Multiversity Comics, he enjoys Warhammer 40K, roleplaying games, reading just about anything, and cooking. Matt lives in San Antonio with his girlfriend and cat.