Thursday, 9 February 2012

New Beginnings - Conan The Barbarian #1

It would be fair to say that Robert E Howard’s character Conan the Cimmerian, also known as Conan the Barbarian, is one that pretty much everyone knows. Whether it is through the medium of book, film, game or indeed comic. When mentioning the name many people will also bring up various Arnie impersonations which feels almost fitting considering that 30 years after his first film in the role, Dark Horse have launched a new chapter in their ownership of the comic book rights.

Marvel had originally penned stories but in 2003 Dark Horse took over with an unrelated story line which worked as a reinterpretation of the original tales by Howard. This new story sticks true to the same ethos.

Conan The Barbarian starts with a story called the Queen of the Black Coast - a new adaptation which works well in the bigger mythology of the man but opens in a way that welcomes even the newest of readers. Written by Brian Wood, it takes the original approach of using a well known figure but not treating him as such. It’s nice as a reader to not require an intimate knowledge or complete history to be able to comfortably read.

The story sees Conan fleeing Argos after a “dispute” with the local authority and befriending the master steersman of a humble trading vessel. This in itself is a vehicle (excuse the pun) to the main idea behind the story. The introduction of Bêlit, a feared female pirate and head of The Tigress. For those in the know, Bêlit is actually one of Conan’s first serious lovers and the dialogue portraying how his view is wildly different due to his perspective brought a smile to my face.

There is also an underlying feeling that to Conan all of this is a game, with fights to be won and prizes to be taken. There's an unbelievably innocent playful feel to it all regardless of the actual severity and tension. Even with a completely opposing nature to the situation it all works and you can feel your testosterone rising to meet the manliness of it all.

Becky Cloonan has provided the artwork for the comic, it’s not the most technically minded artwork but what it does do is convey the jovial feeling that Conan exudes. This is something that I think, as a whole, Cloonan has managed to do throughout the cast. Visually they all wear their hearts on their sleeves and this is occasionally a prettier aspect too! With all the focus on the characters it does draw your eye away from the background which have an amount of levelling throughout them with detail fading away the further you look into the frame. The distant backgrounds are little more that washes of colour in some cases. This does mean that as a reader you are directed to the important features as well enhancing the ease of read.

I’ve found this comic to be a very amusing and fun read on multiple levels. It has a wide appeal potential although it is aimed at a teen or mature audience. This isn’t even steered towards one particular audience and its light approach is one that I greatly welcome. Given its almost historic foundations as well I think Dark Horse has struck on a good little story to produce and I would encourage anyone looking for something new, but grounded, and without the need for anything else to certainly give this a try.

A very welcome read.

For more on Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's Conan, do check out this wonderful interview at Comic Book Resources. Next week Matt Puddy travels to a galaxy far, far away...

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