Pick of the Week
What did the
Artist: Declan Shalvey
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Cover Artist: Massimo Carnevale
Size: 32 pages
This latest run of Conan the Barbarian is all about skill, and taking the time to do things well, and it’s as simple as that. It turns out that Brian Wood is a perfect fit at Dark Horse, because he just does his job, and does it well, much like the folks working on B.P.R.D.. I’d never have thought that when I started reading this title back at #1, I’d still be on it. I thought, “hey this is pretty fun, and I’ll read it for a little while,” but I’m straight up hooked.
There’s a lot to like if you know what you’re looking for, but the smartest thing Brian Wood ever did on Conan was hook up with a wonderful team of artists, and let them do what they do. From Becky Cloonan to James Harren to the current artist, Declan Shalvey, they just picked the right people, and gave them the right material. It’s elementary from there. Shalvey and Wood worked together on the final arc of Northlanders, another book I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. In a way, this is almost a continuation of that run, or at least it feels like it. Declan Shalvey is, to me a pure comic book artist. He’s doing exactly what needs to be done on a page, and any writer would be thrilled to work with him, because he’s going to make your story better. Plus, with is rough hewn style, he’s perfect for this more primitive world that has no clean edges, or manufactured sheen. When you get to the action scenes, of men brawling with blades, and there are no words to distract, that’s when we see the work shine. The fights are choreographed and clear. We know who the people are, and we know what things are happening and why. It sounds simple, but there’s a reason these guys are called artists.
Speaking of artists, it’s getting harder and hard to find unique ways to say good things about Dave Stewart. I imagine that if you’re a comic book professional, and you hear that Dave Stewart is on a project you’re working on, you just breathe a sigh of relief. He’s going to do the job, and he’s going to do it literally better than anyone else. In this issue, the crew of Conan’s ship is stricken with a mysterious fever, and as a result the whole issue is bathed in a subtle, dull pallor, where the world has very little light, or even color, for that matter. It’s like being in a hospital in the middle of the night. It’s grim. That is a storytelling device every bit as much as the placement of the panels, and Stewart has earned many accolades for his skill.
I was never all that interested in Conan, outside of finding Schwarzenegger’s performance to be kind of silly. I almost wish my first taste of him was through comics, rather than the movies. But Brian Wood is giving me and Conan a second chance. He’s not reinventing the wheel, but I think he’s doing a great service to the spirit of the property that’s serving to cleanse all my preconceived notions about what Conan is. In a ways, it’s a look at a different kind of person than anyone we know in our lives. The ideas of morality and power and strength are all slightly askew, and the emotional core of the person that is Conan is interesting to ponder. He’s not a good guy, but he’s not really a bad guy either. You don’t know what he can do, but you do know that nothing really scares him. This issue presents an interesting challenge, because he’s leaning towards doing the “right” thing, but in this world where there isn’t really medicine, and most of the people he’s trying to help are very likely to die, what is the point? Of course, this all takes place among a world much more dangerous and unforgiving than the world we know. You wouldn’t want to live in it if you weren’t as strong as Conan. Even then, it’s pretty rough. When I got to the end of the issue, I really wanted to know what was next, and that’s always a good sign for a comic book issue, because I have no idea what’s going to happen.
Conan the Barbarian is the right kind of story for the comic book medium, and Dark Horse have been smart enough to assemble the right kind of team on it. Even if you’re just interested in craft, and how people who are very good at making comic books do their job, it’s enough to want to read it. But I’m also completely into the story. There are all sorts of elements swirling around in a fascinating world that’s not our own, and it’s a lot of fun. In contrast to the bombast we’re constantly seeing in the pages of other comics, reading a book where skilled craftsmen just do their job as well as can be done is a joy. Helpfully, that joy sounds nothing like the former governor of California.
Bakal is at least as bad as Mos Eisley