Conan the Barbarian #20
By Brian Wood, Paul Azaceta and Dave Stewart
As Brian Wood rounds the bend on the ending of the Queen of the Black Coast story that he’s been telling with Conan the Barbarian for nearly two years, the expectations for each issue get higher and higher. Up to this point, anybody who is a fan of Conan, created over 80 years ago by legendary Robert E. Howard, has yet to be disappointed by Wood’s interpretation. It’s going to be interesting to see how he weaves his story back into the original Robert E. Howard story for his epic conclusion.
This issue continues the mini-arc Black Stones which is, without giving too much away, about a relic Conan and Belit have stolen and are trying to sell to the highest bidder. Of course, being that it’s Conan, there are swords and arrows and danger around every bend. Brian Wood knows action and knows how to present it to the readers, and the action in here is no different. It does, however, almost have a sense of filler before we get to the end cliff hanger. Maybe the word “filler” is not the right word to use, but, while executed well by Wood and Paul Azaceta, it felt bland. As a tool to set up the ending with Belit, it works well enough, but maybe it was just too obvious of a way to get to that ending.
Speaking of Paul Azaceta, artist for this arc of Conan, there are really no major complaints about his art, but at the same time nothing that really stands out. It gets the job done and is in a similar vein to other artists on this series. A few panels seem to almost lose the look of the Conan that we’ve gotten used to since Becky Cloonan’s initial run with Wood, but again, it’s nothing major and probably more just Azaceta’s interpretation of our beloved Barbarian. At the end of the day, everything flows well, it’s in tune with Wood’s script and it does the job that it’s meant to do.
Maybe this reviewer is being too critical of the work that Wood and Azaceta have done with this issue, and the issue before it. Maybe it’s just time that we got back to the original Robert E. Howard story, with it’s fantastic ending that undoubtedly shapes Conan for the rest of his life. Who’s to say? There is nothing wrong with this issue, so don’t take this the wrong way, and both Wood and Azaceta do their jobs very well. This will all undoubtedly pay off when Brian Wood’s run and adaptation of Queen of the Black Coast comes to an end, but this issue, and this arc, just have yet to have that “wow” factor that previous arcs have had.