By Brian Wood, Paul Azaceta, & Dave Stewart
Twenty-one issues into Brian Wood’s Conan the Barbarian run and the wait is almost over for the conclusion of the original Robert E. Howard story, Queen of the Black Coast. Brian Wood has taken us all over REH’s little world with Conan and Belit and, with the conclusion of this Black Stones arc, we’re that much closer to the finale.
But, we still have to go through the ending of Black Stones to get there. Now, there is nothing particularly “wrong” with this arc or this issue. It adds more depth to the love and bond between Conan and Belit, more than we’ve seen in the previous arcs that are also set outside of the original REH tale, but for whatever reason it just feels flat. It feels like it wasn’t necessary in the grand scheme of things; like maybe we could have done without this arc and been at the same point at the end of it. Wood’s writing is still good and he still very much gets the characters involved, but it just feels like it’s being dragged out until the grand finale and Wood’s last couple of issues.
Paul Azaceta’s art is good in some places and not in others. Faces, particularly of Conan and the young boy, just don’t look right at some points. It’s been said before, but Conan just doesn’t have the same feeling as the Conan that some of the other artists have brought to the table—the best still being Becky Cloonan and James Harren. Again, while it was mostly good, the art from Azaceta fell flat but it’s hard to attribute that flat feeling to his skill as an artist. If the story feels flat, even the most talented artists can’t always salvage it.
Maybe this is too harsh and, being a fan of this run and Brian Wood, it probably is. But this issue and this arc as a whole just didn’t work for me. Some people might have loved it and more power to them, but it was almost a chore to get through the last issue of Black Stones and that’s not something that can be said often with Wood’s Conan work—or any of his work for that matter. At the end of the day, it’s going to be great to get back into the REH story and reach the conclusion that’s been building for two years. Wood has had a good run up to this point, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he finishes his adaptation of one of the best stories to come from Conan creator, Robert E. Howard.