By Fred Van Lente & Ariel Olivetti
The People of the Black Circle, written by Conan creator Robert E. Howard, was first published in Weird Tales in 1934. 79 Years later, enter Fred Van Lente and Ariel Olivetti to put their spin on the classic tale. Van Lente’s approach to this classic Conan yarn is straight forward and to the point. It follows the original pace and story from REH and it even appears to be fairly close, dialogue-wise, to that text. Van Lente’s work with panels helps maintain the flow from REH and, with the help of artist Ariel Olivetti of course, really put one’s images of the story onto the page. It’s hard to distinguish, as with any adaptation of REH’s original work, where REH leaves off and Van Lente begins, but regardless of that fact it’s still a perfectly structured and honest retelling of the 1934 classic.
Call it nitpicking, but when an artist draws their interpretation of Conan, and all of them are different, there should be one similarity that they all share. As described by REH, “…his eyes a volcanic blue that smoldered as if with some inner fire.” The blue eyes are something that REH repeatedly mentions and it seems to be forgotten. This version of Conan, more attuned to the Arnold Schwarzenegger version from the movies, appears to have some sort of dark brown, maybe steel grey eyes. It’s odd to pick that out as an issue with the character design, but as someone who has read a lot of the original REH stories, it’s something that just seems out of place and is just not quite right when it comes to Conan in this story.
Aside from that, there was some inconsistency with character faces throughout the book, particularly Devi, that stood out just enough to take the reader out of the story for a few moments; to the point of actually flipping back a few pages to check the last image of her, just to see if the differences are real or imagined.
The art side of things, to be honest, was weaker than the writing in this issue. But that’s not to say that Olivetti did a poor job. The vast majority of his panels were crisp, detailed and executed well. There was just a few that slipped by and, of course, the lack of the “smoldering blue eyes” of Conan set it back. Van Lente weaves himself into the story, adding his touches here and there, and it makes for an enjoyable read overall. If you like REH and Conan, especially if you’ve read the original story, this is worth checking out for sure, but if you’re just a casual fan it might be worth the wait to read it all together as a trade. While you wait, go find the original, preferably unedited, REH story and check that out.