By Fred Van Lente, Brian Ching & Michael Atiyeh
As a loyal, hardcore follower of all things Conan, there’s always a slight bit of hesitance when Dark Horse starts the next run with a new writer. We’ve gone through Conan, Conan the Cimmerian, Conan: Road of Kings, and most recently, Conan the Barbarian. Add to this the fact that King Conan is its own title and a number of other mini-series has been released, and it becomes even more incredible that every new creative team has been amazing. Fred Van Lente recently whets his appetite for Conan with the four-issue People of the Black Circle, but now comes the latest ongoing saga, Conan the Avenger. How did the new creative team do in this first outing?
The answer is: absolutely terrific. This was a stunning first issue, particularly when compared to many previous firsts of Conan, which tend to start off fairly slowly. This is not the case with Avenger as Fred Van Lente barrels ahead at full steam. It’s also wonderful to see a perfectly clear continuation from Queen of the Black Coast; a powerfully depressed Conan continues to see Bêlit throughout the issue. It’s also very interesting to see how Van Lente seems to have shifted the tone of his writing subtly between People of the Black Circle and now. This first issue maintained the classic narration found throughout the overall series, but somehow felt more casual and ‘fun’, even with the currently grim circumstances of the protagonist. Despite this, the language and general tone of the writing remains incredibly intelligent and profound. The various character interactions throughout this first installment were perfectly executed and really enjoyable; this issue did a great job of grabbing the reader’s interest and maintaining that throughout. There are a couple of very interesting plot points going on in the book, which seem to converge at the ending. Overall, the issue moved at a swift pace that kept the action and intrigue rolling.
With another new series, we of course have a new artist on board for the first story arc. Brian Ching takes over for Shadows Over Kush and he brings the goods. After Wood’s run, with an alternating artist for every story arc, fans are probably over any major issues with varied styles for Conan by now. However, Ching really delivers an interesting overall appearance that not only looks different, but is surprisingly well-suited to the character and story. There is a lot of detail in the illustrations particularly regarding just how filled out each panel is, while still possessing a very gritty overall tone. The characters and designs are interesting, yet remain true to what we have seen previously. With Avenger, we also see a new colorist brought on board. Like his collaborators on this project, Michael Atiyeh absolutely knocks it out of the park. The whole book looks shockingly vibrant and lush, without ever appearing overdone or cartoony. The vibrancy brings a ton of life to each scene, even some of the darker moments, and really enhances the overall depth of the visuals.
Fellow long-time fans of Conan, you may rest easy. In this first installment of Conan the Avenger, the protagonist really feels true to the character that we’ve grown to love over so many years. The story perfectly transitions from the previous series, while still really pushing the latest plot forward in a brisk and exciting way. Cheers to this latest creative team for continuing to do justice to this character and his incredible world.