By Cullen Bunn, Sergio Davila and Michael Atiyeh.
Dark Horse’s latest Conan title, Conan the Slayer, does a fine job living up to the publisher’s own, and personal best, point of reference for good Conan comics. Any fan of Conan – film, book, or comic book – should not hesitate to read the King Conan story arcs. They are incredibly well written and illustrated adaptations and tales that perfectly display what a Conan comic book title should be. Ironically this first issue of Conan the Slayer opens with Conan dredging along, beaten, broken and exhausted, which, if you ask the diehard fans, could easily be a narrative for the rest of the franchise aside from King Conan. On the heels of a disappointing run with Conan the Barbarian, nearly salvaged by Conan the Avenger, things were looking less than perfect. But if the opening page is a nod to how low things had gotten with the comic book version of Robert E. Howard’s most famous character, then the next sequence is a sign of things to come. In the same way a withered Conan musters the strength to fight back in a daring and confident attack, the series itself shows new signs of life that hold true throughout issue #1.
Cullen Bunn (Harrow County) takes the reigns scripting what feels just like a classic REH short story. The characters are typical yet rich, familiar yet strong and ultimately worthy of a Conan story. The politics and decisions of warriors with swords can be as swift as they are bold, and Bunn scripts the dialogue accordingly. By the end of this issue it’s clear he’s both excited and prepared for writing this series, and the purists may rest easy and watch it unfold without anxiety. Luckily this does not feel like a new take, or a reinvention, of what has made the character so popular over the last several decades. That said, Cullen Bunn is a great horror writer and he knows what it takes to make a good, scary read. It would be a pleasure to see if Bunn could find ways to infuse a modern storytelling aesthetic while maintaining the purity of the original source material. And if he builds on the existing dark, unholy side of the standard Conan universe then the readers could be in for a real treat.
Artist Sergio Davila (Sword of Sorrow) has an expert eye for detail, which comes through not only in costume design, but also in perfectly placed imperfections. Davila draws a world that is stained and torn, dusty and scarred. His battle scenes are savagely to the point and full of bloody dismemberment. Panels change angles for the sake of building intensity and a sense of drama amidst the necessary violence that has always been a part of Conan. The way in which he depicts key characters full body and stepping outside of the borders seems almost like illustrations for character style guides. Whether it’s Davila’s personal choice or it is written that way in the script it’s a move that stands as the kind of thing you can get away with in a comic book. It’s a welcomed feature that let’s us absorb and admire the characters, which makes for a well-rounded means of storytelling.
Overall it’s a beautiful book to look at, filled with warm, saturated palettes. Colorist Michael Atiyeh (Predator vs Judge Dredd vs Alien) has a clean and technical style that may actually be too tidy for this book. A degree of rawness would only serve the story whereas too much precision could hinder it. It’s a small thing to mention in this case, and Atiyeh is one of the most consistently expert colorists in the industry at the moment, but the book could achieve an all-new layer with even the slightest purposeful skewing.
This is a book worth picking up whether you’re already a fan or not. There are two covers worth mentioning for the variant collectors out there, one by the incomparable Lee Bermejo and another by Conan fan-favorite Mark Schultz. Both high-caliber illustrators do wonderful jobs here and if you don’t grab both covers, then you certainly can’t go wrong with either one, if you can choose between them.
Only one issue in to this all-new series and it’s more than tempting to say that the return of the regular monthly Conan title may also be a return to form. Exciting times!