By Cullen Bunn, Sergio Davila and Michael Atiyeh
Dark Horse’s newest Conan title, Conan the Slayer, uses its second issue to further convince readers that the franchise is once again in good hands. After the first issue, which was a really solid start to the new series, Conan is no longer convalescing and back to his old, unstoppable self. What’s more, in just the second issue, the book feels ten times as “Conan” as the first issue, which, in hindsight, feels more like a pilot episode. Issue #2 may very well be the product of some valuable editorial notes because it manages to capture an all new degree of authenticity. Fans of the original books and of the comics – long term or new – will no doubt feel a level legitimacy worthy of Robert E. Howard himself. That’s the highest praise available.
But Conan the Slayer, while it may feel like a REH tale at times, is clearly not going to be locked into the source material and issue #2 pushes this first story arch forward and then some. This issue cranks up the sorcery aspects of what is essentially a book under the category of the Sword and Sorcery genre. However, as most purists will tell you, Conan is in a category of its own, so whichever way Slayer writer Cullen Bunn (Harrow County) decides to enrich his own take on the character, it’s entirely possible to go so far that it just isn’t a Conan book anymore. It’s happened before, but fortunately Bunn is definitely hitting close to the mark if not a direct bullseye most of the time. Whereas Howard liked to explored dark regions and the beings that lived there, Conan the Slayer appears to be bringing some of that darkness out into the open without wasting any time. These are comics, after all, and one may argue they should be fun to read, so why not go big right off the bat? Consider Slayer a sincere blending of everything that could occur in one of these titles without gimmicks or sharp left turns down uncharted and unfamiliar roads.
Sergio Davila (Sword of Sorrow) and Michael Atiyeh (Predator vs Judge Dredd vs Aliens) are on fire and it can’t be said enough – no matter what you may have thought of issue #1, this second installment is nailing it! In just a single issue the creative team has gotten up to speed and is running at a full sprint. It’s refreshing to see a comic that can actually compare to the, always successful, Dark Horse book King Conan. Here Davila draws realistic figures and structures with remarkably professional layouts. You can assume that even his thumbnails are worthy of praise due to the expertise present in his final art. Davila’s panel arrangements begin to tilt, twist and jolt with the storyline’s intensity and the borders themselves cannot contain a character when they decide to leap into action. There is a terrific sense of movement and forward acceleration during battle sequences, which are infused with fury and bold, brash attitudes from just about every single character.
Colorist Michael Atiyeh doesn’t skip a beat in rendering each panel with pinpoint precision, but maintains the sense of brutal reality required in a book like this. His colors are painterly and intense without being oversaturated. He creates another layer of storytelling without taking us out of the moment by way of overly polished digital effects so prevalent in mainstream comics. At the risk of sounding redundant this is a true Conan comic and the credit is due to the writing and art team’s apparent passion for the subject.
Conan the Slayer is fantastic from cover to cover, and we’re even treated to the second full-page biographical Robert E. Howard strip in the back of the book. Husband and wife team of Jim and Ruth Keegan (Centipede Press) have done a substantial volume of work on The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob, which are based on letters and other archived writings from his life. Their strip has been the one consistent factor on all of Dark Horse’s REH titles, and that look back at the author’s life only adds another degree of authenticity to the book overall.
This is one of those times where, if possible, this would be a 6 star review. The reset button has been hit and this is an all-new game.