Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Brilliance of Conan the Barbarian

I love the current Dark Horse Conan the Barbarian series, written by Brian Wood. I have every single issue. However, I feel like out of all the depictions of Conan, this series illustrates him as least intimidating. For months, I have been meaning to write a blog post about how Conan has been portrayed in various comic books over the years, specifically criticizing Conan the Barbarian for making him look like a weaker Conan.

Well I'm glad I didn't. My entire perception of Conan the Barbarian changed after reading issue #23, the latest issue.

From Conan the Barbarian #23
Conan the Barbarian series tells the story of Conan and Bêlit, a pirate queen who becomes Conan's love interest (adapted from Robert E. Howard's Queen of the Black Coast). Let's face it, Conan falls head over heels for this woman because she understands him like no other. Now here's where the brilliance begins. The story of Bêlit is not a story of brutality, it's a story of love. So this series being named Conan the Barbarian is flat-out ironic.

Don't get me wrong, Conan is merciless in this series and he is shown in every issue as the barbarian that he is. But here's where it gets more brilliant. He's muscular, but he isn't huge. In some issues, he's actually pretty puny. He also looks young. I don't know if this was the intention, but the fact that he isn't huge with gigantic muscles conveys a sense of vulnerability to me. In this story, he needs that. Issue #23 was the second to last issue of this series and we've reached the point in the story where the love of his life Bêlit dies. This leaves him completely emotionally destroyed. I think this comic was such a beautiful issue because every single panel was a build-up to the climax and Conan ends up looking completely defeated.

Conan all jacked up
I think if he was depicted as a huge guy with tons of muscles (as he is in the current Dark Horse mini-series Conan and the People of the Black Coast), it wouldn't have hit me this hard. The lead up to Bêlit being shown hanging from the ship was so heart-wrenching and by the time Conan witnessed it, I was totally crushed (And I knew it was coming!). It was amazing. I know this isn't just because of how Conan was illustrated and the story was told really well, but what I'm saying is I believe it added to it in a subtle but meaningful way.

I've read a number of Robert E' Howard's Conan stories and previous Conan comic book series. I don't think that makes me an expert, but I feel like I'm pretty familiar with the character. All along, I was questioning whether or not the current Conan the Barbarian series captured what Conan is all about, and it turns out it taught me more about Conan during this point in his life. Brian Wood and artists of Conan the Barbarian have put together a must-read Conan series and deserve a ton of credit. I can't wait for Conan the Barbarian #24, the finale of the series.

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