Conan The Barbarian_1_Cover_Dan_Panosian_Cropped

Comic Review: Conan the Barbarian #1

The name of Conan the Barbarian is rightly synonymous with action and adventure. Originally created by Texan pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard, Conan found a new life in the world of Marvel Comics in the 1970s. Much like the wandering adventurer himself, the Conan license has traveled from one publisher to the next, now falling into the hands of Titan Comics and Heroic Signatures.

The first issue of Titans’ Conan the Barbarian opens eight years into Conan’s adventuring career, long after he left his native Cimmeria in search of adventure. After having a falling-out with his current employer, Conan ponders his past and whether he should return home or continue to walk the path of blood and slaughter he has trod for nearly a decade. It spoils little to reveal that Conan has little chance to ponder this question before some supernatural menace drags him back into adventure.

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The script by writer Jim Zub provides a perfect pastiche of Robert E. Howard’s prose, capturing the soul of Conan as a character. A flashback to Conan’s first battle as a lad of sixteen summers establishes what little history need be explained. Avoiding expository dialogue, Zub wisely conveys Conan’s backstory through an action sequence.

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Zub shows who Conan is through the action, revealing him as a practical man and a survivor, rather than a hero. Despite this, Conan is ethical in his own way, living by a chaotic code of honor that drives him to refuse to follow a cowardly commander yet pushes him to save a stranger whose bravery in the face of certain death appeals to him. Zub’s Conan is as much a man of wisdom as he is a man of action who shows great cleverness in battle. This is true to Howard’s original character and a far cry from the cliché dumb muscle most imagine when picturing barbarian heroes.

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The artwork of Conan The Barbarian #1 is of equal caliber to the writing. Rob De La Torre boasts a dynamic, visceral style that is vividly detailed and as dark and brooding as the Cimmerian highlands in a thunderstorm. The characters are uniquely designed, with little details like a barmaid with an eye patch catching the eye in the progression from panel to panel. The action flows as smoothly as the blood that flows freely from those who stand against Conan.

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Talking of blood, it should be noted that those Conan fans who feared that Titan Comics would present a bloodless, sanitized take on Conan the Barbarian similar to the recent Marvel revival can rest easy. With a topless bar wench on the title page and literal hordes of blood-thirsty zombies, this book is rightly recommended “For Mature Readers.”

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The rest of Conan the Barbarian #1’s art team deserve praise as well. De La Torre’s inks and pencils are well-matched by the colors of José Villarrubia. The colors of this book are largely muted, which only serves to make the crimson colors of combat stand out all the more. Villarrubia also punctuates certain panels with strong tints that dominate the backgrounds to subtly highlight the foreground figures. The lettering by Richard Starkings is crisp and clear, with sound effect balloons used sparingly to present a more grim and realistic aesthetic.

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Those who have never read a Conan comic could not ask for a better introduction to the first son of sword-and-sorcery than Conan the Barbarian #1, and those who are already fans of Conan will find this first chapter to be everything they could have hoped for. As the barbarian himself might say, “By Crom, this is an fine tale!”

Rating: 10/10

Conan The Barbarian #1 arrives in comic shops everywhere on Wednesday, August 2, 2023.