Comic Books & Graphic NovelsReviews

By Crom, CONAN is a Valiant Effort!

Conan the Barbarian #1 (2023)
Based on the character created by Robert E. Howard
Written by Jim Zub
Art by Roberto De La Torre
Colors by José Villarrubia
Letters by Richard Starkings of Comicraft
Published by Heroic Signatures & Titan Comics
32pg, Age 15+
Aug 2, 2023

Jim Zub has done his homework.

In this day and age, it’s more often than not that I approach any new creative work with a touch of trepidation. Will the story entertain? Will the writer try to lecture me or preach at me? Will the characters look like potatoes? The comics industry has been very hit and miss over the years, so much that I’d pretty much drifted away from comics for a long while. I don’t remember the last time I picked up a new comic book. Maybe Action Comics #1000? Detective Comics #900?

And I’m not a big fan of reading comics digitally, but that’s the usual format for review copies these days, so with teeth firmly gritted, I opened up Conan the Barbarian and dove in.

Right off the bat, Zub establishes some bona fides for established fans by quoting Robert E. Howard himself from The Nemedian Chronicles; and as we begin a new adventure, the first page is a classic-style map of the area to let us know where we are — something that helps new readers as well. And the splash page with the issue’s title and credits is a great throwback to Conan’s days at Marvel Comics.

We find Conan doing what he does best: fighting.

Set years after the battle of Venarium, Conan is on his way home to Cimmeria for rest and solitude. But as he travels through Aquilonia, he’s caught up in a new adventure when a scout from the Picts arrives to warn everyone of a coming threat. She gets to the town just ahead of a horde of foul zombie-like creatures, which hints at some of the supernatural aspects of the Conan legacy without going over the top (at least, not yet).

De La Torre’s art is very reminiscent of the artwork you’d find in Harold Foster’s Prince Valiant: detailed, epic panels with a lot of action that doesn’t get muddled. Others have compared his art to that of John Buscema, and I can see that as well. But the layout De La Torre is using here seems to be reaching back even further to the 1930s — selective use of white space, occasionally dispensing with boxes around the narrative text, and layers of characters in the action sets.

The story is very much a set-up to a bigger adventure. Zub first establishes Conan as a fierce fighter who doesn’t take orders too well; nor does he want to give orders. He just wants to go his own way. But circumstances are going to conspire to put Conan at the heart of a new adventure where he’ll have to battle fierce supernatural forces. Where do they come from? How did this ravaging horde arise to spread death throughout the land?

The dialogue feels like something Howard would have written today, and the art allows space for the text in a way that flows rather smoothly. There are a couple of places where the path from one panel to the next isn’t clear, but that’s probably me being the Old Man. Outside of that, it was a steady paced story with a good mix of action sets and quieter character moments to give the action room to breathe. Overall, a great first entry into a new series, and I can definitely recommend you pick this one up.

 

Conan the Barbarian #1 is on shelves now, and there are a number of variant covers available. My personal favorites are the one by De La Torre and the Marvel throwback cover by Patrick Zircher.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

2 thoughts on “By Crom, CONAN is a Valiant Effort!

  • I thought this was a great issue and the art was throwback.

    Reply
    • The first four issues are very solid! Great artwork throughout.

      Reply

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