When Marvel Comics revealed they gained back the rights to Conan the Barbarian and had Jason Aaron writing the series, longtime fans all swooned. To find out a separate Savage Sword of Conan series was also on the way was just icing on the cake. Written by Gerry Duggan with art by Ron Garney, fans were in for a treat. While the main series is insanely good, this separate project is without a doubt grittier and everything you’d want in a Barbarian series.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Conan, adrift at sea, escapes his captors with fellow prisoner Suty and a box he believes contains treasure. Opening the chest, the color sands inside gift him with a magic map that only he can see in his mind. Following the map to the Stygian city of Kheshatta, Conan finds much more than he bargained for, as others are after the treasure-including a dark sorcerer with an unexpected plan! A journey into the city’s mysterious underground reveals more mysteries, harkening back to the earliest times of the Hyborian Age.
Why does this matter?
Conan is a series that can easily fill two series, if not five. He’s always going on unique adventures fighting monsters, wizards, or simply men who have a desire for coin. This series is distinct from the main one, as it tells one five-issue story instead of the main book which tells standalone stories all under a single umbrella.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This series has every staple of Conan the Barbarian and then some, making it quite easy to enjoy for longtime readers. Gerry Duggan does an exceptional job drawing the reader in at first, opening with Conan drinking with a pretty lady with a fire roaring. As you turn the page you realize he isn’t eating fine meat, but a raw shark. It sets the stage for an adventure that is stacked against Conan and it’ll take all his luck and fortitude to come out alive. This is a miniseries, so it’s fun to see how Duggan fleshes out a key supporting character as well as throw a lot at Conan to overcome. It really does have it all too, from pirate adventures to sword fighting to dealing with venomous wizards. Conan has a stacked deck against him and only his wit and exceptional fighting ability can stand in the way.
If the main series showed how Conan is almost unfailing, this series shows how Conan can endure even the worst situation. The pirate theme works well for this character and it’s fun to see how Duggan and Garney integrate sorcery. There’s even a vision to be had, which is a fine element of the series as a whole and fun to see integrated here. It then evolves into an adventure filled with traps, secret treasure, and the acts of a wizard who wants to kill Conan. It also has a satisfying end that makes this entire read feel complete.
Color artist Richard Isanove does an exceptional job adding layers to backgrounds that would otherwise be blank, like in the opening pages with a fire roaring behind Conan midway through. The green venom infecting Suty is quite well rendered too, with its gross scaly look and sickly green running through his body. Poor Suty — you’ll feel for this poor soul who befriends Conan and then becomes cannon fodder for the Wizard. Garney does a great job making you feel for this character who is strong and trusting. Garney’s art is great and renders Conan in at times brutish and hulking sorts of ways. The use of shadow and big burly muscles makes him look almost superhuman. In the second issue, the pile of bodies seen from different angles and distances may just steal the show in this adventure. They’re quite disturbing, almost like some kind of monster.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The pacing of the story can be up and down with it slowing down in the opening, speeding up, and then slowing down again. All in all, after you read this adventure, you’ll realize only a handful of scenes took place, but it’s hard to resist how perfect this is as a Conan the Barbarian story.
Is it good?
Marvel’s return to Conan continues to be a hit. Duggan and Garney are capturing an adventure style of the character with a mix of monsters and magic that is not to be missed.
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