When I found out Jim Zub and Rogê Antônio were taking over Conan the Barbarian story entitled “Into the Crucible” I audibly gasped. “Conan the Gambler” is a highly entertaining and well-layered story with tons of twists and turns that proved Zub has what it takes to make a good adventure especially for a hero like Conan. Antônio proved he can pull off the bulging muscle clad Conan–and those who face him–in the Conan 2099 story. Together we’re in for a treat, especially if you like death traps mixed in with intrigue.
This issue opens with Conan drinking and being merry but soon finds himself being pushed into a contest of strength. His competitors are not pleased as he defeats them and soon he’s kicking butt and breaking legs. This goes from bad to worse for Conan as one of these men was the city champion and so Conan must take his place. I will admit this same predicament happened in Zub’ “Conan the Gambler” story, but there are entirely different results here. The set up also includes a character who can speak the local language and plays a part in the death traps that ensue.
Yes, death traps! If you dig Indiana Jones you’ll probably love how this issue plays out. I’ll leave out all the details–this is an early review after all–but make no mistake there’s a good adventure vibe going here as Conan must decipher traps before they catch him. Conan’s wits are going to play a huge part in this series and I’m excited to see how Zub and Antônio keep his head above water (probably literally at some point).
The art by Antônio is strong, keeping the revelry fun and fancy-free early on and when things get serious quite sharp with easy to follow the action. A variety of characters are introduced and I think Antônio distinguishes them apart well enough giving each wrinkle to give us something to hint at who they are. Conan has a youthful demeanor in the issue that helps set the timing of the story. He’s not a teenager by any means, but he’s certainly not grizzled and scared either. That helps add a bit of doubt in his abilities since these stories may take place earlier in his adventures. Israel Silva gets the skin tones done right and the dry desert-like nature of the environment comes through in the city streets.
I will say one bit of dialogue threw me off. There’s a moment where Conan seems to doubt what he’s saying. It makes sense he’d be a little uncertain in a land where he doesn’t speak the tongue, but it’s very unlike Conan to ever doubt a thing he says or does.
I enjoyed this first issue immensely. Cut down the middle, it sets up the story with some good fighting and then breaks for some dark mysteries and adventurer traps. Sets up yet another Marvel Conan adventure worth exploring.