This week, Marvel Comics is releasing the final part of Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar’s Conan the Barbarian story in trade paperback. It’s a finish they have been building towards since issue #1 that involves two creepy little kids, some incredible monsters, and an epic tale involving the literal death of Conan. It’s something we haven’t quite seen in a Conan story before, and yet it has all the staples that make us love this character. Incredible swordplay, unfathomable monsters, and an epic tale that spans an entire life of adventure.
I’ve been a Conan the Barbarian fan ever since the Dark Horse Comics stories captured my interest. The first volume of this series was excellent and in many ways the second volume tops it. I do highly recommend you read the first volume to truly get all the worth out of this volume, but you can also find some mini-stories to enjoy here too.
Come for the epic tale, stay for the monsters
There are so many monsters in this book to enjoy. Mahmud Asrar gets to draw a couple of different beasts in issue #9, as well as #12. These monsters bend your imagination to your will with some mind-bogglingly large and grotesque beasts on the page. Pairing these monsters to Conan only heightens the ferocious and heroic nature of Conan. His simple design and look match up well, serving as a totem of justice against pure evil. You see that across this collection.
Enjoyable for its long and short story elements
This book opens with a tale where Conan purchases prostitutes. They have no reason to trust any man, let alone one who purchased them. Along the way, though, they see Conan is no monster and is in fact rescuing them. The relationship they build pays off later and could have easily made the conclusion fall flat if not done right. As this relationship builds, Aaron does a good job establishing some mystery to Conan’s intentions. The relationship-building leads up to a fantastic twist and a plot turn that’ll make you want to see the prostitutes and Conan continue on inside adventures. It’s in this fantastically rendered single issue collected here, where you see how well this character works outside of a long-form story.
In another tale, Conan must fight off his own people in a snowy tale of mind-controlled innocence. In many instances, these sorts of stories require Conan to figure out what is really going on putting the audience right beside him in the mystery. It’s a good way to introduce readers to wild monsters and incredible mayhem.
That said, the two creepy children that have only been trouble for Conan — and literally kill him at one point — pay off too. Their story connects well in this volume and we get to see a flashback to a moment we saw in the first volume. Their evil nature grows some legs thanks to some evil magic and some Cimmerian blood and it ends in an incredible fight sequence.
The art is some of the best out there right now
Asrar simply blows you away on every page, be it a quick two panels to set the mood and location, or the reveal of the six prostitutes Conan purchases on page 2. Asrar’s style is detailed, atmospheric, and always compelling. There is deep storytelling at work in every panel, from the setup page of Conan riding a horse ahead of the prostitutes to the very next panel looking over two of the women’s shoulders as he rides ahead of them. There are emotional stakes seen in every face and a sense of wonderment or adventure at just the right time. The art is spectacular and should be the first and last thing on your mind when the story closes.
Gerardo Zaffino draws issue #8 (with Garry Brown on a few pages) which features Conan fighting his own people after being mind-controlled by a wizard. The dark and rougher style compared to Asrar’s suits the story as Conan fights in a blizzard at near dark. The Cimmerian people have a zombie quality, but nothing you’ve seen before. The look gives them a uniqueness that informs you it’s not a sickness, but a curse. There are some haunting images in this tale and Zaffino will bring you to a place of pure awe.
The complexities of Conan are featured well here and serve to show us how Conan can sustain a long story while also serve a shorter tale for quick entertainment. This is a hero of legend and each story only adds to the truth of that.