I don’t like writing something negative about Conan the Barbarian #16. It’s a book that is clearly written with enormous amounts of passion, and Jim Zub obviously loves the character. You can feel that he is having a really good time writing the book, and that he is obviously conversant in much of the tropes that underlie Conan and his sword and sandal wearing peers.
But, honestly, that familiarity is why this book fails. The book reads exactly like a Robert E. Howard book from the ’30s and ’40s, and while those Robert E. Howard books were fun, the comic also contains the same sorts of strangeness that those older books have.
I mean, zoom out for a second, and look at what exactly is happening here. Conan, the strong, pure foreigner from outside, runs into the effete, “Oriental” coded civilization, with their strange religion, blood sports, and decadent culture. Conan goes through harems, sneaks through strange palaces, and encounters the physically weak but conniving overseer, disproves the entire religion of his captors, and then escapes. It’s not exactly nuanced.
To be clear, that’s obviously not any sort of malice. Zub is just using the tropes that Robert E. Howard used, and that formed the basis of the – clearly very successful! – Conan franchise. But those were tropes from the past for a reason.
It’s not all bad, though. Conan himself is written perfectly: that perfect combination of anger, skill, hidden intelligence and cunning that so defines the Cimmerian warrior. The art by Roge Antonio and Israel Silva is very nice, and the characters are emotive, intriguing and move with a really distinct sense of vivaciousness and action.
There is a lot to praise in this book. There’s a lot of solid, powerful craftsmanship. But that solid craftsmanship can’t get past the basic fact that the story that Zub wrote is far too rooted in the past.
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