Out this week is King-Size Conan #1, an epic adventure you won’t want to miss. Running 54 pages long, this epic anthology features some of the most important comic book creators to ever write the character, like Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek. It also features legendary Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman in his first-ever Marvel work, among many other incredible creators like Pete Woods, Chris Claremont, and Steven S. DeKnight to name a few. In this spoiler-free advance review, we take a look at a worthy Conan experience.
Dialing it back a bit, way back on January 12, 2018, I reported that Conan the Barbarian would be returning to Marvel Comics after a long and impressive run at Dark Horse Comics. The immediate need to show Conan the Barbarian alongside superheroes was unnerving, but Jason Aaron blew us away with his first go at the character. Since that first foray at Marvel, the hero has gone on epic quests taking him as far as Las Vegas and had him team up with Venom this past summer. It’s been a wild ride, but the year won’t close out without an epic Conan special like no other. King-Size Conan offers an impressive list of creators contributing to an extra-sized issue commemorating the 50 years the character has been in comics.
So what does that mean for this special? Forget Marvel tie-ins, this is the real deal that Conan the Barbarian fans won’t want to miss. Within these 54 pages lie five stories, some of which tie into iconic Conan comic book tales by the very creators in this work. The fact that Roy Thomas, the man who kicked off the adventures of Conan in Marvel Comics, opens this book is a testament to editor Mark Basso keeping this pure for Conan fans. This is without a doubt a special one-shot that feels like it was made with love that’ll make diehard fans very happy.
Opening the book is Thomas and Steve McNiven’s tale which features a younger Conan sick of his compatriots as he sets off for adventure. The story looks great as one expects from McNiven with colors by Ive Svorcina with great mood and atmosphere throughout. Titled “Aftermath–and a Beginning”, it’s a story that captures the loner nature of Conan and it also ties into an iconic past story very well. It’s a great opener for the historic value of Thomas, but also for the incredibly detailed work of McNiven.
The next story up is Kurt Busiek and Pete Woods’ “In the City of Thieves”, which shows off the less heroic side of Conan as he takes coin from who he pleases. He’s not stupid and will turn down coin where it makes sense, and Busiek does well to capture the younger nature of Conan who is a little bit more about drinking and less about serious business. Woods has a clean and pleasing line in this tale and his rendering of Conan is perfect as he’s much happier and even jovial in his pursuits. This tale also ties into one of my favorite Conan the Barbarian stories of all time.
Following this, Chris Claremont and Roberto de La Torre join forces with color artist Carlos Lopez for “Die by the Sword”, which serves up a more classic approach to the character. To say the act of war is brutal is an understatement and Claremont gets at that. There are pages in this story that are frame-worthy and worth a top spot in art connoisseurs’ homes. There is a heavy heart in this tale and it’s a fine reminder that Conan is a realist. This might be my favorite Claremont story in decades. Lopez’s colors capture beautifully the warm glow of sunset, and there are many striking panels.
Kevin Eastman writes and draws the next tale titled “Requiem” with colors by Neeraj Menon and it’s immediately obvious his style suits this character. There is fighting galore with great use of color to add a bit of glow to the pages and make the blood pop. The amount of hatching he does adds so much to every page, from texture to detailing in a face. The panel work is also quite tight and boxy, which helps set it apart with an indie feel that’s quite appealing. The story is good too, reminding us Conan pays his debts no matter what.
Capping off the book is Steve S. DeKnight and Jesús Saiz’s “Ship of the Damned”, which is quite possibly the most beautiful and realistic rendering of Conan the Barbarian ever. The book is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, from disturbing monsters to Bêlit’s pale white glow. This wouldn’t be a perfect Conan special without a pirate tale and DeKnight delivers on that front. It also ties well into the incredibly long and complex adventures of Conan, though I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers. DeKnight does well to capture Conan’s bravery, but also his commitment to Bêlit, showing a more tender side to the character. The atmosphere in this story is a knockout punch to end the book too, with incredible lighting in the day and under the decks.
The entire book is lettered by Travis Lanham, which gives the book a backbone of sorts. Lanham has a steady and surefire style that knows when to emphasize and always keeps the letters clean.
King-Size Conan captures your imagination — nay, it kidnaps it and doesn’t let go for a single panel of this book. This is a rich blend of nearly every aspect of what makes Conan great by an even richer collection of great creators. If you’ve grown sour of seeing Conan fighting alongside Marvel heroes in the 616, give this book a look as it’s a return to what makes the character so great. This is spectacular escapism highlighting the grandeur of fiction’s greatest barbarian.
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