The tagline in the solicit for the latest issue of Jim Zub and Luca Pizzari’s Conan the Barbarian is “Conan unleashed!” If someone did a check on how many times Conan has been “unleashed”, I bet it’d be in the hundreds. Conan is one of the most versatile fantasy creations to ever hit fiction, and it shows this week as Zub and Pizzari take Conan on an adventure like no other where even he may have lost control.
This book opens with Conan cutting through beasts of all types, seemingly possessed and red-eyed. What looks like a lightsaber is gripped in his hands and we soon learn this blade is incredibly powerful. It’s in this sword the main narrative finds its conflict, which is a story that taps into the very soul of Conan.
The strongest element of this issue lies in the captions, where Zub has done an exceptional job getting inside Conan’s head. “His senses are flooded with tides of war. It washes over him. Visceral and relentless,” it reads of the seemingly possessed man. The captions are poetic in their nature and it washes over you, much like a good novel. Since Conan got his start in prose, it’s an aspect that pairs well with the comic.
The narrative focuses on this great power and how the allure of it tempts Conan. Those who enjoy a story within a story will like where Zub takes the narrative here, as it taps into an epic journey that could easily be built on and fleshed out. What it says about Conan that he even acquires the blade is a statement in itself and that adds to the lore of this amazing character.
Pizzari draws multiple locations well, like a body-ridden battlefield or dank workshops of pure evil. The style is a bit simple but fits into the storybook nature of the narrative. There’s a samurai headdress Conan wears for much of the issue that seems to suggest the sword comes from a culture far from Cimmeria. In a dream sequence later in the issue, there’s a good use of sweeping streaks to convey a breaking of the world around Conan. There’s also a nice touch of coins embellishing a woman and falling off into Conan’s hands that works to create a psychedelic trip he’s going through.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t quite work after a certain point. Once you get past the odd choice to have Conan desire the blade at all–usually he’s chucking unnatural desirous items like this sword the moment they come near–the story spends most of its time showing us a location that’s important to the sword and then diving into a dream sequence. The conflict is internal for Conan, so it works on some level, but it’s a melodramatic and unsatisfying climax. He must fight the sword’s wish for him to be consumed by it and then it ends rather simply. We don’t get to see Conan sweat too much over the choice and it never attempts to stop him beyond what appears to be a weak attack.
Conan The Barbarian #18 leans into the series’ prose roots well, capitalizing on some beautifully written captions throughout the book. It also drives home a story that has made Conan unstoppable, but also a slave inside his own mind. The ideas are interesting and unique, but the conflict is resolved too quickly to feel earned or exciting.
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