The third arc in Jim Zub’s run on Conan the Barbarian takes our Cimmerian adventurer to a new and mysterious land to the east, Khitai. Collecting issues #19-25 of the ongoing series, the bulk of the collection is comprised of the titular Land of the Lotus storyline. Also collected here is an engaging sea voyage tale that leads into the final celebratory 300th issue. It’s a cohesive collection that organically flows out of the climactic events of the preceding volume.
After coming into possession of an ominous blade that robs Conan of his mind and sends him into a bloody rage, he awakens to find himself in a foreign land. Still in possession of the cursed blade, he becomes determined to return it to its rightful owner, the God-king of Khitai. Before then, however, he will have to embark on a journey that will see him be a prisoner of war, a revolutionary, and framed as a usurper vying for the Khitai throne. While on the surface this sounds like an epic tale, it unfortunately struggles to rise above the ordinary.
The Land of the Lotus storyline as a whole is enjoyable but offers little new. The plot beats fall into cliché more often than not which doesn’t make for the most compelling tale. Our heroes’ journey follows the path one would expect right from the setup. Wrongly imprisoned, Conan must prove himself to his captors with the aid of a new companion, the spitfire Meiwei. The ensuing developments hit all the familiar sword and socerery beats filled with violent delights and bloody battles.
The best aspect of the storytelling here is Zub’s narration. His verbiage is full of wit and craft. When the plot starts to wear thin, the narration comes in to add a bit of flair that keeps one interested. Though it does not completely make up for the well traveled plotline, it does work to the benefit the reading experience.
The bulk of art duties here are fulfilled by penciler Cory Smith, inkers Roberto Poggi and Oren Junior, and colorist Israel Silva. Their art functions consistently throughout the arc and pairs well with the story being told. In particular, Silva’s colors work well in the more magical moments. The use of crimson reds and cool blues contrast nicely.
However, much like the storytelling, the visual sense of the arc does little to hit above average. With Conan being in a foreign land, one might expect to have some unique visuals to denote the strangeness of it or some grandeur, but unfortunately the art lacks this. The visual of the country looks exactly like one would expect from an Eastern country and culture in a fantasy world. It’s not bad by any means, but falls short of what could have been.
The storyline following this works a bit better. Upon Conan’s departure from Khitai, he finds himself in the midst of a voyage that functions as an extended setup to Zub’s portion of the anniversary issue. This tale very much rhymes with the tale of Jonah, as the idea of a passenger incurring a god’s wrath that brings destruction upon the crew serves as the backbone of the story. It’s engaging and toys with the idea of fate and and Conan’s reaction when faced with it.
Rounding out the volume comes the 300th issue special. This one is more ambitious than the preceding issues as the past, present and future of the Barbarian collide here. It also includes shorts from a myriad of creatives such as Larry Hama, Dan Slott and Jim Owsley (A.K.A Christopher Priest). Each offers their own unique short to celebrate the character and engross to varying degrees. The artistic talent here is one of the better aspects, as each artist brings their own unique flair. Paul Davidson captures the grit of Conan’s battles, while Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vincente use exaggerated simplicity to their advantage. This issue strikes all ranges and functions nicely as a coda to the volume.
All told, Conan the Barbarian Vol. 2 delivers a middling collection. Nothing groundbreaking or shocking, just simple adventure comics. One gets the sense these stories are not shooting for any form of grand epic but to just tell fun stories, and in that respect this volume hits the mark.
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