Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar’s King Conan jumps forward in time to show readers a version of the titular barbarian who is older and wiser, but no less deadly. This miniseries kicks things off with a sequence that shows just how little messing around there will be in this story. Things are off to a bleak start as Conan washes up on the shores of an unknown beach, which is covered in corpses. There’s so much death here that the waves are filled with maggots; clearly, nobody has ever escaped this deserted island hell.
And naturally, there’s a supreme satisfaction in seeing how Conan takes this latest horror in stride. He begins scavenging for the essentials, casually stealing weapons and rum from the bodies, as well as noting that there’s plenty of food here, if it should come to that.
Aaron is so comfortable writing this character at this point, and is clearly relishing the opportunity to show how the aged Conan has lost none of his edge. He’s always been a survivor, and there’s a kind of gallows humor that springs from how easily he adapts to every situation. Things get progressively thornier from there, but the Barbarian’s wit and cunning keeps him moving forward. Mahmud Asrar does a splendid job rendering the disgusting nature of Conan’s new environment and lends a fluidity to the character’s movements. Even at this point in his life, he still has an edge to him that propels him forward into battle. The colors from Matthew Wilson and Asrar lend a funereal pallor to the surroundings. This is a gross book in some spots, and the creative team doesn’t shy away from how bleak things are looking for the titular king.
There are also some smaller moments sprinkled throughout that show how far he’s developed as both a fighter and a strategist. Not only does this series give us a chance to see how an older Conan fights, but we get an idea of how much he has matured. This is furthered through a few brief flashbacks to Conan’s first days out of Cimmeria. Although Aaron acknowledges how green the warrior used to be, and although Asrar draws him with his head hung low and an uncertain look in his eyes, we get the sense that Conan never forgot his roots, even as a ruler.
A few of these jaunts into the past can be a bit confusing, as each one is a pretty significant jump in time. However, it feels like these flashbacks are going to have an accumulative effect when looking at the series as a whole. I’m curious to see how these looks back build upon one another, as well as how they inform Conan’s current state.
Of course, just because he’s wiser, it doesn’t mean that Conan is any less ferocious. There is a nastiness to the way Conan fights and plans here, and the tussle that takes up the majority of this debut takes Conan and his opponent from land to the bottom of the sea, all with a supernatural edge. With a fascinating twist, the first issue sets up a rollicking adventure story that will push Conan to his limits — and may stretch back through his entire history. It should be fascinating to see not only how this battle continues, but how it informs the transformation of Conan from runaway to monarch to prey.
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