Marvel Comics is in the process of reprinting Dark Horse Comics’ Conan series with Conan Chronicles, and this week volume 7 makes its debut. This latest collection is a unique offering in the line of Conan the Barbarian reprints, as it features every issue of the 2014 series Conan the Avenger. Written by Fred Van Lente, the nineteen-issue series features a younger Conan who is reeling from the death of his pirate bride Bêlit.
It’s an interesting experience revisiting this series after reviewing the first two issues back in 2014 since Marvel Comics has taken over ownership of Conan. Hell, Conan is even on an Avengers team! Getting to read most of this series in one sitting is an interesting experience since the story ebbs and flows as Van Lente figures out the story. Overall, it’s a decent Conan story with great action thanks to Brian Ching’s fight choreography that dabbles in the fantasy.
This collection opens with Conan in the dumps. He’s lost his girlfriend/queen Bêlit and he’s super depressed about it. He’d rather sit and drink and mind his own business. We all know that won’t last long, and quickly he is drawn into other peoples’ issues. He must fight zombies, a witch hunter, and eventually, in the series lead an army. Along the way, he’s after treasure, but for the most part, he’s rather unselfish and heroic throughout. One could surmise this is a series that’s about how Conan became a selfish thief and turned into the king we all know he’ll become.
From cover to cover, there’s a bookended feel thanks to a woman Conan saves entering the story early on who you end up caring about by the end of the series. She’s a bit of a damsel, but that’s where the “Avenger” part of the title of the series comes in. This is a version of Conan that’s a bit less of a bastard and certainly less of a thief. Due to his reeling from the loss of his love Conan is a bit more optimistic about saving others and being a bit of a leader too. That makes the series work, especially when compared to other versions of Conan who is more selfish.
The hand-to-hand combat scenes are also a huge strength of this series. Brian Ching gets top billing, but Eduardo Francisco and Guiu Vilanova are also drawing portions of the collection. Ching does a great job exhibiting Conan, who’s a bit more lithe. He’s thin, fast, and deadly as ever, but less brutish. Throughout the collection, he’s facing off against interesting-looking villains of different tribes and cultures that look cool and unique. The fantasy element for much of the book leans on these enemies and their foreign look, which does well enough to steep the series in fantasy. The art tends to be very superhero-esque and that gives the book a bit more energy (but less whimsy) than other Conan books have.
While the book opens with zombies, the fantasy element is rather tame until issue #13. It’s here that Conan ends up entering a mysterious temple that’s mostly empty. There is plenty of sword fighting, but the balance swings wildly in the last half of the collection. This collection also suffers a bit due to a slower pace. It takes at least three issues to get going and get the reader invested, for instance. After reading the entire collection it’s rather obvious the plot could have been condensed into 10 or 12 issues instead of 19.
Conan Chronicles Epic Collection: Shadows Over Kush is an interesting, albeit slower Conan collection. It’s cool to see most of the Conan the Avenger series collected in one place, which takes a uniquely heroic approach to the character. It lacks high fantasy through much of it, though, and what is here could have been condensed to make for a faster and more interesting read.
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