When we last left King Conan, the eponymous warrior had revealed he was no longer a king at all. As if that weren’t bad enough, he and his unlikely companion had found themselves surrounded by ghouls of all shapes and sizes. This issue starts right up where the last left off, both in terms of narrative and in tone. Conan’s battle against the hordes of the undead is fierce and bloody, but the touches of gallows humor are what really sucked me in. Conan is having none of it.
Mahmud Asrar and Matthew Wilson set the scene splendidly, showing us an expansive island teeming with zombies, all of them in various states of decay and all of them single-minded in their desire to feast upon the former king. From jaws barely holding in place to the various bits flying about the area thanks to Conan’s blade, the detail here is as stunning as it is horrifying. Wilson gives the land an otherworldly tone, the sky painted various purples and pinks and the dead themselves rendered in cold, anemic hues that seem far too sickly to exist in nature.
The flashbacks continue throughout this issue, as Jason Aaron explores a very different kind of horror: war. Specifically, this issue shows how a Conan’s desire for battle eventually led to a splinter between himself and his son, Prince Conn. So many stories taking place during Conan’s reign have shown us how he continued to fight into his old age, or have otherwise pitted the aged monarch against vicious warlords who sought to steal his throne. Here, however, we find a Conan who doesn’t realize that his kingdom has outgrown him. When there are no more worlds left to conquer, of what use is a conqueror?
Conan’s stubbornness in the face of peace also leads to a series of flashbacks-within-flashbacks, which are colored by Asrar and feel of a piece with classic pulp paperback covers. Each of these tells its own brief short story and give readers a glimpse of what Conan believes were his best years. Conan, like many misguided leaders before him, has seemingly taken the wrong messages from his past, but Asrar and Aaron do a hell of a job of convincing us that there’s some merit to the old warrior’s nostalgic monologues.
The “present day” portion of the story definitely takes a backseat in this issue, but the story is no less compelling. Conan continues to make powerful enemies by thinking with his sword before consulting his conscience. As the final images of this issue show us, that may lead to his undoing.
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