REVIEW: Conan the Barbarian #1 by Jim Zub (W) and Roberto De La Torre (A)

This first installment of Titan Comics’ Conan the Barbarian is set eight years after the debut Free Comic Book Day issue. Still just 24 years old, Conan is already a veteran of numerous battles and brushes with supernatural horrors. Since putting his homeland of Cimmeria behind him, he’s ranged from Asgard to Nemedia, Corinthia to Zamora. As a teenager he left the burned-out outpost of Venarium curious about the outside world, only to discover dishonorable men at every turn. Tired and embittered, he has come full circle, to the northern Aquilonian frontier town of Hauler’s Roam, not far from both Venarium and Cimmeria. After a violent altercation with the incompetent and cowardly leader of his most recent employer, a mercenary band, Conan pauses to consider his next move. His respite is short-lived, however, as an enigmatic Pictish horsewoman gallops into town warning of the Army of the Lost: a horde of undead raiders. As the sky is plunged into an eerie darkness, Conan must once more take up his sword against a preternatural threat.

Conan the Barbarian #1In this first full-length issue, Robert De La Torre’s artwork continues to display a strong (and pleasing!) John Buscema influence without slavishly aping the fan-favorite Marvel artist. The artwork is dynamic and gory, with a surprising number of decapitations for a single issue. There’s also a single panel with bare breasts on display, perhaps signaling that this series will hew closer to the more adult-oriented Savage Sword of Conan magazine of the 1970s than the all-ages Marvel Conan the Barbarian comic that ran in parallel. My only complaint with the artwork thus far is that sometimes the “camera” feels a little too distant from the action, making faces indistinct.

Jim Zub’s writing is punchy but restrained. Quite frequently comic authors seeking to emulate Conan creator Robert E. Howard’s “blood and thunder” prose end up cramming too much text into the panels, paradoxically slowing the reader down with wordy, breathless narration. Zub wisely lets the artwork do the heavy lifting, highlighting and emphasizing the action with his text rather than unnecessarily repeating it.

As with the Free Comic Book Day issue, Conan the Barbarian #1 closes with another brief article by Conan scholar Jeffrey Shanks, this time entitled “Robert E. Howard and His Ages Undreamed Of.” As the Pictish people feature heavily in this issue, Shanks discusses how Picts, Atlanteans, Lemurians, and other antediluvian races reappear across Howard’s non-Conan work, resulting in a sort of greater shared universe. Shanks’ essays provide useful context for the original stories that inspired the comic and are kept brief enough that they’re unlikely to intimidate newcomers. Intriguingly, both this and the previous essay seem to hint that Titan Comics and Howard Estate rights-holders Heroic Signatures are planning to gradually expand their collaboration to non-Conan characters. Perhaps King Kull of Atlantis and the vengeful Puritan Solomon Kane are due for a comeback.

Titan’s Conan the Barbarian #1 starts off with a bang, very clearly setting expectations for the series to come. We’re introduced to Conan, given a quick demonstration of the rough honor code this barbarian lives by, and then see him pitted against a rapidly escalating otherworldly menace. The stage has been set for a compelling original Conan adventure and I look forward to seeing the creative team ramp up the excitement in subsequent issues.

Read Conan the Barbarian #1 by Jim Zub (W) and Roberto De La Torre (A)

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Robin Marx

Robin Marx

Born in Spain and raised in the United States, Robin Marx has lived in Japan for more than two decades. He works in the video game industry, handling localization and international licensing. In addition to over a dozen video games, his writing has appeared in a number of role-playing game supplements. He lives with his wife and their two daughters. You can link up with Robin over at: https://mastodon.social/@RobinMarx