REVIEW: Conan the Barbarian #11 by Jim Zub (W) and Roberto De La Torre (A)

At the conclusion of Conan the Barbarian issue #10, Kull led Conan, Brule, and the Red Slayers to his homeland in Atlantis, only to find that the village of his birth has been replaced by a yawning abyss. As the party descends into the chasm, Conan flashes back to his conversation with Yag-Kosha (in Conan the Barbarian issue #9), a pachyderm-headed alien god who he slayed a decade ago in his own life (during the events of the 1933 Robert E. Howard story “The Tower of the Elephant”), yet encountered alive and well just days ago in Valusia. Yag-Kosha emphasizes that Conan’s soul has been “set adrift” in time, but that his fate is entwined with Brissa, a Pictish warrior woman from his own era (missing and presumed dead as of the conclusion of Conan the Barbarian issue #4) and her distant ancestor Brule.

Conan The Barbarian #11Upon reaching the bottom of the pit, Conan and Kull discover a series of ancient cyclopean chambers that—judging from the arms and armor left behind—appear to have once been inhabited by giants. The situation quickly becomes deadly as the explorers inadvertently release a horde of hostile subhuman creatures. Even accompanied by the elite Red Slayers, Kull and his companions face a difficult struggle.

Rob De La Torre’s artwork is a visual feast, as always. His John Buscema-inspired character artwork and dynamically staged combat scenes receive a great deal of justified praise, but his backgrounds are also worthy of attention. His oppressive monolithic architecture and craggy, menace-filled subterranean passages create a real sense of place for the events of the story. Diego Rodriguez’s color work in this issue was also effective. Whether an intentional reference or not, the bluish-white coloration of the subterranean attackers brought to mind the Morlocks from the 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

Jim Zub’s storytelling continues to excite, with the issue’s climax leaving this reader full of questions and wanting more. The flashback to Conan’s conversation with Yag-Kosha felt a little lengthy and redundant, however. By this point it should be abundantly clear to both the reader and Conan himself that the barbarian is outside of his natural place in time and space. Additional, talk of “fate” and “destiny” in Conan pastiche never sits well with me. While there was occasional foreshadowing in the Howard stories that Conan would one day become a king, I’ve never had the sense that outside forces were in play or that his claiming the throne was in any way preordained. Much of the appeal of Conan is that he is a self-made hero who uses his wits, skills, and physique to accomplish his objectives. He’s no “chosen one”; Conan forges his own destiny.

On the other hand, while Howard purists may balk, I appreciate that Zub has been incorporating elements of the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film into the comic. While originally created by Howard as an antagonist for King Kull, Thulsa Doom was the memorable movie villain and has been an “off-screen” presence in this comic since the first story arc. Movie fans will also doubtless appreciate the appearance in this issue of a certain instantly recognizable sword.

This issue features not one but two essays by Robert E. Howard expert Jeffrey Shanks. The first goes into detail about Thulsa Doom. In addition to listing Thulsa Doom’s appearances across Howard’s body of work, Shanks also suggests that the skull-headed sorcerer was an inspiration for both the lich monster in Dungeons & Dragons and Skeletor from the Masters of the Universe franchise. The second, briefer essay examines the Nemedian Chronicles epigraph (i.e., “Hither came Conan…”) that accompanied Conan’s debut in “The Phoenix on the Sword” (1932) and has been a popular inclusion in Conan films, comics, and novels ever since. The premise of the essay boils down to “Some versions of the quotation begin with ‘Know, oh prince…’ and others ‘Know, O prince…’; which is correct?” This sort of pedantry is real “inside baseball” stuff, unlikely to be noticed or remarked upon by any but the most hardcore Conan fan, but the essay both informed me and made me grin.

With Conan the Barbarian issue #11, Zub has laid the groundwork for an epic showdown with the potential for repercussions throughout both the Thurian Age and Conan’s own distant Hyborian Age. While it feels like there may be too much plot remaining to neatly resolve in a single issue, I look forward to seeing where Zub takes us.

Read Conan the Barbarian #11 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

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