Last Updated on December 28, 2023
Titan Comics’ Conan the Barbarian issue 6 opens immediately after the previous issue left off. Conan and the Gloryhounds—the overambitious band of thieves Conan is effectively babysitting—have succeeded in getting their hands on Tarim’s Touch, only to discover that careless handling of the black stone relic has unleashed a trio of ravening spectral guardians. Trapped between an incorporeal threat and a temple swarming with alerted Bel worshipers, Conan and the thieves must battle their way to freedom.
Despite the considerable gap in time and geographical distance between the current events and those of Conan the Barbarian issues 1-4, in “Thrice Marked for Death! Part II: Cursed” writer Jim Zub makes plain the connections to the previous “Bound in Black Stone” story arc. It’s confirmed that Tarim’s Touch is composed of the same supernaturally infused black stone that had such a malevolent effect on the Cimmerian countryside, and the specters that escaped from the relic follow the same dark tentacled god that Conan faced off against in his homeland. In the Marvel Comics and Dark Horse versions of the Conan the Barbarian comic, even the longest plotlines were generally neatly confined to a single arc of about five or six issues, so it’s interesting to see Zub attempt some longer-form storytelling in the Titan Comics incarnation. Conan’s adventures aren’t necessarily desperately crying out for ongoing continuity, but I’m not opposed to its introduction.
As hoped, Conan’s slain pirate queen Bêlit (originally appearing in Robert E. Howard’s 1934 Weird Tales story “Queen of the Black Coast”) makes another appearance through flashbacks. In the previous issue, the tragic loss of Bêlit is used to explain Conan’s current state of nihilistic dissolution, but here it highlights that Conan already has some experience with spirits and the afterlife, even before encountering the specters from the black stone. Where Bêlit’s fierce love allowed her soul to briefly return from the realm of the dead and save Conan’s life at the climax of “Queen of the Black Coast” (also a scene adapted and given to Valeria in the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film), now he faces spirits resurrected to kill again in their master’s name. As a fan of the original Howard stories, I appreciate seeing the events of the classic tales incorporated into newer adventures in this way. However, I suspect that newcomers unfamiliar with the “Queen of the Black Coast” short story or its previous comic adaptations may not be getting the full effect of the Bêlit flashbacks.
The artwork continues to appeal. Diego Rodriguez does some excellent work with the color in this issue. After so many sepia-toned scenes lit by torch and lantern-light in the previous issue, the unearthly green glow of the specters has real impact. In terms of the line artwork, I still think Doug Braithwaite makes Conan’s face too lined for this early stage in his life, but that can be explained away as the Cimmerian’s lack of access to sunscreen. On a more positive note, Braithwaite shows him wearing the classic disc-shaped necklace from the earliest issues of Marvel’s 1970s Conan the Barbarian, a fun visual throwback to Barry Windsor-Smith’s depiction of the character.
Conan the Barbarian issue 6 answers some questions while raising several more. I’m excited to learn more about the black stone and its ghostly servants, and I hope to continue to see Conan’s past with Bêlit influence his current adventure.