REVIEW: Conan the Barbarian #9 by Jim Zub (W) and Roberto De La Torre (A)

As the “Thrice Marked for Death!” story came to its sudden conclusion (Conan the Barbarian issue #8), Conan had found himself under the sway of a trio of specters that had invaded his body and mind. Rather than allow himself to be reduced to a mindless puppet for their master Thulsa Doom, Conan marshaled one final burst of strength to turn his ancient Pictish blade on himself. The instant the sword pierced his flesh lightning struck, transporting Conan 80,000 years into the past. As issue #9 begins, a groggy and injured Conan immediately comes face to face with the fierce Pictish warrior Brule. While Conan and Brule once shared a brief otherworldly encounter during a desperate moment (Conan the Barbarian issue #4), neither have any memory of each other beyond a vague sense of familiarity. Unsure of how to handle the dangerous stranger, Brule escorts Conan to see his king in Valusia. While another familiar face awaits in Valusia, City of Wonder, so does a deadly confrontation with an unexpected opponent.

Conan #9Conan the Barbarian issue #9 launches a new story arc, “The Age Unconquered,” and also marks the return of artist Roberto De La Torre. While Doug Braithwaite’s turned in solid work for the “Thrice Marked for Death!” story arc, I suspect many readers from the Marvel Comics era of Conan the Barbarian will be pleased to see the return of De La Torre’s more classic style. Jim Zub’s narration meets the high standard set in his previous issues, but without drawing too much attention to itself this time around.

Appropriately, this month’s companion essay by Robert E. Howard scholar Jeffrey Shanks details the ancient Thurian Age in which Conan has found himself, epochs before his own native Hyborean Age. Home to Howard’s King Kull and Brule the Spear-Slayer, the Thurian Age is a pre-cataclysmic era dating back to before the fall of Atlantis. Shanks covers both the setting and its inspirations, and also provides a brief introduction to the King Kull cycle of stories. While not as widely known as Conan, King Kull was actually an older character. As Shanks points out, the very first Conan story was actually a re-written version of an unpublished Kull tale.

The abrupt and inconclusive finale to the “Thrice Marked for Death!” story arc left a sour taste in my mouth, but this issue left me feeling more optimistic about the direction of the story. It has been a pleasure to see Zub introducing references to other works by Conan creator Robert E. Howard, with cameos or dialogue relating to non-Hyborean heroes and villains. Readers who enjoy Conan’s adventures are likely to enjoy Howard’s other literary creations as well, perhaps they just need a slight push. In fact, Conan the Barbarian issue #9 feels like a “backdoor pilot” to a stand-alone King Kull comic title. That being said, part of me feels it is still a bit early in the Titan Comics run to dwell so much on other Howard characters and settings when new readers have spent so little time with Conan and his Hyborean Age. Crossovers, throwbacks, and referential Easter Eggs are fun for veteran readers, I just hope new fans aren’t overlooked in the apparent push towards a Robert E. Howard-based Titan/Heroic Signatures comic universe. That concern aside, Conan the Barbarian issue #9 delivers the thrills, plunging Conan into a desperate new situation in a vibrant and exciting setting.

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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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