REVIEW: Conan the Barbarian Battle of the Black Stone by Jim Zub (W) and Jonas Scharf (A)

Set some years after the events of the current Conan the Barbarian story arc, Conan is shown working out of Fort Tuscelan, defending the frontier outpost from incessant attacks by the Picts (making this story a prequel to the 1935 Robert E. Howard story “Beyond the Black River”). Raids have been a constant threat since the kingdom of Aquilonia carved out the province of Conajohara from the Pictish wilderness, but Conan is troubled by their growing frequency and intensity. After defeating a particularly formidable foe, he discovers evidence of dark forces at work: a medallion carved with a strange “searing eye” symbol. Laying eyes on the sigil causes a flood of memories to rush over to Conan: recollections of his deadly encounters with the malignant Black Stone and its undead minions. Simultaneously, in other lands and eras distant from Conan’s Hyborian Age, other heroes have their own encounters with the mysterious searing eye…

Conan the Barbarian FCBD 2024: Battle of the Black StoneSubtitled “Battle of the Black Stone,” this year’s Free Comic Book Day issue of Conan the Barbarian is intended to serve as the prelude for a large-scale event that will get underway this autumn in The Savage Sword of Conan issue #4 and the Conan: Battle of the Black Stone miniseries. While the monthly Conan the Barbarian title has featured other non-Conan characters created by Robert E. Howard in the past—most notably King Kull—the Free Comic Book Day 2024 issue lays the groundwork for what may be the biggest crossover event the so-called “Howardverse” has seen to date.

While I’m excited to see the direction in which Jim Zub takes the story, while reading this issue I had a distinct sense of déjà vu. Back in 2019, when Marvel Comics still had the license for the character, Zub penned a title called Conan: Serpent War. The four-issue miniseries involved snake-worshipping cultists attempting to summon a malign god, an interdimensional and epoch-spanning threat that compelled Conan to join forces with some of Howard’s other characters, Solomon Kane and Dark Agnes de Chastillon, with James Allison appearing as part of the framing device. While there are some new additions, the Battle of the Black Stone prelude also includes those same three characters grappling with a supernatural menace that affects their own disparate eras in parallel. The apparent similarity between Conan: Serpent War and what we’ve seen thus far of Battle of the Black Stone makes me wonder if Zub is attempting to realize a creative vision that was either thwarted or otherwise left unfulfilled during his tenure on the Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian. Either that, or Heroic Signatures (the rightsholder for Robert E. Howard’s various literary creations) is planning to launch new comic titles for non-Conan characters and is hoping to raise their profiles in advance.

The Jonas Scharf artwork in this issue appeals. His Conan is a bit hairier than many depictions, certain to please the subset of fans who prefer to see the barbarian with chest hair and furry forearms. Scharf’s expressive faces are another highlight of the issue.

For those who were unable to acquire Conan the Barbarian Free Comic Book Day 2024: Battle of the Black Stone from their local comic store, a digital edition is available directly from Titan Comics. Foreshadowing an exciting event, this issue is engaging for existing fans while simultaneously providing a gentle introduction to newcomers to Conan the Barbarian.

Read Conan the Barbarian FCBD 2024: Battle of the Black Stone by Jim Zub (W) and Jonas Scharf (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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