This will be the first of a series of reviews of fantasy themed books. And by fantasy, I mean with a Dungeons & Dragons feel. Two just released, one still running, and one that will surprise you.
A store clerk that sold me the first issue of this series told me that the creators really went out their way to “feminize” the Conan character. A curious statement, given Wood’s politically aware stories and his tendency to write interesting female leads (with artist Becky Cloonan and Ryan Kelly in Demo and Local respectively), I wondered what this comment meant.
I’ve read the book since, and ultimately, it just means that Conan no longer looks ripped like a male figure in a Frank Frazetta painting. Conan drawn by Cloonan is slender and looks like more like any of the males she drew in Demo, which is fine, though it makes a casual reader wonder what stage of life Conan is in now. Is he younger again or where Truman left off and just drawn differently?
The first Dark Horse series Conan in 2004 (shortly before Conan creator’s Robert E. Howard’s centennial) started the title character off young and written by Kurt Busiek. It was pretty daring given that in that his re-imagining, the larger than life Conan screwed up more than a littlet, and his larger than life mistakes affected everyone around him, even spanning across nations before he ever left home. Conan was heroic, but his missteps had Groo-like repercussions.
The rest of that series and the second one that followed (Conan The Cimmerian) was headed by Tim Truman, with the second series featuring a more experienced and grizzled Conan. It reminded me of the old Marvel magazine stories from the 80’s which were prettily drawn sword and sorcery that got repetitive after a while. Truman’s tales were pretty competent (and touched with Truman’s sense of humor), but it felt more formulaic with little purpose other than to keep a Conan book on the market, especially with a film coming out.
With the movie long since out and bombing, we have another relaunch in Conan The Barbarian. It’s not bad, as far as story set ups go (as far as Conan fans need set ups, let alone one to a long-promised adaptation). The store clerk also told me that this version of Conan was “nicer,” and I can kind of see why. He forces a ship to aid him but takes responsibility for them being in trouble and helping them with the pirate Bêlit. I haven’t read the original “Queen of The Black Coast, so I don’t kow if this is directly adapted from the story or a tweak on the part of Wood, whose prose is functional so far, if not exciting.
This is a later story from Howard’s career, so maybe Dark Horse is still keeping a chronology with Conan. Also, this is an adaptation of Conan’s first love. Maybe this will be a “feminized” Conan after all? More importantly, this is a story that has a romantic hook that Wood and Cloonan are both familiar with using. Hopefully, this will help them. Any licensed character like Conan exists primarily due to licensing and not for a great desire to tell new stories (though it’s good if the writer brings that). Hopefully, there will be enough that Wood and Cloonan can inject into the new storyline to keep readers coming back. I feel like I’ve got enough curiosity in me to buy issue #2, which. Given how writing will for long-lived properties can be such an uphill battle sometimes, this seems like a good start.