Conan The Barbarian #1 // Review
The days of high adventure return to Marvel in Conan the Barbarian #1. Former Mighty Thor collaborators, writer Jason Aaron and colorist Matthew Wilson, resurrect Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian age alongside artist Mahmud Asrar, in inaugural story-arc, “The Life and Death of Conan.”
Chronicling parallel tales, this issue showcases Conan encountering The Crimson Witch both in the Cimmerian’s youth, and again as a wisened King. In their initial encounter it is established that The Crimson Witch seeks to use Conan’s blood to summon a demonic deity; the confrontation concludes with The Crimson Witch proclaiming a prophecy of Conan’s doom.
Immense fan service is provided by writer Jason Aaron, who hammers home the iconography of Conan, from recitation of the preamble made famous by Mako Iwamatsu (albeit a variation thereof), to noting the ambivalence of omniscient Crom. For the most part, the issue works as a reintroduction to Conan’s world, and doesn’t delve past establishing an initial conflict. The hook, however, is found in the declaration that “The Life and Death of Conan” will tell the story of Conan’s death. Given the sweeping epic that has been Aaron’s run on Thor, the expectation is that he would provide King Conan as masterful a death as he wrote for King Thor, particularly given his reuse of the same Beowulf-like story structure, seen in the paralleling protagonist narratives. While this may indeed come to pass, Aaron’s first issue does not appear to present anything momentous or inherently intriguing outside of the promised premise. The Crimson Witch is depicted as a fairly by-the-numbers fantasy antagonist of the week, with little overarching significance shown in the relationship between her and Conan, making her prophecy appears to be fatalistic to Conan as the promise of Trenzalore was for The Doctor.
Mahmud Asrar’s artwork depicts Conan in a manner more “rough around the edges” than savage, with his use of dark, thick, black lines giving the character a look that’s bold, but often static. Asrar’s art shines best in his action scenes, which exhibit more dynamism, and allows him to showcase more creative layouts. The brutality shown in his action scenes are visceral and bloody, but not bombastically so. Matthew Wilson’s color work compliments Asrar’s lines remarkably, particularly his use of reds in contrast to shadow, seen predominantly on battle-heavy pages.
Conan the Barbarian #1 is a fun, nostalgic return to a familiar fantasy realm, which will please long-term fans of the Cimmerian. Nothing challenging or innovative is added to Conan’s lore, however, so whether seeds of series sustainability have been planted, remains to be seen.