The second part of “The Argos Deception” provides exactly the right mix of melancholy and might that fans of Conan look for. Conan stands at the foot of the gallows facing uncertain doom while the captain and crew of The Tigress prepare to pounce upon the unsuspecting port city. And it becomes clear to the citizens of Messentia, Conan and the reader that Bêlit and her crew have rightfully earned their bloody reputations as seen in Brian Wood’s fifth installment of Conan the Barbarian.
It was Barry Windsor-Smith and Roy Thomas who initially drew me into the fold of Cimmerian fandom with their introduction of their lithe and swarthy depiction of Conan. Later, I discovered the trade paperbacks collecting the collaborative efforts of Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord (along with current colorist, Dave Stewart) who reintroduced me to a more menacing and unstoppable juggernaut of a barbarian in their adaptation of the original Howard source material. And Brian Wood, like those before him, is solidifying his reputation as a writer who can truly bring to life the works of R.E. Howard in his own unique manner. While I rarely doubted Conan’s fate while reading the original stories, or even those of earlier comic book teams, I find myself now wondering whether or not this Conan is actually going to survive. The Conan of my past readings was strong, cocksure (take both the literal and suggested meanings here… ) and a force to be reckoned with. Not so with Brian Wood’s Conan. He is at times uncertain and often in doubt of himself and those around him. He is neither omnipotent nor stoic; instead, we see him fear whether or not he will die forsaken in this foreign city, and this provides readers with a new dimension to Conan not often explored. I do not count myself as a Howard purist, and perhaps my admiration for this aspect of Wood’s storytelling betrays me as such. But what I can say is that I do not feel as though I am reading some escapist form of stereotypical fantasy adventure. Instead, I find myself experiencing quality, high fantasy in comic form at its best.
I continue to find James Harren to be a wonderful replacement for the irreplaceable Becky Cloonan. Harren is able to capture both beauty and sexuality of Bêlit while reminding readers she is an equally deadly force of nature. Something I was impressed with in his artwork in this particular issue was his use of lines to emulate a sort of “snap shot” of a particular action sequence. Readers gain a sense of movement and direction, and given the one-on-one fight Conan is force to engage in, it helps the reader further immerse him or herself into the experience. Further, Harren has absolute control over the lines in each panel knowing when to depict certain characters with rough, scratchy lines to connote swift, violent action. Readers will see this most clearly in the way Bêlit is initially depicted when bargaining with the officer of the court to when she then butchers him in the alleyway. And little more can be said about Dave Stewart’s contributions that I haven’t already covered in my previous reviews of this series. His work is second to none, and the use bright, visceral colors to evoke the passionate intensity of his characters to the manner in which he brings Herron’s pencils to life continues to impress me.
This series only continues to get better with each subsequent issue, so for fans of Conan or fantasy in general, Brian Wood’s run on Conan: The Barbarian is an absolute must-read.