CONAN THE AVENGER #1/ Written by FRED VAN LENTE/ Art by BRIAN CHING / Colors by MICHAEL ATIYEH / Letters by RICHARD STARKINGS & COMICRAFT / Published by DARK HORSE COMICS
Shumballa – a city in turmoil! There has always been tension between the native Gallahs and the Stygian-born Chagas – the elite caste who conquered the Kingdom of Kush generations ago. Yet that tension has been made worse by a series of strange portents, with Gallah women giving birth to abominations that are more snake than man! Rumors persist in the marketplaces that the king’s sister is a witch and that she is responsible for the accursed births.
Such news and politics hold little interest for Conan of Cimmeria. Indeed, there is little that interests Conan besides strong drink since the death of his first love, the pirate queen Belit. But fate has a way of finding men like Conan, no matter how deeply they try to crawl inside their ale jacks. For Shumballa is a city of rogues who will take advantage of a drunken stranger and even now a witch-hunter seeking the magic-user responsible for cursing the young mothers has set his sights on Conan…
The story Fred Van Lente spins here is steeped in the lore of Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria. The conflict between the two races of Kush makes for a strong background in which to tell a tale. Van Lente also writes a mean fight scene and the action – once Conan is roused to it – flows as quickly and powerfully as the blood of Conan’s enemies.
Unfortunately, the story does suffer somewhat in regards to continuity, as the opening sections of this story – in which a drunken Conan drowns his sorrows while pondering his lack of purpose in living without Belit – seem to rehash the final arc of Brian Wood’s Conan The Barbarian. To Van Lente’s credit, Conan’s turn-around in this issue seems far more in-character than what happened in Wood’s story, but this does nothing to ease the sense of redundancy.
A larger problem with Van Lente’s story is a lack of logic. We are told the streets of Shumballa are filled with slavers and Conan easily falls prey to these scoundrels in his drunken state. Yet the slavers – despite being slavers – elect to take all of Conan’s stuff and dump his drunken backside in a garbage pit rather than enslaving him. Naturally, their actions give Conan the boot to the backside he needs to take command of his life once more, yet one wonders why the slavers didn’t add Conan to their inventory?
The artwork by Brian Ching may offer an answer to that question. Clad in only a loincloth, Conan looks terrible. Emaciated. Overly-thin. He somehow has more meat on his calves than his thighs! Apparently weeks of cheap wine have taken their toll on Conan and he is in terrible shape as a result.
That might be a logical explanation for why the slavers decided Conan wasn’t worth capturing except for one small problem – every other character in this comic is possessed of a similarly warped physique! Ching’s sense of proportion is awful, to put it mildly. What is worse, he’s a terrible fight choreographer. There is one particularly loathsome image on the final page, which depicts Conan leaping at an enemy with one leg curled up underneath him. Ignoring the awkwardness of the position, the scene is made all the worse by Conan’s enemy raising their spear up in front of his bent knee. This creates the appearance that Conan has lost his lower leg to the spear-thrust!
In the end, there is little to recommend this new series to all but the most devout of Conan fans. Van Lente’s script might be tolerable despite its plot-holes were it backed by decent artwork. The one bright side is that Dark Horse has apparently elected to continue their policy of rotating the artist on this series so we may have a worthy artist in two months time.