Was it truly necessary for Marvel Comics to produce a second monthly Conan comic? The market for sword-and-sorcery in the modern comics’ landscape is decidedly limited and Conan was never a big seller for Dark Horse Comics for most of the time they held the license. Apart from Red Sonja at Dynamite, there’s no major fantasy series that see regular publication on a monthly basis. Even then, both series began starting new volumes or titles to coincide with every new creative team rather than run a lengthy monthly book. Hence why the final years of Conan at Dark Horse saw series like Conan The Slayer and Conan The Avenger rather than a Conan title than produced hundreds of issues.
Regardless, hither comes Savage Sword of Conan #1 and this Conan fan is glad it came, necessary or not. Despite there being little seemingly separating this series from the new Conan the Barbarian title (the original Savage Sword was a black-and-white magazine aimed at older readers), there is still an aura about this book which suggests that it will be sailing darker seas than the other title by Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar. Thankfully, what we see here suggests that Gerry Duggan and Ron Garney are just the captains to take us to adventure.
The first few pages of this book make it clear that this will be a violent imagining of Hyboria, worthy of the Savage Sword label. Though we are treated to the cliche image of Conan on a throne with a banquet before him and a buxom wench at his side, this is quickly replaced by the stark reality of a delirious Conan feasting on raw shark as he clings to a makeshift raft. Things go from bad to worse as Conan is spotted at sea, only for the crew to be revealed as slavers bound for the ports of Stygia – the cursed southland whose snake-handling priests have little use for foreigners save for sacrificing them to their dark gods. Naturally, Conan has other ideas when it is suggested by a fellow prisoner he go to the slave-block quietly and the usual high-action hijinks ensue.
Gerry Duggan writes a spirited, ripping yarn. Thus far, his Conan is a warrior born who cares little for the why of things. While Robert E. Howard’s original Conan may have heard the philosophers argue in the temple courtyards and learned a thing or two about rhetoric, this Conan has no time for arguments about living to fight another day when that requires living one day as a slave. This leads to some glorious dark comedy as Conan finds himself shackled, literally and metaphorically, to a prisoner who was promised his freedom if he could restore the half-starved Conan to prime health. It spoils little to say that he did his work too well.
The artwork evokes memories of the earlier Dark Horse Conan stories, though Ron Garney’s style is all his own. Gritty and sketchy in all the right ways, the artwork is further enhanced by an excellent color job by Richard Isanove. The finished art has a slightly washed-out appearance to it, but one that suggests the weight of years having taken its toll on the pages. The power of the story still flows through the page, however, bringing its full weight to bear upon the reader’s soul.
Even those who have little liking for sword-and-sorcery would do well to give Savage Sword of Conan #1 a try. With a spirited story and visceral artwork, it’s an immediately memorable and eye-catching experience. Fantasy fans will fall in love at first sight and exclaim “Crom and Mitra!” This is the Conan comic fans have been waiting for.