KING CONAN (2021) #1/ Story by JASON AARON/ Art and Colors on Pages 11-14 by MAHMUD ASRAR/ Color Art by MATTHEW WILSON/ Letters by VC’S TRAVIS LANHAM/ Published by MARVEL COMICS
The first Conan story written by Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword, was a reworked version of a story originally crafted for Howard’s earlier barbarian hero, Kull of Atlantis. While most readers think of high-action and monster-slaying when they think of Conan, The Phoenix on the Sword was more focused on political intrigue, depicting Conan in his later years, after he had already become a king by his own hand. It was not until later that Howard began writing the more familiar tales of Conan’s youth as a thief, a mercenary and a pirate.
Howard never wrote a definitive ending for Conan’s adventures. He did speculate, however, that Conan would eventually grow restless as a king, and quest in the uncharted lands rumored to lie across the western sea. It is with that theory in mind that Jason Aaron spins this tale of King Conan, Conan’s Last Stand At The Edge of the World.
The action finds Conan shipwrecked, but far from helpless on an uncharted island with little hope of rescue. Suffice it to say the island holds dangers far greater than wild beasts and there is action in plenty for fans to enjoy. Yet there is a weariness and ennui to this tale, as Conan finds himself thinking on the adventures he has missed and the comforts he has left behind, wondering if it was all worth it in the end. In this, Aaron perfectly captures the restless spirit of Howard’s original stories.
The artwork is as excellent as the writing. Mahmud Asrar proved their worth as one of the great modern fantasy artists in earlier volumes of Conan the Barbarian and there are several print-worthy pages detailing Conan’s past in the middle of the book, which Asrar also colored. Most of the color art is provided by the equally talented Matthew Wilson, though I must confess a slight preference for Asrar’s solo efforts. Still, not a page of this book looks bad, and the lettering by Travis Lanham is also worthy of praise.
The only real flaw to King Conan #1 is that it is more likely to appeal to established Conan fans than newcomers. It is not inaccessible to new readers, thank Mitra, but the old guard will get far more out of this than anyone who just happens across this issue. That being said, this issue will prove a welcome treat for sword-and-sorcery fans everywhere.