Conan the Barbarian #1 – Comic Review

First published in 1932, Conan the Barbarian is indisputably Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation. The indomitable Cimmerian helped popularise the swords and sorcery genre; a style Howard basically created. Quickly imitated and even pastiched, the character was never bettered, yet, after Howard’s sad and untimely death in 1936, it took a few years before new stories were created.

Still, in 1967, paperbacks including the original Howard tales as well as new ones were released, introducing the barbarian to a mainstream audience, and he was a hit. This was soon followed by his first appearance in comics in 1970 (or, technically, in the 1950s, but that’s like calling Never Say Never Again a real Bond film). Since then there have been various tellings and retellings by assorted publishers and now Titan Comics have launched a new series.

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We first got a sneak preview of what to expect during this year’s Free Comic Book Day. Conan the Barbarian #0 reintroduces the eponymous hero and now issue #1 ‘Bound in Black Stone Part 1: Scourge of the Dead’ has been released. Fans of the character won’t be disappointed. The story starts with a tavern brawl and there is plenty of action throughout. But writer Jim Zub is smart enough to show the taciturn Conan as a simple, but not simplistic character.

Too often people mistakenly see him as a blunt instrument, but rather, Conan is more like an arrow from the bow. There may be a lot of thought behind his intention but, once he has decided a course of action, he will take the most direct route possible, with nothing and no one getting in his way. Yet it is hard to write a character like Conan without at least flirting with cliché, and at times it feels that Zub may have gone as far as second base. But this is the first (proper) title in the series, so unsubtly establishing the facts that buxom barmaids find Conan irresistible, he follows no man, and of course that he is ‘bread for battle’, should be given a pass. After all, Conan’s roots are unashamedly in pulp, and it does feel that it is here that inspiration has been sought.

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The art and inks from Roberto De La Torre and José Villarrubia reflect the different aspects of the world we’re seeing. Despite using what feels like a restricted palette, we’re still taken from the vividly colourful bar fight to a cold, grey memory of Cimmeria.

The sense of movement captured, coupled with an almost sketchy approach to the characters and at times total disregard for scenery, creates stark yet strikingly absorbing, brutal imagery. The double page, single panel moment where Conan faces an oncoming horde is glorious, and if it’s any indication of where this series is headed we’re in safe hands.

All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read, one that old fans will welcome whilst being accessible to anyone new to the character. If you’re in the mood for some old-fashioned, low fantasy swordplay be sure to grab this title.

Conan the Barbarian #1 is out on 2nd August from Titan Comics.

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