When enjoying a Conan story – or really most kinds of pulp – it’s important to have the right mindset. Certain things will happen. Vengeance will be sworn, a night of passion will be had, and many foes will be slain by sword or axe. But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. When we enjoy one of these tales of heroics we know exactly where it’s going, but the skill is in the telling. This is how we measure the success or failure of the writer.
It was his ability to tell these stories in a way that invoked a rich world with a deeply charismatic hero that made Conan’s creator, Robert E. Howard, a master of the genre. Fortunately, it seems that Jim Zub is proving worthy of carrying that torch. Last issue danced a little too closely to cliché at times but now with Titan Comics’ Conan the Barbarian: Bound in Black Stone #2 – Homeland!, his characters still speak with a very specific type of tone, but it no longer feels as thouh Zum is directly quoting from a few favourite books and films. This matters because, despite the fact that these people might speak in a particular way, or act in a manner we may even be able to anticipate, the genuinely difficult skill is to stop the whole thing feeling like it could be found on the pages of Harvard Lampoon. So far, so good, which is great news as the story that is beginning to unfold feels as though it could become something incredibly special.
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This is why it’s fantastic Zub is working with artist and colour artist Rob De La Torre and Dean White. Last issue’s stand out two page spread was a highlight, but it has been absolutely knocked into a barely remembered memory by the stunning reveal of Conan and his Pict companion Brissa’s shared vision. But throughout the issue the work of the pair is wonderfully evocative. With a simple palette used once again to inspire and enhance each emotional beat, coupled with strong lines and that almost noir use of shadow, their work continues to bring together intimacy and epic grandeur, drawing us deeper into this familiar yet cleverly alien world.
Two other contributors well worthy of mention are artists Alan Quah and Francesca Baerald. Conan has been the subject of many fantastic works of art over the years, and it takes a lot to create a portrait that stands apart in such a crowded field, but Quah’s cover is an absolute gem. The very definition of ‘bloodied yet unbowed’, with ash, smoke, and fire swirling about him, few artists have captured the brutal determination that makes Conan such a powerful character. Plus, he looks so cool.
Then there is that often overlooked but for many of us key aspect of these worlds: the map. A good fantasy map is a joy to behold, and Baerald has created a wonderful interpretation of the Hyborian Age, part of which appears near the front. We first saw the map in #1, both this section and a gorgeous, full, double page spread at the end. It replaced a deeply awful CG -looking thing from issue #0, but if there was a credit given then, it was very hard to find. It’s nice to properly see her name now, as she deserves a big thumbs up. Perhaps in a future issue we’ll see her name along side another full print. The art deserves it.
With an enemy of terrifying power, no one to rely on but themselves, and a climate so cold that on page 18 Conan actually puts on a tunic, issue #2 builds on and develops a very solid base into a comic that is a genuine page turner as you join our heroes trying to find out what’s happening now and what will happen next. As this series picks up speed, it really is almost thrilling waiting for the next instalment. If you do get into it, make sure you get a few friends to buy it, too. You’re going to want to talk to them about what’s going on.
Conan the Barbarian #2 is out now from Titan Comics.