Conan the Barbarian #3 – Comic Review

Titan ComicsConan the Barbarian continues its run with ‘Found in Blackstone Part III: The Fortress’. Rather than stoically making his way through the northern wilderness our hero is now stoically making his way through an underground cultist fortress.

This is rather fun as he’s having to sneak about, which means for a lot of this title the voice of the narrator is one we are enjoying, rather than the voice of the characters. This gives writer Jim Zub the chance to flex his adjectives, crafting that boldly cut world Conan inhabits with deftly chosen descriptors. He continues to do an excellent job, clearly enjoying the chance to revel in a literature style which could have been built for classic comic books – though there is the odd overindulgence. Having to unironically read “a fate far worse than death” can feel like a fate far worse than death.

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It’s not just the language Zub gets to enjoy, there’s also the chance to break out the building blocks of heroic fiction. For example, in this issue Conan finds three more companions, Cimmerians who will go with him to explore this fortress. We’ve met one before, back in Issue 0. Though there he was a background character with no name, we now know this brawny blond is called Hyallan. The other two are Mago and Tormey. Long-time readers of Conan will know that bothering to remember the names of these bit players is something of a waste of brain space. Their role is to fulfil a classic trope in literature; their deaths enhance the dangerous situation our hero has to escape from. But to do that, they need to be seen as heroic, their deaths worthy. 

Which is a bit awkward. Though Roberto De La Torre’s art continues to impress, due to the heavier use of black ink in this issue, as well as the narrow palette, much of the dynamism has been lost throughout. The best example is the two page spread, usually the stand out moment of these books. We’re treated to the big battle: four desperate Cimmerians making their final stand against a hoard of cultists. But it just doesn’t pop like its predecessors. It feels flatter, as does a lot of the book.

It’s fine that the four barbarians all have the same skin tone – they’re from the same region – but surrounded by black their heroic stand becomes something of an amorphous blob. Dean White, the colour artist, is echoing classic Conan titles and it’s a legitimate artistic choice – after all this is taking place deep underground in a place which is lit by no natural source – but too many panels just feel swamped. Having said that, the final page is gorgeous, and a reminder that this series is able to boast some incredible, stand out art.

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Then there’s the character of Brissa, introduced in issue one, who will no doubt have her fans. At the moment she is a strong, noble, female warrior, the type we’re used to seeing fighting alongside Conan. With any luck she’ll be given the opportunity to grow within that role, possibly even surprise us. But, unlike the many Cimmerians who in this issue were plunged headfirst into the ‘glowing brackish water’, I’m not going to hold my breath. Yet even if she doesn’t do that, she remains your standard, Amazon type, she’s a worthy entry into the pantheon of Hyborian fighters.

Issue three continues to impress, the story is paced exceptionally well, propelling us along and adding enough elements to make us want to see more without shouting ‘get on with it’ as we read. Despite the criticisms here, the art is strong, creating a vivid, recognisable, yet different world. This remains a hugely enjoyable comic for newcomers to the world of Conan, as well as a worthy entry for long-time fans.

Conan the Barbarian #3 is out on 27th September from Titan Comics.

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