Collects issues 1-6
Writer: Cullen Bunn (Deadpool, Harrow County, Uncanny X-Men)
Artist: Sergio Davila (Red Sonja)
Reviewed by: Jarrett
Shout out to Penguin Random House Canada for the chance to read this book! You may recall that my previous review, also of the same character but from another series of his comics, was my introduction to the world of King Conan, the Cimmerian barbarian (who originally appeared in stories by Robert E. Howard in 1932).
Between reading that first comics collection, and getting more into the lore as well as rules for the new board game, I’ve come to crave the fast-paced, action-packed tales featuring Conan. Taking such an energetic, unforgiving character and putting it into the very capable hands of an author like Cullen Bunn produces this blood-soaked tome; a timeless story of trust/mistrust, jealousy, betrayal, and consequence, filled with equal parts sword and sorcery.
The tale begins in a most familiar way. I’m not sure whether just one other or many other Conan stories start this way, but I love how some of the very first text in this series perfectly sums up most of the Conan mythology: “…and burdened by a tremendous weight…not upon his shoulders but upon his very soul…hither came Conan…marching ever forward. Ahead of him, he knew, was his inescapable ending. Just as, far behind him, he knew…were only the uncountable dead men he had left in his wake.” These words are spread over several panels of art that match exactly what you envision in your head as you read them. Often enough, these books seem to start without really cluing the reader into where he’s coming from, but ultimately it doesn’t matter, and allows you to read them in any order you like for the most part.
Stumbling into an unfamiliar camp of raiders, Conan is spared and eventually befriends them. He earns the respect of the family who leads the tribe, learning they have similar convictions and codes of honour. As the plot unfolds, allegiances within the tribe begin to come apart at the seams and Conan is forced to follow his steadfast instincts, which have yet to fail in keeping him alive. The elements of subterfuge and betrayal lead to surprising revelations, not only for the characters but the reader; revelations not only regarding the plot, but also about the very “Hyborian” setting of Conan’s adventures.
The artwork by Sergio Davila serves the story well, filling any descriptive gaps with blood and motion. Again, as with my last Conan read, you can feel the intensity of the action and hear the fury of blades without the need for onomatopoeic words like “whoosh” or “clang” clogging the landscape. To that accomplishment, as I came to the story’s conclusion, I put the book down as if it had been a bloody weapon I was wielding, victorious and sated.
I found “Blood in his Wake” to be another great Conan instalment on all levels. Great writers like Cullen Bunn seem to have an easy time with this world, despite the fact in some ways it can appear overly simple at first glance. A good story is a good story, regardless of setting; which isn’t to say this setting is lacking! On the contrary: it is really beginning to reveal to me just how much action and intrigue can be woven from just such a world; a place where sorcery can allow for unknown or surprising elements where a story set in the real past (for example) cannot. The lack of technology and guns allows breathing room as well, prompting both plot and character development. If you’re looking to read something a little different from the most popular titles, and/or something that has a stellar creative team behind, this book will not disappoint.
Thanks to Penguin Random House I was able to read Conan Volume 20: A Witch Shall Be Born, a collection of Conan the Avenger issues #20-25. Here’s a review of my introduction to the world of King Conan, the Cimmerian barbarian who originally appeared in stories by Robert E. Howard in 1932.
I was motivated to read this because I’d recently kickstarted a board game based on the same character (in part because of how cool the miniatures looked), and although I was vaguely familiar with him thanks to an old comic of my father’s (not to mention the obvious/obligatory Conan the Barbarian starring Arnie and James Earl Jones), I was curious to dig deeper into the mythos to give the game scenarios more meaning.
I could not have picked a better entry point. This trade concludes writer Fred Van Lente’s amazing run on Conan the Avenger. He has cleverly intertwined brief passages straight from Robert E. Howard’s Conan story “A Witch Shall Be Born” from 1934, making this adaptation very true to the original novella. I know this because it was so good I went back and started reading the original.
In case you missed it, the blurb of the trade reads: “Taramis, the beloved queen of Khauran, was born with a twin sister, Salome, but by an ancient doom placed on their bloodline Salome’s chest bore a scarlet half-moon birthmark: the mark of the witch! Left to die in the desert, Salome survived instead, and grew up to embrace her malevolent destiny…and now she’s back, to take vengeance on all of Khauran!”
I found this pretty interesting because Salome (pronounced Salomé as far as I know), daughter of Herod and Herodias, is biblically infamous for asking for the head of John the Baptist – and getting it. Sure enough, it is strongly implied that the witch in this story is an (earlier?) incarnation of the same evil. The “ancient doom” is like a blessing/curse ensuring a baby marked as the witch will be born each century.
Conan’s crucifixion, a fairly famous event in the Conan mythology and only a spoiler if you’ve somehow missed the cover, was therefore an interesting touch. Lente captured all of the required elements of the original story, most importantly the pace. Speaking of which, part of what makes this such a great read is how fast the action feels and how quickly story elements move along; though, you do also feel the brevity of his suffering.
The artwork by Jose Luis, Brian Ching, et al is captivating. The foremost aspect that struck me was the colour palette used in any given scene / series of frames. The setting at any given time is clear and omnipresent, as you’d expect for a desert landscape in the distant past. The dreariness is perfectly counter-balanced by the urgency and speed of the action depicted therein. The artists did an amazing job of capturing the pace set forth by both Howard and Lente, at times making it hard to not turn the page before you’re done reading.
I can easily summarize my reading experience as spellbound, fitting for a story that literally defines the “sword and sorcery” genre. I didn’t expect such a page-turner considering I’d overlooked the character so long – too long. It’s safe to say I’ll be reading and reviewing a couple more Conan stories in the near future! Check this book out; you will not be disappointed.
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