Has there been a more metal comic book than Kurt Busiek’s run on Conan this century? Well, if you don’t count Space Riders or Orc Stain, then the answer to that question is no. The character of Conan the Cimmerian (or Barbarian, or Destroyer, or the Avenger, or Baker, or Candlestick-Maker etc.) has been a mainstay in pulp writing, both prose and comics.
I recall reading Busiek’s run and appreciating the blend of new Conan stories with adaptations of some of Robert E. Howard’s original short stories and novellas. It’s a move that many creators should embrace more often when adapting literature to comics. There’s no reason the graphic medium can’t expand on a well-established universe while honoring the core material.
Luckily, Dark Horse Comics is the king of this balancing act (remember the Star Wars expanded comic universe? No. Well you damn well should; a lot of great stuff came from that era). With Conan the Slayer #1, they still claim the crown as they continue honing their ability to create fresh stories within intellectual properties that have been around for decades (or close to a century in Conan’s case).
Conan the Slayer #1 has our titular hero traversing a wasteland as a group of enemies track him down. Conan is battered and bruised but no less confident in his combat abilities (or trash-talking prowess). After a few lucky breaks (and several well-placed blows with a broad sword), we find our hero captured by a bickering family that happens to have a common enemy with the Cimmerian.
There’s really nothing new to this set-up. If you’ve ever read a Conan story, you sort of know where things are leading to. You can tell who the love interest will be, and you know which jerk is going to betray Conan (hell, you can almost smell the roasting meat of the comic’s sacrificial lamb). But with that being said, Cullen Bunn and Sergio Davila still keep it fresh and entertaining. One does not crack open a Conan story to be challenged. One dives head first into Conan for the blood and one-liners, which this book delivers in spades.
Bunn has acclimated to Conan’s world wonderfully. He understands how the character works and the serendipitous life our favorite barbarian leads. While there isn’t anything shocking in this initial issue, there’s plenty to admire. The dialogue is crisp and quite funny. The plotting is basic, but hits all the right notes in all the right places.
Davila’s art is also great. Each page is drawn with thick, fresh lines and the brutality of the action panels is slick and confident. I will say it is not as impactful as the pencil and paint techniques of Cary Nord (that dude is a god), but it serves the story well and is as fluid as the script itself.
If you are a fan of Conan or you just want a solid sword and sorcery yarn to tide you over this summer, Conan the Slayer #1 will be a solid entry in your comic pull. It’s fast, often funny, and thoroughly entertaining.
- Great art
- Conan’s dialogue is great
- Great start to great (albeit familiar) story
- Readers who are familiar with Conan may find it a bit too formulaic
- Slayer lives in the shadow of Busiek and Nord’s run on the book (given, that’s a pretty damn long shadow)