“It’s the man most intent on avoiding a fight who finds himself stuck right in the middle of one.”
Conan certainly finds himself in many fights that he had no intention of avoiding, but it seems the fights that truly define him are the ones he begins by running away.
A few months ago, Dark Horse Comics rebooted an old comic franchise, Conan the Barbarian. Dark Horse has had Conan under their roof since 2003 but this year began the most recent iteration of this hero. August saw the beginning of it’s third story arc in issue 7 with Border Fury part 1. It’s a great place to jump on for new readers, but lets start with a summary of the first stories, Queen of the Black Coast and the Argos Deception. The reader first finds the willful yet charismatic Conan on the run from the guards of Argos. Barely escaping by horseback, he acquires passage on a ship called the Argus, lead by a man named Tito. Despite forcing his way onto their ship he quickly becomes a friend to the crew and pledges his sword to protect them. Soon Conan is defending the Argus against a pirate ship, the Tigress, which is led by the powerful (and barely clothed) Belit: Queen of the Black Coast. Charmed by her strength, or just the fact that she typically refuses to wear clothing, Conan joins with the crew of the Tigress and falls in love with Belit. Together, Conan and Belit are a powerful force, taking what they want through many raids and adventures.
In the Argos Deception the Tigress returns to Argos giving up Conan as their captive to claim reward. Belit and crew use his public execution as a distraction while the rest of the Tigress pull off a heist. Up until issue 6, I can’t say I was particularly impressed with this Conan reboot. The characters were pretty one dimensional and the story telling seemed a little simplistic. I had a tough time caring about a protagonist that lacked any sort of direction and I was a bit insulted by the overly objectified female lead, Belit. However, in issue 6, as Conan fights to be reunited with his love he has a conversation with a shaman from the Tigress, N’yaga. For the first time in the series we see Conan internally struggling with the morality of his recent actions and his desire to be free. This issue also brings a certain symmetry to issue 1. Once again he’s escaping on horseback from the city of Argos. As he ponders the direction of his life, N’yaga assures him that while Belit is complicated, Conan can learn to understand her as he fights to find the path between “chaos and desolation.” Conan ends up making the hard choice to love Belit, despite the complications and forge ahead with the adventure he is on with her. Where the first story arc seemed childish and naive, the second one brought an appropriate level of emotional gravitas to the book. The art matched the themes as well. The first three issues had a simpler, fun style from artist Becky Cloonan, but the second arc had a grittier realism delivered by James Harren.
In issue 7, series writer Brian Wood is rejoined by Becky Cloonan for part 1 of Border Fury, which is a great starting point for new readers to jump on. Conan brings Belit to his frozen homeland of Cimmeria and as they elude bandits we continue to see the level of depth and character development from the previous issue. Though I originally felt Belit was an insulting female comic book trope, we see a strength in her as she proves she is not a damsel in distress, despite being temporarily blinded by the new climate. The cold weather also forces her to dress differently so the writing has appropriately picked up the pace with her character. Conan returns to his homeland to seek the truth behind the rumors that someone has been killing and pillaging in Cimmeria while pretending to be Conan himself. We see more complex relationships as Conan is reunited with his mother who is not excited for his return. The elders insist that Conan ignore Belit and take care of his duties in the homeland. Belit feels judged and disrespected in Cimmeria for the first time in her life. As this issue closes it is clear that Conan is a hero with multiple forces working against him. After a slow start for the series I’m genuinely excited to see how this story plays out and deals with the various conflicts on the horizon for both Conan and Belit. So go out today and pick up Conan issue #7. If you’re a completionist like myself you might want to read the previous 6 issues. However, if you’re short on cash (also, like myself) don’t feel bad about just grabbing up the latest issue. It’s a great place to start for anyone interested in Conan the Barbarian.