The Conan the Barbarian franchise has made its triumphant return to Marvel Comics under the stewardship of Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar. The pair’s opening arc is called ‘The Life and Death of Conan’, and it’s an epic introduction to the next phase of Conan’s comic book adventures.
‘The Life and Death of Conan’ begins with a story cast in the typical Conan mold, with the character encountering supernatural menaces and solving the problems that undoubtedly arise with his fighting skills. The comic is action packed with a tinge of pulpy, Lovecraftian horror perfect for a character that originated in the pulp magazines. It’s an entertaining tale of swords and sorcery that’s only made better by Aaron making it part of a larger saga that span’s the entire life of the comic’s protagonist.
Rather than starting from scratch with a full reboot, Aaron’s story takes advantage of the decades worth of stories that writers have told of the Cimmerian warrior’s adventures. Spanning different moments in Conan’s existence, the issue begins a tale of the barbarian battling one evil across two time periods. This plot structure immediately sets Marvel’s new Conan apart from previous comics series featuring the character. It’s an approach to the story that allows Aaron to add his own twist to the traditional formula of Conan stories to offer readers something new and interesting.
It would be easy to compare this story to Aaron’s first year on Thor: God of Thunder, but the writer changes up the concept just enough to make the two distinct. In fact, it’s Aaron’s experience with stories of this kind that should leave readers confident in the writer’s ability to execute his vision.
In terms of characterization, Aaron’s script captures Conan’s voice and personality perfectly. Young Conan is crude, easy to anger, a capable fighter and rough around the edges. It allows for an interesting contrast with the older King Conan who is still the same very violent man, but wiser due to age and experience. Aaron’s epic, therefore, seems poised to do an in-depth exploration of Conan’s character beyond just being good at killing things.
Mahmud Asrar’s art is great, rendering brutal fight scenes and the characters that inhabit the story to perfection. The facial expressions are detailed, making the characters in Aaron’s script come alive. Every battle feels like it’s moving off the page, with no gritty detail being spared by Asrar’s amazing line art. All of Asrar’s inked pages are accentuated by Matthew Wilson’s colouring work, which emphasizes the mood of each scene, such as the use of intense red tones in Conan’s gladiatorial battle.
Violent, well drawn and featuring a great story hook, Marvel’s new Conan series is a winner. In fact, it could be a classic Conan story in the making.
Rating: 5/5 — Go buy this comic book.