Conan The Barbarian #1 Review

by Charles Martin on January 02, 2019

Conan The Barbarian #1 Review
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colourist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Conan is back at Marvel in 2019! What does that mean?

It means blood and steel and passion and so many decapitations, you guys! 

For an inaugural story, the creators give us a nice split between the young reaver Conan and the beardy King Conan of Aquilonia, two cunning heroes separated by decades but united here by a common foe: The Crimson Witch, servant of the dread demon Razazel.

It's a narrative trick that'll be familiar if you've read past volumes of Thor, but it's executed flawlessly here. The differences between the two Conans are subtle. While they don't interfere with the relentless drive of the story, they promise a lot of interesting contrasts for the future.

Visually, this first chapter is told with passionate, nigh-flawless skill. Conan's world of up-close combat, of gritted teeth and bulging thews, is the perfect subject for this strong, organic linework. This issue is full of heavy shadows and powerful motion, with beautifully-rendered details slipped in precisely where the story needs them most.

The colours are an integral part of the story throughout, but they truly prove their worth in the final scene set on an Aquilonian battlefield. The art lays down just a suggestion of the carnage left behind by King Conan's armies; it's the sooty grey of smoke and the grubby red of blooded earth that fill in the details and bring the setting to life.

This first chapter delivers everything you might expect from an all-new Conan story. And while that is a pretty awesome delivery, it's also a pretty safe one. The Conan formula is revived and executed with scrupulous skill, launching an entertaining story of swordplay and sorcery.

There is no challenge (yet) to the binary world Conan inhabits. Men and women, heroes and villains, fighters and wizards: Each pairing is introduced and set into conflict according to pulp fiction rules that are now at least a century old. While the result is viscerally satisfying, it also inadvertently trivializes itself. 

To really thrive and say something meaningful, this story needs to either deconstruct or reinvent its aged formula. Although issue #1 doesn't do any deconstruction or reinvention, the future holds promise. The split narrative, tracking young and old Conan simultaneously, could turn into an excellent story-twisting tool in the future.

The finale suggests King Conan will be subjected to a solitary challenge similar to the one his younger self overcomes in this issue. My greatest hope is that that suggestion becomes a fake-out - I'd much rather see King Conan fight with all the resources he's developed rather than be converted into an older, achier version of the bandit he used to be.

Conan returns to Marvel with a savage splash of blood and a straightforward tale of sword versus sorcery. This introduction demonstrates ample and admirable skill. If Conan is going to become relevant and challenging, though, this story needs a little more complexity in future installments.

Our Score:


A Look Inside


Charles Martin's picture
Conan calls out to Crom a lot in this issue, which is exactly as it should be.