Conan The Barbarian #6 Review

by Charles Martin on May 08, 2019

Conan The Barbarian #6 Review
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colourist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Another ground-up scene-setting threads us into another stand-alone Conan adventure. This time, the Cimmerian is selling his sword to Yezdigerd, the conquest-minded king of Turan.

Yezdigerd's getting his armies cut to pieces by the fiendishly sneaky Stygians, and in this issue, Conan's talent for surviving when lesser men die attracts positive and negative attention.

Some bloody battles lead Conan all the way to Yezdigerd's palace, where vagabond confronts king and Conan proves his tongue is as sharp as his sword. 

But then it all blows away like a puff of smoke. While Conan is destined to be a leader and a king, this is not how he starts that journey. It's just another enjoyable entry on the endless roster of "Cool ☠☠☠☠ Conan does while wandering the Earth."

The slightly-frustrating, episodic nature of the story is about the only complaint I can lay against Jason Aaron's script. The dialogue is exquisite and the narrative portrait of Conan is, as always, perfectly compelling.

The Cimmerian still looks great, too. Mahmud Asrar and Matthew Wilson conjure up a dusty, bloody desert where battles are brutal and the cunning talents of warriors are writ in both actions and faces. I love the way the palette uses intense colours to contrast Yezdigerd's "Great Commanders" with the dusty background. It's surely intentional that Conan gets a similar distinction when he shows up, but his intensity comes from spilled blood instead of a sumptuous costume.

I think some of the limitations this issue struggles with are Catch-22 problems. The abrupt end of Conan's Turanian story is a potential disappointment because the story starts off so strong. The effort invested in bringing Turan, Stygia, and Yezdigerd's armies to life is formidable - they're drawn and described with tremendous distinction. Moving on from them so soon does make Conan's world feel vast and vibrant, but it also feels like a waste.

This series (and this issue in particular) is knocking against one of Conan's overarching narrative problems: The slippery road between Conan the Rogue and Conan the King. It's a difficult storytelling journey in general, and a keen understanding of the appeal of Conan the Rogue makes the trip that much harder. 

It's virtually impossible to elevate the merciless loner Conan into a position of leadership without compromising some of the things we love about him. Jason Aaron, like many creators before him, does not solve this problem as much as he dodges it artfully. 

This comic is a brilliantly deceptive one. At first glance, it looks like it provides a logical progression from Conan the sole survivor to Conan the general. But in fact, it uses calculated narrative skips to get Conan to that destination without having to show him as anything other than the icy, brusque mercenary we love.

It's effective and it's a lot of fun to read. But the shortcuts force us to confront a truth: We (creators and readers both) don't really want to see Conan's character develop. Yet that's the destination Jason Aaron has in mind - this issue closes with a reminder that King Conan vs. the Crimson Witch is still in the story's future.

Conan #6 delivers another excellent, self-contained episode in Conan's life. It's drawn and written with formidable skill and it delivers plenty of straightforward power. But it also sharpens this series' simmering tension. Conan's development into the king who's destined to stand against the Crimson Witch is inevitable, but this series still hesitates to shine a spotlight on that development.

Our Score:


A Look Inside


Charles Martin's picture
This issue uses "learned" to describe the Great Commanders a lot. It could use a New Yorker-style grave accent - "learnèd" - to stress its two-syllable pronunciation.