Story: Fred Van Lente
Art: Brian Ching
Colors: Michael Atiyeh
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
What They Say:
A war, a spy, and false allies stand in Conan’s way as he and his comrades fight to free the slave girl Natala in order to learn the location of a legendary treasure!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Forced into alliance with Prince Almuric and his mercenary band, Conan and his troop must take the walled city of Nippr while at the same time covertly free the slave girl Natala, who knows the secret to a fabulous treasure. However, even if Conan and his band succeed, the path to the treasure winds a long way before them, and the treasure they seek may be more than they bargain for, bringing them to the attention of a vile old enemy.
This issue begins by providing backstory for Diana and Natala. Natala had been married to a scholarly prince who had discovered the possible resting place of a treasure belonging to a lost Stygian tribe. He set sail to find it, bringing along his wife and her sister, but were beset by corsairs who whisked the prince off to places unknown and sold the sisters into slavery.
The rest of the issue roughly divides its time between the assault on Nippr and the schemes of Eamon the Flayed, an exiled Cimmerian who commands a small band of cannibals. Eamon suspects Conan of possessing ulterior motives and tries to menace the information out of the tongueless Diana. I won’t spoil anything, but some very nasty and satisfying things happen to him in this issue.
In the city, Conan proves once again that he’s not only the best fighter around, but also the cleverest, as he finds creative ways to take the fortified streets. The relish with which he fights is etched onto his face by Ching’s excellent art, and there are times when he appears ugly and demonic, which I find a nice change of pace from the more handsome depictions of the barbarian. He’s still attractive, but in a more savage, animalistic way more befitting his nature.
Conan does eventually find Natala, and frees both her and the rest of the slaves in the process. Van Lente uses this as an opportunity to highlight another aspect of the character: his sense of justice. One of the slaves Conan frees is a young boy who cannot move his legs due to malnutrition and abuse. Ching manages to convey a frightening expression of cold rage on the barbarian’s face, and the revenge Conan exacts on the part of the slaves is horrifying and full of poetic justice.
At the end of the issue, the city is taken and the sisters reunited, but Van Lente introduces a new wrinkle to the story that made me giddy. I won’t spoil it, but a new antagonist enters the tale, and it’s a character that long time Conan fans will be excited to see.
As always, Van Lente’s script is tight. It’s impressive to see him juggle several different stories at once, closing some while opening others. The story grows more complex with each issue, but in a fluid, organic way that works with the characters and the plot. I particularly like how he writes Diana and Natala. While these are women who have faced many hardships, they aren’t victims. They fight, use their brains, and face their fears. Their acts of heroism are far more impressive than Conan’s.
Ching’s art brings this all wonderfully to life, aided by Atiyeh’s colors. He excels at conveying speed and action, often opting for broad, cartoony representations instead of realistic, allowing him to exaggerate and accentuate the action as well as the mood. His Conan grins like the devil, and often deep shadows cowl his face in ways that would never happen in the real world, but do a great job of conveying emotion and tone. I hope that he will stay on the team for the duration, as I think that he and Van Lente complement each other well.
Van Lente, Ching, and Atiyeh have put out another fine issue and I’m happy to say that Conan the Avenger is one of the most consistently enjoyable books Dark Horse is publishing. In some ways the story is just getting started, and by the end “The Damned Hoard” may take on an entirely different meaning. Definitely check it out.
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Dark Horse
Release Date: December 24th, 2014