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A Battle Unwinnable – Conan Volume 14: The Death

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With The Death, Brian Wood continues his powerful run on the most recent Conan title reboot, now aptly called Conan the Barbarian.  The story remains focused upon Conan’s travels and travails with the Queen of the Black Coast, Bêlit and his return home to Cimmeria.  Wood is aided by Becky Cloonan, his compatriot from the first six issues, and continues on with Vasilis Lolos and Declan Shalvey for the remainder.  While it might have seemed jarring to bring on two other artists, Lolos and Shalvey actually compliment Cloonan quite well so as the issues transition, there is not too big a difference between styles. Dave Stewart also continues on colours and gives the book the right palettes to aid in the tale. Collecting the second arc of Wood’s run, it is as powerful as the first, maybe a little more so.

After so much time spent at sea, it was decided that Conan and Bêlit would head inland for a time to Cimmeria.  Once there, Bêlit would find the tables turned as Conan would be welcomed with open arms and she as nothing more than a slave.  But all is not well as firstly, Bêlit would find herself not being able to adjust to her new surroundings, within the village and without, and secondly a ghost from Conan’s past would return to slaughter entire villages using his name and identity.  The second half of the book would see them eventually return to the Tigress with the crew’s shaman foretell a prophecy of death.  As disease hits the ship and all fall victim except for Conan, the prophecy comes to its shattering culmination.

Wood does what few tend to do with Conan, which is having the character ring true to the original stories.  His personality, his motivations and his voice all sound like they should.  Not since the first run of tales that Roy Thomas did with Barry Windsor-Smith, has Conan seemed so fresh and so alive.  Busiek’s run was great and Truman’s was good, but what Wood is doing with Conan has been the best it has been in years.  While he and Dark Horse have continued to use the source material for the book, it is Wood using a modern voice to let Conan’s be heard for a new generation.  What he does with The Death is poignant in its conclusion, as he makes you feel compassion for Conan.  More often than not you triumph with him when he overcomes and you can feel bold when he is bold, but to feel genuinely bad and sympathetic for him, it is something that does not happen often, if ever.  Conan generally does not lose, and there is rarely a foe that he cannot overcome, but in this tale there is nothing he can do when fate strikes.

Mentioned earlier, this book was tackled by three different artists.  The first was Becky Cloonan who is a perfect fit for our young Conan and the scripts by Wood.  Her art has been the most radical departure for a Conan book to date and surprisingly works out better than anyone would have thought.  For the next couple of issues Vasilis Lolos takes over and while it is a slight departure from Cloonan’s, it is thematically similar with its openness and smooth lines.  At times it can be haunting, especially as he tends to draw eyes that are larger than the norm which are very expressive.  Finishing off the book is Declan Shalvey whose style is also akin to the previous artists but whose lines are a little rougher in nature.  With the subject matter being disease and death, his pencils are a better fit for the topic of the story being told.

With Conan continuing on, hopefully Dark Horse can keep Wood on the book for the long haul.  He has proven himself one of the better writers around today with runs on Northlanders, Channel Zero, DMZ, Star Wars and The Massive.  And while it is nice to see artists draw Conan as he has always been drawn, this series has proven that sometimes, it is nice to see Conan illustrated in a more non-traditional format.  Altogether, Conan the Barbarian is one of the better titles being put out and one of the best Conan books having been published in years.

5 out of 5

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