There is nothing as bad as being tormented by love. So it is that Conan finds himself with Bêlit, the Queen of the Tigress. No matter what happens to the pair, no matter what they go through, the young lovers whether together or apart, they remain attached by the deepest of feelings. It is hard to think of Conan as such a man, one so moved by emotion that it governs his choices. More often than not we see him as the barbarian of the northern wastes of Cimmeria, a hard man who lives by the sword and not much else. Yet for a period in his life, Conan was ruled by his heart for a woman who was more than his match in spirit, if not in life.
The current volume of Conan’s ongoing tale finds himself at odds with Bêlit after their tragic loss from the previous collection. He simply wants to be with her, to comfort her and to take care of her in any way he can, and perhaps in doing so, take care of himself as well. But Bêlit needs to be alone, needs time to herself to think things through and so leaves the Tigress and heads home to Shem where she rejoins her father. Conan cannot let go though, nor does he want to and so he follows her, through desert and battle, through trials both physical and emotional until finally they are reunited once again. But the adventure does not end there as they take a journey through their lives, or at least what they could be.
Brian Wood delivers another powerful chapter in the saga detailing the Queen of the Black Coast and the time Conan spent with her. It is a time of high passion and higher adventure both in the perils they face, those without the ship and those between each other. Wood brings a unique voice to our barbarian hero, one not previously seen in his long history, whether being written by Howard, Thomas or even Busiek. It is fresh and even reinvigorating to what has all come previous to this. There has never really been a bad Conan story, average ones yes, but it would be hard pressed to come up with a bad one. And ever since Dark Horse has had the license, Conan has risen to new heights over the years. It is with this title though, Conan the Barbarian, that Brian Wood has injected some new life into the character, showing us a side to the man that is not usually addressed.
The final tale in the volume is especially moving, more so even than the first part of the book, with Conan and Bêlit partaking of the yellow lotus and dreaming of what their lives could be like if they were to live them out together. Here we find a mellower Conan, one who has finally found a peace that he can live with. No longer does he have the wanderlust nor does he yearn for battle, for everything he needs is with him. As their lives progress and they have children and the years pass, just because Conan has not used them, it does not mean he has lost any of the skills he gained during his lifetime, specifically those of battle. Wood’s script is deft, moving from the heartache of the first chapter to the heartwarming of the second and it makes for very captivating reading.
Another factor that makes this particular series so successful is the choice of artists that are featured on the book. Everyone from Becky Cloonan in the beginning, to this volume which is split between Davide Gianfelice, Mirko Colak, Andrea Mutti, and Pierluigi Baldassini, the change of artistry from the usual look and feel from what is normally associated with the character has also given the barbarian a modernized look, whether called for or not. Conan still retains the characteristics that make him who he is, but every artist puts their own spin on him and it is nice to see something done a little different with the man, to make him more accessible for those who are maybe not as familiar with him. Many people have complained about the artistry present in this latest run, but it is perfectly suited to the title and for exploring the different aspects of the character.
With all of these components, the fifteenth volume of Conan, the third of the latest run by Brian Wood, it makes for a very exciting time in comics for the nearly eighty-five year old property. While the adventures of Conan and Bêlit have been fairly exciting up until this point, with the last volume delivering its most poignant moment with The Death, this volume sees Wood dealing with the repercussions and the fallout from it with some characterization not seen in a Conan comic in a long time. And for those that might be wondering, there is a ton of action to be found as well, for what is a Conan comic without any battle? Coupled with some beautiful artwork, The Nightmare of the Shallows is a Conan book that demands to be read.
4.5 out of 5