Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dark Horse's Conan: Queen of The Black Coast in Review

Finally, I managed to get a copy of this first issue. I have been looking forward to this collaboration between two fresh voices in comics: Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. Yes, it's not the first time that they have worked together. Fans of super-hero comics should track down their two Demo collections for a series of interesting and thoroughly modern takes on super-heroes and super-powered people.

This comic isn't about someone with super-powers, a code name, or brightly colored tights. It is about Conan, the Barbarian, and it is the launch of a new Dark Horse title about the pirate years of the character, and his travels with the pirate queen Belit. Outside of a few references in other stories, the original Queen of the Black Coast, written by Robert E. Howard, is the only appearance of Belit. She appeared in numerous issues of the old comics from Marvel.

First, let's talk about the art. Becky Cloonan is one of the best young artists to hit comics in a long time. She brings an energy and vibrancy to this issue that is unlike any artist that you have probably seen before on a Conan comic. Her sensibility is very much that of the alternative comics of the last decade or so, and I think that brings a new feeling to the story. Her characters are expressive. You can see Conan smirk and Belit smolder within the pages of this book. The sample at the right shows our first glimpse of the character of Belit, filtered through the lusty imagination of Conan.

Brian Wood's writing weaves between quoting the original story and giving an emotional resonance to the characters in the story.  Both Conan and Tito have distinct voices that allow you to tell the difference between who is talking when. Even though this is a younger Conan, with much of his life and adventures before him, Wood gives the character a wight that shows the big hero that he is going to become one day. Wood and Cloonan manage to demonstrate in just a few short pages that even this young Conan is a charismatic leader of men, who manages to quickly convince a ship of merchants to help him and take him away from the city where his savage ways have once again gotten him into trouble. He only needs a small hint of violence to do it, but his manner quickly wins over the crew.

Admittedly, this is an introductory issue and it shows. Most of this issue is given to explaining who Conan, Tito, and Belit are as characters and setting the tone for Conan's world. This might be a bit dull for someone who is a long time fan of the characters and stories. However, this is a new ongoing that will also give us new adventures during this period of Conan's life, so a little bit of setup can be overlooked. To me, this is one of the classic Conan tales, and I think that the adaptation has been done right.

Is this comic worth buying? Definitely, yes. I plan to keep buying it past the adaptation of this story as well, because I think that the work done by Wood and Cloonan, as well as the talent that they have already demonstrated on other projects, show that this will be a book that is a keeper as long as they are doing it.