When writing a Conan the Barbarian comic you must remember the three rules. The comic must include crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you and hearing the lamentation of their women. Alongside those options you need a healthy dose of bloody ass kicking violence and just a dash of retribution. If all of those things meet in a confluence, then you’ll have a classic Conan tale. Such is true with Conan the Cimmerian #21 from Dark Horse Comics. This is the culmination of the three part Kozaki tale, and what a culmination it is.
First off, you can never go wrong when a pissed off Conan is facing the rotting reanimated corpse of one his brothers in arms telling the barbarian to seek bloody and violent retribution. Apparently Conan had once fought with the Kozaki in the battle at Ilbars against the vicious and cruel Shah Amurath who slaughtered all but Conan through deceit and betrayal. Now the dead Kozaki soldiers are rising up and telling Conan it’s time to kick some Shah Amurath ass.
There are a few things here that work really well, the first being writer Timothy Truman’s dedication to keeping the main story arc simple. Often times writers try to expand Conan’s driving force or his world and it never pans out the right way. Conan isn’t a brilliant technician or deep character study he is a badass barbarian who kills people and Truman maintains that. He also brings in the battles swiftly allowing for the exposition to come alongside the violence instead of before or after it. There’s never any down time in Conan #21, there’s always some kind of mayhem.
Don’t get me wrong; woven within this mayhem is a solid plot filled with the kind of merciless treachery that drives Conan. It’s not a mindless kill fest and by the time Conan rises up to get his revenge you’re cheering for him the whole way. It’s funny because the only place I ran into a hiccup was with the art and I didn’t know why. After several passes over the story I realized it was because this wasn’t Frank Frazetta’s art. To me, Frazetta is the essence of Conan; his art is synonymous with the entire mythology. Those images being absent made this new Conan seem off to me when I first read it.
Once I got over that I could see that Tomas Giorello’s pencils were top shelf. It wasn’t Frazetta but it also didn’t rip him off. Giorello creates his own style here, which resides between old seventies pulp comics and the fine art of Heavy Metal. Giorello creates layered scenes and battles that seem to leap off the page. He also has no problem illustrating violence, no matter how gruesome.
Conan the Barbarian is a tough nut to crack because his world rides a very fine line. If you oversimplify that world you run the risk of losing those things that make Conan who he is and if you complicate it too much then it stops being a primal book. Conan #21 straddles that line effectively through the entire issue. Proving once again that the angriest Barbarian out there is still the most readable.