Conan the Avenger #24
Script: Fred Van Lente
Art: Brian Ching
Colors: Michael Atiyeh
I cannot remember the last time I read a Conan comic. But I do know I love a great Conan story. This issue is a particular style of Conan comic; one which I have seen before, and can come alongside, but it has to be done just right. That, in combination with a particular art-style that I am not crazy about, holds this issue back from becoming an instant favorite of mine. But there’s a lot of good stuff going on in this issue and it is certainly worth checking out.
Conan, in an ancient spin on Just Cause, is helping a provincial uprising to overthrow a false queen. The queen’s sister has had her thrown into a dungeon and has subjected said queen to various forms of torture. In just a small number of pages the queen’s sister is established as a right bastard, worthy of the reader’s hate. I got onboard with that perspective pretty quickly. A few of the townsfolk discover the treachery and make plans to set things aright. Conan mounts up his dessert freemen for a final assault. And…scene.
This issue is in the vein of a particular style that many writers seem to use with Conan stories…and that is for the story to have very little Conan in it. In many cases, Conan is almost a myth. He’s like Xerxes in 300…a phantom figure that very few have seen on the battlefield and lived to tell. He’s like a Kaizer Soze of the ancient world. In this issue he has no speaking parts. And appears on the battlefield in a very, very small number of panels. Now this story style works best when the cast that is written and drawn in the other 19 pages of the book are interesting, or the conflict amongst them is particularly strong. But the supporting cast in Conan the Avenger #24 is not particularly strong, and the scenario is one that has definitely been covered before. The best moment in the book comes when Conan’s battlefield tactics (this is clearly an older Conan at a later point in his career before he becomes king, but well after his smaller-time capers) undoes the enemy’s arrogance and over-confidence. Other than that, there are few moments of high interest. The rest of the work is solid, there are just not many breathtaking moments of high adventure.
The artwork here is similar; solid, but just in a style that only works best in certain situations. In other situations it can be disenchanting. Ching’s character models have very angular faces. At times, the facial art looks akin to the style of many political cartoons. Definitely something that you might come across in the Sunday papers, probably for an adventure comic strip. The battle scenes when the two armies come together are superb, especially when Atiyeh is allowed to throw a splash of color in and break up the monotone desert setting.
Conan the Avenger #24 leaves you hungry for more Hyborian high-adventure, and you can see solid underpinnings for many great tales woven into Van Lente’s backdrop. And being that it is Van Lente, you can be confident that such adventures are forthcoming. It’s just that this issue feels almost like a break from the action. And there’s not a lot of Conan in it. Sprinkle in one or two great supporting characters, and lean on the myth of Conan, and this could be ok. As it is, there is more myth than meat, and that leaves the issue feeling sparse and empty. This is a fine place to jump on as one arc appears to be preparing to wrap and you can be there for the outro as the great Barbarian winds up for his next shenanigan. Or you might want to wait until that follow-on arc gets started. Either approach should be ok with this one. I had a good time reading this comic, and do not regret the investment. It just was not the best thing that I read this week and there were a few issues that easily rung in above it.