5.15.2013

Conan The Barbarian #16 [The Wood Pile]

Conan The Barbarian #16 (Dark Horse): Damn. Every issue of this series has been what I’d call “very good,” but this one is simply great. Brian Wood re-teams with Northlanders collaborator Davide Gianfelice and the results are electric. I’m prepared to say this is some of, if not “the,” best art we’ve seen on the series to date. Gianfelice brings an expressive danger to the proceedings, and when paired with Dave Stewart's lavish colors, it’s a can’t miss creative effort. It makes me miss those issues of Northlanders. Seeing Gianfelice come in to work with Wood feels like old friends catching up over a drink after years of being apart. They might not talk every day, but they can pick right up where they left off, and you understand immediately by eavesropping on this artistic conversation why they’ve remained friends for so long despite the distance. While some might view this detour to the pleasure city of Ianthe as superfluous, it’s an important step in Conan and Belit’s love story. It offers a brief respite after the many ordeals they’ve endured, a space where they can simply enjoy each other, trust in each other, and build the type of intimacy and bond that only forms through shared experiences. I’ve already seen a review that pejoratively suggests the sex and drug use is somehow gratuitous or out of character, present merely for the sake of itself. Bah. If anything, I think it reflects everything I just said, a brief moment where the two young lovers can relax and be carefree in an otherwise very dangerous and unpredictable world that could end at any second under the right set of stressors. It reflects where they’re at in life’s journey, their age and bold sense of experimentation, but also their willingness to trust in the other and just let go in the presence of the other. This sets them off on some sort of yellow lotus mind trip, the type of Native American vision quest that forces Conan to confront his own insecurities, regrets, and guilt over those lost in the tumultuous time period shared with Belit. This thoughtful examination of the character adds an emotional depth and complexity to what could play as a rather two dimensional archetype in the hands of lesser writers, those content to simply do their rendition of what's come before. It seems like there are purists out there who for some reason desire a word for word pictographic adaptation of the REH source material. That’s not why you hire Brian Wood. You don’t hire him to maintain the status quo. You hire him to create what's known as a "discontiguous process" in the innovation discussions of Corporate America. That’s how you modernize a property and engage a more sophisticated audience, one who's grown savvy to traditional storytelling approaches. Another reason this issue, and the series itself, works so well is the structure involving three-issue arcs. Not only is it a perpetual showcase for artistic talent, parading in amazing artists, one after the other, shit - it almost feels like showing off at this point, but like The Massive, it makes the single issues and compressed arcs feel dense. Each issue is packed with information, fighting the passé tendency toward decompression. It takes a while to chew through an issue of Conan, and I like that. It makes me feel as if I’m getting my money’s worth, getting a complete story or at least a significant chunk, not just a slice of a single conversation. I don’t find the transitions between arcs or artists jarring. If anything, issues of Conan are like storytelling shots, distilled down into an intense experience that can be enjoyed singularly or in succession. So, if you're in the area, I recommend you slip up to the bar in one of the many brothels in the pleasure quarter of Ianthe and have yourself a taste of Conan The Barbarian. Grade A+.

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