Thursday, July 15, 2010

Conan the Cimmerian #21: A Comic Review

Conan the Cimmerian
Publisher: Dark Horse
Writer: Timothy Truman
Art: Tomas Giorello
Color: Jose Villarrubia

Reading Conan the Cimmerian so soon after the disappointing Kato, I couldn’t help but compare the two experiences. Maybe it’s because Conan costs 2.99 versus Kato’s 3.99. Both prices are scandalously high, but Conan the Cimmerian #21 packs a whole helluva lot more story and craft than that other book, and that makes it feel like a bargain. Actually, contrasted with the paltry stuff on display in Kato, it feels like a steal.

You know, I’ve never visited Conan’s Hyborian world—probably has something to do with it never having existed—but scripter Timothy Truman and artist Tomas Giorello create the setting thoroughly and vividly, I can certainly imagine Conan and his friends living, fighting and loving in this rich environment. On the other hand, I have been to Japan and I can’t believe for a second Kato and his daughter live there or that anyone connected with the comic’s creative team has ever so much as seen a photograph of the place. It’s kind of pathetic when a fantasy world seems more plausible than a place that actually exists.

In part three of the “Kozaki” story, Truman and Giorello show us a Conan battered and defeated yet still recognizably Conan. His dialogue as he talks to what may be a hallucination of a deceased friend (rendered by Giorello as an impossibly oversized EC-style walking corpse in battered and torn armor) matches the cadences and vocabulary of Robert E. Howard’s prose version. There’s also an epic battle sequence; it’s full of armored men with scimitars and lances, with lots of bloody decapitations and amputations, but Giorello’s superior storytelling keeps it all clear and easy to follow. No cheating close ups or other shortcuts (another stark contrast to that poor meagre thing we call Kato). Giorello illustrates the prime moments of the battle with clarity of vision and this goes a long way towards rewarding the reader. It’s a visual feast. Truman enriches the experience with expertly-written narrative captions; they’re ornate, just purple enough for that pulp sword-and-sandal feel, and add prose muscle to match Giorello’s strong illustrations.

Your enjoyment of Conan the Cimmerian may depend on your tolerance for barbarian adventures and half-naked wenches, but its superior content-- based as it is on all those classic virtues that seem to have gone largely forgotten by other creative teams-- makes it feel like a weighty slab of a magazine, just chock-full of adventuresome elements. It proves a comic that's purely fun doesn't have to be slight, or tossed-off. And if the plot eventually hinges on a somewhat implausible coincidental meeting, it still provides more entertainment and value than other comics costing a full dollar more. In fact, it seems like more than twice the comic of certain other… disappointments…

You know the ones I mean.

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