Review: Part 2 of Marvel’s The Life & Death of Conan

BEYOND THE SAVAGE BORDER! CONAN finds himself beyond the Black River, surrounded by the warlike PICTS! But the tribesmen may be the least of his worries if he cannot fight his way through the demonic beasts slithering around the forest! The epic return of the mighty Conan continues…

The Life & Death of Conan
Part Two
“The Savage Border”

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Esad Ribic

So close, but oh so far. Two issues into Marvel’s relaunch of Conan the Barbarian and I am deflated. Jason Aaron has proven himself to be a very capable writer, and there are moments in this where he is solid enough, but Conan’s interaction with the Picts rings false with me.

conanpict2

I don’t have issues with the plot, per se, but with one character in particular — the Pict Shaman. Storywise, I like the idea of it. The Picts turn to Conan to save them from the King Snake. Makes sense. The Cimmerian is a formidable foe and has a knack for overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The shaman knows this and him recruiting Conan is a sensible motivation.

But his dialogue is all wrong. He speaks more like a palace vizier than a pictish healer living beyond the reach of civilization. Yes, I get that Howard’s Picts were an odd blend of Native American and the actual Picts of historic record, but this shaman hews too close to Kicking Bird for my taste.

conanpict2_2

They might as well have called this Dances with Snakes and been done with it.

I get what Aaron was going for. Howard certainly addressed the themes of civilization vs barbarism in his original tales, but by mishandling the shaman’s dialogue it detracts from what could have been a more powerful message. By making the shaman come across as polished and educated you lose the proper perspective and it becomes preachy instead of enlightening.

The art continues to be disappointing, coming nowhere near the grandeur of any number of luminaries who have been tasked with illustrating the Hyborian Age. Is Asrar the worst that has put pen to paper? Not by a long shot, but if you’re going to embark on such a high-profile relaunch, then why not reel in a heavy hitter, someone more suited for the task.

The colors were adequate, but Lanham’s lettering still leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ll be sticking with the title, because there is enough there to hold my interest, but I expected better from Marvel… Thing is, I’m having a hard time remembering why. Marvel has been a pale shadow of itself for years. Why did I think Conan would be different?

Black Starlight

We were treated to a second installment of John Hocking’s serialized novella and, like the first snippet, it’s a solid read. Conan and his companions set up camp in the seemingly abandoned village and a mysterious thief steals Zelandra’s supply of Black Lotus.

Not a lot to chew on, and it’s certainly got none of Howard’s fiery prose, but I’m enjoying it well enough and eager for the next installment.

On a scale of 1-10 skulls of my enemies, I would rate this issue worthy of 6.

— Bob Freeman

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