Know, oh reader, that 2019 is a good year to be a Conan fan.
Between the several series coming out from Marvel, the teases of Arnold finally getting on with his King Conan movie, and the buzz still going strong in the boardgaming world with the Monolith game, I love seeing this much content coming out for a character that’s not necessarily at the top of my preferences when it comes to IPs, but one that I like a lot nonetheless.
Cue the Savage Sword series, with its Alex Ross covers as a big damn highlight. How fares the first issue of the comic? Thankfully, better than Aaron’s main run did in its maiden voyage.
If you want a spoiler-free review, might as well stop now, go buy it, see if you can find the egregious editing mistake that’s had the fandom frothing for the past few days, and come back here to read my thoughts on it. I will leave you with one more thing before you go: the art fits this so well, it’s insane…
Ron Garney, the artist for this series, has a gimmick that I enjoy a lot, so I’m using that word in the best sense possible: he manages to capture interesting angles for even the blandest of circumstances, and he allows colorists to really work some magic when it comes to using light.
Shafts, shadows, glints and various reflections. The man just has an eye for atmospheric use of lighting, and you can find proof of this as far back as 2009’s Wolverine: Weapon X.
This isn’t even to mention his jagged line work. You’d think it looks… sketchy at best, at first glance, but it works wonders to have the pages exude raw power and energy on every damn panel. You can tell I’m pretty into this style, right?
And that’s what makes this a hit for me, before even getting to the writing: the art style. It’s not just a haphazard pencil work, but rather tone-setting for what will hopefully be the rest of the run. This feels desperate, dreary, and even claustrophobic.
Bears mentioning that there was a major oversight in the first issue, but I’ll bring that up later.
Plot-wise, this holds up rather well, and with Gerry Duggan being offered the Savage Avengers madness of a crossover, it seems like he’s got the trust of the big guns at Marvel to keep going with these stories. Whatever that’s worth anymore...
Make no mistake, this is as much a Howard-sounding and feeling tale as we got so far from the Marvel relaunch, albeit a stronger first issue than Jason Aaron’s Conan the Barbarian.
It starts out with a shipwrecked Conan floating about on the waves following a great battle, living on raw shark meat and hallucinating something fierce.
He’s then “rescued” by pirates, nursed back to health, and eventually goes full beast mode on the entire crew (right after staging a daring escape, complete with a gruesome Houdini act), has a face-off with a monster, causes the ship to catch on fire, and then has to make his way back to shore while still attached to a rather useless comrade-in-chains who (arguably) saved his life while on the ship. You know, as you do.
The ending is ye olde annoying hook featuring many things to come, but it’s done in a way that makes it feel more enticing than forced, so I’ll go with a positive on that one, as well.
This goes double because it’s not a single panel or a final splash page with a single line meant to bait the reader forward, but rather a glimpse into the future of the series done in a thematic, and story-appropriate way. As a GM who always likes to leave the ending of a session hanging by a thread, big damn like for the way it was done here.
Now, on to the above panel, the one with the pirate’s gun and the bandolier…
I genuinely missed on my first read-through. Crom’s honest truth.
Who knows, you may have missed it just now, too.
My focus was drawn to Conan and the fact that even with a still pose you could feel him squirming on the deck after being plopped down, soggy and half dead. It may also be that at this point, with the lazy, traced, Google Image searched state of the industry, I’m more taken by freehand lines, proper panel depth, competent colours and decent, easy to follow panel progression and framing.
I recognise the fact that it’s a glaring mistake, but I’m obviously not the person to be bothered by it when I’ve found so much of what I’m actively looking for in this comic. Does that mean I’m a potential mark for dodgy work? Can’t really say, but I think I’ve bashed enough things before to warrant letting this slide in certain circumstances.
Maybe if this was something I cared more about (like a glaring mistake on a Witcher silver/metal sword use, for instance), I wouldn’t have taken it as lightly. But with the fact that Howard himself had a short story he flipped back and forth between featuring Conan and 17th century piracy because he couldn’t get it published, and the prospect of a solid #1 hitting in the day and age where everything gets rebooted just for the sake of sales, I’ll take this.
And I’ll take two of it.
Thanks for reading, and have as nice a day as you deserve!
About the author:
Costin thinks he knows a lot. And he does, but he’s also an asshole about it so don’t indulge him. A Focus-sedan-driving family man/corporate drone, he games way more than he should considering he also has this writing gig to deal with. When tasked with a bio piece, he chuckled and said “I better get a lot of room for this cause boy, do I have a lot to talk abo-”