Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Mahmud Asrar, Matthew Wilson, and Travis Lanham
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Release Date: December 22nd, 2021
Fans of Jason Aaron’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN have been waiting a long time for this series to strike the iron. Well, it finally has readers as Aaron attempts to craft a story inspired by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, yet focusing on an era that Robert E. Howard merely sniffed out. That’s right fellow CROM-fearing fans, KING CONAN #1 is finally here! Let’s cut a swathe into this inaugural issue and see what this cursed future holds for the Aquilonian King.
If I may before readers invest into KING CONAN, I highly recommend grabbing Aaron’s THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CONAN and binge reading that first. If you’re a first-time CONAN reader, it will hook you. If you’ve taken some time away from the Cimmerian and were intrigued by the title of this issue, I’d still recommend grabbing THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CONAN first just to make more sense of the issue. However, as much as I feel Aaron’s first series is a must-read, he does set up the opening well for fans of CONAN not influenced by his prior work to dip their toe in and understand just enough to enjoy this opener.
As for KING CONAN #1, the cold open (literally) thrusts our reader into the thick of the story. Somehow, CONAN is trapped on an island. And this island is full of surprises. From Jump Street, the barbarian finds himself in a constant battle that begins from page 5 and relentlessly continues until the brutal end. CONAN finds himself fighting an old adversary which intertwines with Aaron’s story back in issue 8 of THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CONAN. The battle is fierce and the turmoil is epic as the issue continues to unfold until the very end keeping readers locked in from start to finish.
Now, one could speculate that this island is something… a bit more. This is no mere island in the middle of the sea. Is it haunted? Is the island cursed? Or is the Great Cimmerian King dead? In fact, CONAN himself even questions that very thing while fighting to stay alive on the treacherous island. Truthfully, the story makes more sense if he’s dead. Yet, that seems far-fetched considering the prior trade where CONAN spends an entire issue dead fighting CROM himself! So, why would he be dead again?
Moreover, in KING CONAN #1, I love witnessing the continued battle between CONAN and magic. The way he uses brute force to tangle with the mystic arts, wizards, witches, and demons is outstanding. The average person would crumble. But he somehow always finds a way with some of the most obvious answers. Aaron provides some of the very same throughout this installment holding true to a huge aspect of the character as a solid linchpin for the foundation of the character.
Mahmud Asrar is back and in full effect! Just as much as Aaron’s story back in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CONAN piqued my interest, one could also argue that it was Asrar’s artistic display and captivating illustrations that truly told the tale. KING CONAN #1 is extremely reminiscent of the very same. Some of the best aspects of this issue are how Asrar lays out the panels on each page. He’s creative with his storytelling as he’s specifically not bound by silly rules of panel lines and borders. You’ll see CONAN walking through panels with his menacing stature encompassing each page.
The way Asrar draws CONAN isn’t like some extremely bulky, overly muscular wrestler or bodybuilder. Readers know CONAN is strong because he’s built like a mountain as his arms cascade down like a rock avalanche. Sure, he’s big… but sturdy, tough, and powerful. It’s almost as if CONAN’S skin is like elephant hide with its texture and thickness. Why? Well, you’ll notice this issue that he gets sliced a couple of times but doesn’t even bat an eye. Sure, he bleeds… but very little proving how impressive this barbarian is thanks to Asrar’s dynamic illustrations.
KING CONAN #1 is an action-packed opener that almost any new reader could step right into with ease. Jason Aaron throws fans into the deep end cold providing little answers and powerful questions to be answered as the story unfolds. However, it’s a storytelling technique he’s used before with CONAN and it worked while empowering fans with all the eventual answers. So for now, CONAN fans should hang in there because past practice dictates that Aaron will gradually reveal some of the pressing details in good time.
Nonetheless, I found myself missing the “wow” factor that I expected in this inaugural tale as we had in issue one of THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CONAN. Sure, I’m intrigued to read this Hyborian tale. Yet, if this was a trade I wouldn’t drop everything to continue plowing through to issue two. Nevertheless, KING CONAN #1 is exciting with Asrar’s art furnishing one of my favorite renderings of the character. It’s a strong first issue. But, the cliffhanger seemed just a bit too trite and almost expected for my tastes. Still, I leave KING CONAN #1 intrigued for the series to unfold. I really do highly recommend grabbing this opener AND picking the prior trade as you become fully invested in Aaron and Asrar’s vision. Let me know what you think, Merry Christmas, and God Bless!