You could be forgiven if your knowledge of Conan is limited to two super violent, strangely sexualised Arnold Schwarzenegger movies from the ‘80s, and one ill-fated Jason Momoa vehicle from 2011 (everyone forgets Red Sonja (1985) so we shall too). But Robert E. Howard’s original stories first appeared 1932, and Conan has been a comic book regular since 1970, firstly from Marvel and latterly Dark Horse Comics. Now Conan The Slayer: Blood In His Wake has arrived, and what a “bloody” beautiful book it is too.
Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Sergio Davilla have created a comic that wears its hyper-stylised violence on the bare sleeve of its exuberantly muscular anti-hero as Conan stabs, slashes and skewers his enemies with wanton abandon, and barely a flicker of acknowledgment. This is a wonderfully visceral read; with all the necessary Conan ingredients included to satisfy everyone’s palate, whether a first-timer or a battle-hardened veteran of the Cimmerian Barbarian’s tales.
We are first introduced to a seriously wounded Conan being pursued by a band of hunters. Through various twists and turns the backstory is slowly revealed, and the central character gradually fills out, flaws and all. Never is Conan portrayed as wholly heroic; just relentlessly pursuing his own understanding of honour through the only means he knows how. Subtlety is not a trait he would recognise, and the fight scenes are as brutal as they are often short; delicate swordsmanship holds no defence against Conan’s preference for one great swing of his mighty weapon.
The clever thing about Bunn’s writing and Davilla’s stunning artwork is that they don’t try to do anything different with what is essentially a very simple character. It would have been easy, and surely tempting, to redefine the fundamentals of the Cimmerian, to modernise him in some way. In keeping to the basics, they have gotten right to the nub of things; no-one wants a Conan for the 21st Century – we want a Conan that isn’t politically correct, one who kills on a whim and leaves carnage in his wake; a Conan who makes breasts heave and keeps the blood flowing.
Whatever your experience thus far of Howard’s muscular creation, Conan The Slayer: Blood In His Wake is either a wonderful introduction or a return to a fond and familiar world. This is a stunning book of extravagantly detailed panels backing a story that is as enjoyable as anything you will have read.