This month's Conan wraps up a long storyline that brings the Barbarian and his pirate queen Belit back to the former's homeland of Cimmeria. As a first-time Conan reader, this arc was important because it introduced me to two signature elements of the Conan canon: the unforgiving nature of the northern wastes, and the tendency for the Barbarian's stories to not always have the most feel-good endings.
Belit and Conan each have their own trials in this book, but I think the quality needle doesn't point to one or the other. Both sections are written wonderfully, and each protagonist overcomes their obstacles in their own way - Conan with brute strength, and Belit with tenacity. I've come to appreciate both figures, but Conan's story seemed to leave a weird taste in my mouth. It wasn't exactly anger... maybe disappointment?
A little background, with some spoilers: Conan has been hunting someone that has been using his name while slaughtering innocents. He finds the man and realizes his childhood tie to him, then reaps his vengeance on him. However, in some strange way, I kind of feel that Conan brought this on himself. In a normal comic book, there would be some exposition that would have the hero reflect on what he'd done, and at least repent; however, Brian Wood notes that while Conan will feel shame for the rest of his life at what he had wrought, there's no outward depiction of it.
This is on purpose. Brian Wood wants us to realize that despite Conan's status as a "good guy," he is only as good as the merciless landscape that brought him up. Seeing a man that has wronged him so leads him to draw one conclusion: "I must conquer this trespasser in order to prove my dominance." That is what makes Conan such a simple, yet effective character - despite feeling shame, sorrow, worry and pain, he pushes it all aside during the thrill of battle. He lives for combat. He lives for vengeance. He lives for his own sense of justice. Cimmeria will not yield to unworthy people, so why should he?
And perhaps that's what makes his foil, Belit, so much more emphasized: the emotion that she feels tends to dominate pages and speak for both of them, and evokes the readers' concerns. As she's worried she'll be consumed by the frozen wastes, so do we. As she faces her challenges over the course of the plot, we do, as well. However, her attachment to Conan is what allows her to draw power to conquer her problems: hopefully, it won't prove to be her undoing.
Conan The Barbarian #9
Dark Horse Comics
The Verdict: Conan the Barbarian is one of the better books you can read monthly. Unless you explicitly hate the things depicted with all the rage of a thousand firestorms, you are doing yourself a disservice by skipping it.