It's getting incredibly hard to come up with new ways to praise Brian Wood's Conan the Barbarian series for Dark Horse Comics. While Wood's take on Conan might not suit some of the fans of Conan's old, sword and sandal, magical mystery tour of throwaway dark fantasy type tales, I cannot get enough of this Conan and his brilliant writer.
Still broken-hearted after the events of last issue, which drove Conan's love Belit to abandon not only him but her entire pirate crew and disappear into the cities of her homeland Shem, Conan sets out upon a quest to find her. The deserts of Shem are unforgiving though, and Conan quickly finds himself forcibly conscripted into a local king's fighting force, which is hell bent on setting siege to an isolated Shemite city-state. The men are haunted daily though by the mysteriously beautiful "woman on the wall" (hence the issue's title "Woman on the Wall Part 1") who appears nightly on the walls of the city-state, and who bears a striking resemblance to Conan's fled love...
Not much happens in this issue by way of fighting and swordplay, but once again Wood manages to pack more emotional import and dynamism into a Conan story than we've ever seen before...well. at least since last issue of Wood's Conan series. Wood's stories are focused on strong characterization and we've never seen a Conan like this. Right before our eyes Wood is evolving Conan from a young and brash brawler to a seasoned and emotionally mature warrior. Herein lies the beauty of Wood's storytelling. His Conan is a changing and dynamic figure who we really can buy into because he's never been as multi-dimensional as he is here. Also, Conan's mythical world has never been more alive or more real. Several lengthy (for a comic book) paragraphs describing the nature, climate, culture, and political history of Shem is not only beautifully penned, it too is unlike anything we've ever read in a Conan comic book before. Wood's Conan the Barbarian is like his epic Northlanders times ten.
Artist Mirko Colak handles the artistic chores this issue and it is the best looking issue of Wood's Conan the Barbarian since Becky Cloonan pencilled a few issues early on in its run. Colak's detail, expansiveness, and highly detailed realism brings Conan and his world to life as we've rarely seen it brought to life before. The scene of the army's approach on the Shemite city-state evoke mental images of 2000's Gladiator.
Realism over fantasy dominates in Wood's Conan the Barbarian, and the barbarian has never been been better portrayed because of this. Here's to hundreds of issues of Conan the Barbarian under Wood's direction.