Never steal from a sleeping Cimmerian seems to be the lesson for a trio of thieves in the B-story for Conan the Avenger #1. The Fred Van Lente-penned story kicks off the “Shadows Over Kush” storyline, which finds our wandering anti-hero drunk, alone, and – of all things – lovelorn following the end of his seafaring days. Now he’s wasted in a foreign land and about to get dragged into the supernatural intrigues of the locals.
Van Lente and artist Brian Ching use this issue to pull Conan up from out of his bottle (one merchant describes him as “watering his demons,” which seems aptly horrible). He’s at his lowest possible point, while around him, in Kush, the capitol of Shumballa, witchcraft is being used to upset the struggle between ruling houses (and creating stillborn Lovecraft babies to boot). Conan is kept at the margins of the story, with van Lente slowly drawing him into the center, finally putting the one-time sailor face to face with Agara, the Witch Hunter.
So, it’s probably going to get messy going forward.
Van Lente has a handle on the clunky, chunky Howard-ian speech needed for this kind of book, although it would be nice to see some variations in speech (common thieves seem to have the same rhythms to their dialog as bereaved nobles). The script does require a little score-keeping, as we meet a grieving father, the royal guard, a trio of thieves, a rogue who looks a lot like Dr. Strange, while catching up with Conan’s emotional problems. It’s not daunting, but there’s a bit of information to take in, as the writer establishes some of the characters Conan will either ally with or decapitate at some point.
Ching’s art, with its angular, hawk-nosed faces, reminds me of the work of Greg Capullo, with plenty of expressive body language and easy-to-follow action. His Conan is lean and animal-like, covered in tattoos, with squinting, impenetrable eyes. Ching does rely on one pose for his yelling male characters that seems like accidental repetition the second time and cut and paste the third time it appears in the book. Michael Atiyeh mutes most of the marketplace colors in the book, giving the story the feeling that it’s taking place at perpetual dusk. I’m not sure it’s quite right, but we’ll see how subsequent issues fare.
Conan the Avenger #1 is available from Dark Horse today, April 23rd.