Sunday, 27 October 2013

Conan the Barbarian, Volume 14: The Death by Brian Wood et al. Review


Conan and his girlfriend Belit, the Pirate Queen from the last book, visit his mother but his mum doesn’t approve of her; Conan fights a childhood friend who was heartbroken when, as kids, Conan hooked up with the girl he fancied; Belit gets sick while Conan gets drunk in a pub: these are the stories in this book but feel like they’re more suited for a cheap TV soap opera like Eastenders, rather than a book about a barbarian!


You do get the obligatory fight scenes of Conan chopping up "bad" guys, but they're par for the course. Maybe Brian Wood thought this was a good thing? Wood knows that when readers think of Conan they think of magical creatures, evil armies of monsters, enchanted weapons, etc. and wanted to subvert that image by writing very ordinary stories that happen to star a barbarian. If so, bad idea, Brian! If not, try harder, Brian!


To be fair, the Conan’s mother thing is barely a subplot and the real story is Conan and Belit traversing the unforgiving Cimmerian countryside in search of a man calling himself Conan who’s razing every village and encampment he comes across. Though the imposter does turn out to be a childhood friend of Conan’s, who was humiliated when he hit on a girl he liked only to find out Conan’s been hooking up with her behind his back. But this happened when they were 12 and they’re both now grown men - someone really needed to tell this guy to let it go! Nothing that happens to you at 12 is important, at least not in hindsight.


I suppose this story was supposed to be about Conan and Belit’s relationship which becomes strained once Conan realises how unsuited she is to the treacherous landscape - but it’s ok, they get through it. See what I mean about this book being so ordinary? Barbarians and pirate queens argue just like regular couples!


Then we get to the title story where Belit and her crew get sick after finding a small boat with a diseased man aboard. Conan doesn’t get sick for whatever reason and heads to port to get help. Healers help them get better while Conan drinks and fights in pubs - riveting!


I kept reading this thinking - that’s it? This is the whole story?! - especially when this was a book written by Brian Wood, the guy who created the epic barbarian series Northlanders (which I would recommend you read over his Conan books). The Death also felt like a book I’d read before. The only other Conan book I’ve read is also by Wood, Queen of the Black Coast, but I felt like The Death echoed some of the stories from that book, like when Belit gets confined to the Tigress (their ship) and Conan fights off enemies on the dock. I’m not about to look it up but I’m sure an exact scene like this appeared in that book too, to the point where I was guessing the plot points before I turned the page only to find them play out exactly as I’d thought. Wood’s either repeating himself or he’s become incredibly predictable.


The wonderful Becky Cloonan returns - only to draw one issue, unfortunately. Her issue looks amazing, as always, and then the art goes downhill. Vasilis Lolos draws two issues that look utterly awful, somehow making Conan look more feminine than Belit, and Declan Shalvey draws the remaining three issues. Shalvey’s art isn’t bad actually it’s just fairly unremarkable, not helped by the tedious script and story for The Death.

Conan the Barbarian, Vol 14: The Death is Brian Wood on autopilot, sending in some of his most uninspired stuff, hoping it’ll pass muster - and it doesn’t. Wood can write really exciting, imaginative, and engrossing comics featuring barbarians, as evidenced by Northlanders, but his Conan books have been very plain stories. It might be Conan’s fault - the character might simply not be a very interesting one, despite somehow sustaining an audience all these years - but Wood isn’t a flawless writer, he’s written some stinkers in his time. Either way, The Death is definitely not a must-read for anyone. 

Conan Volume 14: The Death

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