Conan sets sail with a new “Conan the Avenger” #1 under the pen of writer Fred Van Lente (based on a rough draft and notes by Robert E. Howard) and the art of Brian Ching, and the tone of this new series is noticeably lighter than previous versions. It’s not a jarring transition, but there is a lightness to the delivery of the tale that is being told.
Van Lente has been on a tear of late as a writer, infusing a lot of fun in the stories he tells. Just because the Cimmerian is a brooding warrior doesn’t mean the world around him has to be as bleak as night. There are funny moments to be had, like the random Dr. Strange lookalike that appears in the book to bother Drunk Conan, or the conversations between the townspeople. Van Lente thrives on character-based comedy and hearing the voices of these characters is an enjoyable experience. Just because there is fun to be had does not mean there isn’t a darker undertone as well. Conan is still Conan, making his enemies lick his sword clean and announcing to his adversaries that he is their death made flesh.
Brian Ching brings a rougher Becky Cloonan-esque art style back to Conan, aided by Michael Atiyeh on colors who gives the art added depth. The scratchy, lanky designs Ching creates fit the world and the character well. Gone is the barrel-chested warrior of old — mostly influenced by the art of Barry Windsor Smith and the pecs of Arnold Schwarzenegger — and instead we have a lithe, muscular nomad with the greatest skills Crom ever cursed a human with. There is little action in the book, mostly setup, but when Conan cuts loose, Ching’s shot choices are very Marvel style, picking the best follow through moment of every action to maximize the impact of the violence. It’s fluid and kinetic. Atiyeh sets mood across the story dulled by blues and browns. Conan’s mindset is that of twilight, mourning a loss, and the only bright splashes of color come when he thinks back to his lost love.
We step out of this story just as the action reaches its zenith which disappoints but is understandable given that this is a multi-part tale, clearly advertised as such on the cover. While “the Avenger” in the title of this tale does not bring the book into the Marvel Universe, the adjective in the title refers to avenging the family of a stillborn demon, or possibly Conan’s own grief. It implies that readers are taking a more active turn in the tales that Van Lente will be telling, making our protagonist someone who is working for other people’s needs beside his own. I’m interested to see where that road will lead.