"Conan the Barbarian" #12 from Brian Wood and Declan Shalvey is a perfect example of why giving an open rein to a creative team yields the best results. Wood ventures into unknown territory with this issue in an astounding journey into the emotional heart of Conan. The resolution of this arc is a bold step not to be taken lightly by readers, and brings out so much depth to this lead character. Wood is not afraid of going down new paths with a boldness that will benefit all readers.
There is a lot of smart and well paced dialogue in this issue. Wood brings vibrancy to the world of Conan and enough sharp wit to keep the reader amused. This arc is yet another three issue story which means the narrative flows quickly and there isn't a lot of wasted time or space. Wood moves everything forward and with his final reveal we see so much click into place. 'The Death' is the sort of story that could well define this run entirely in the grandest possible ways.
It often feels like Wood's scripts work in amazing harmony with his artists. He stacks pages, and sometimes puts a lot of text on the page in order for his artist to construct a splash page to draw out emotion. There is a silent double page spread in this issue and it's a very deep moment. The space of the image makes readers stop, as Conan has, and let everything soak in. It's a brutal moment and superbly metered while the action sequence is broken into smaller kinetic panels. The action doesn't need to feel widescreen. It should be claustrophobic -- it's the emotions that make us feel lost and isolated. Wood has this balance completely right and it invariably reflects well on both him and his artists.
Declan Shalvey uses white space to inform the energy of the panel and control the emotions fed to the audience. His violence is bloody and harsh, showing a Frank Miller flair for the staging and execution of swordplay and death. One panel of Conan's face in battle with inky splatters coming forth feels like a throwback to classic Millar -- an impressive feat.
"Conan the Barbarian" #12 is the mission statement for what Brian Wood can do with this culturally iconic character when given enough room to create and redefine. This comic has been high art all the way and this issue feels like a pinnacle moment of structure and delivery as things tie together, people die and readers are left on a very sour note. This is about as good as it gets as far as visceral action meeting cerebral emotion.