"Groo vs. Conan" #1 is that rarest of crossover events: one that feels like a passion project. Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier's love for their character is clear in every panel, and it's a joy to read their victory lap/love song to the stupidest hero in history. For the other half of the title, Conan receives a less enthusiastic and memorable homage, but since he's been reinterpreted by so many creators, it's understandable that Aragones and Evanier feel less attached. This issue will delight fans of Groo, but longtime readers of Conan probably won't feel compelled to pick it up.
Issue #1 flips between three storylines: Conan's questing, Groo's search for employment and the "real-world" shenanigans of Aragones and Evanier. Credit is due to both Tom Luth on colors and the lettering team of Richard Starkings and Comicraft, because each of three has a distinct color palette and text treatment. The differences between the real world and Groo's world are much subtler, but the slight changes in warmth and font weight still create easy visual cues for the reader.
The "real-world" plot is the anchor. It serves as a sort of surrealist frame story about the genesis of this crossover, and it's a surprisingly large portion of the issue. (I'm pretty sure Sergio gets more page time than Conan.) It's quite silly stuff on the surface -- hiding in trees, escaping the hospital, broken English -- and it might have grated without the touch of social commentary beneath the hijinks. Our broken modern healthcare system and police state are played for laughs, which is much lighter and less incongruous than it sounds.
Of the three plotlines, the Conan one is the least imaginative. These pages don't feel phoned in, necessarily, but they do feel prototypical. Wall-scaling, beast-slaying, and nearly naked ladies in need of rescue provide the major plot points, as expected, but none of it adds up to much. Yeates and Luth make some creative layouts, and the choice of perspective while Conan climbs is a treat, but overall it feels like a preview -- a reminder that Conan exists, and will be used later on in the series, but not a real element of the story.
Aragones' art demonstrates his usual flair for pantomime, and lively, crowds. To my eyes, though, the integrated panels were by far the most interesting. When Groo's world clashes with Conan's, the creators don't slide into just one of the aesthetics. Instead, they show the two worlds literally colliding, with cartoony villagers tripping over slaughtered, deeply inked hordes from Conan's. It's not only a wonderful comic effect, but it's skillfully executed. These were the images that have me the most excited for issue #2 -- I would love to see more of those strange, seamless panels.
Aragones and Evanier are clearly pleased with both themselves and the legacy of Groo -- as they should be -- but in "Groo vs. Conan," they're smart enough to let the reader in on the glee and congratulations. This series makes the happy acknowledgement that it takes both a great creative team and a great audience to keep something alive. Fans of Groo should definitely check out "Groo vs. Conan" #1.