The presence of Conan the Barbarian in the newest relaunch of Marvel’s 2099 roster of titles might seem like a bizarre decision in the eyes of some readers. Since Marvel regained the rights to publish stories with Robert E. Howard's iconic fantasy hero, the publisher has reveled in his return by publishing his own adventures and inserting him into pockets of the larger Marvel Comics Universe. Broadly speaking, Marvel’s latest efforts with Conan have been successful. The team in Savage Avengers is a unique gaggle of overtly violent characters, and the time-displaced Conan fits in just fine alongside heroes like Wolverine and the Punisher.
While Conan 2099 #1 manages to capture the fun of having the character split skulls in a time period not his own, the construction of its narrative doesn’t quite stick the landing.
A book like Conan 2099 #1 can skate by on a lot of charm. Seeing the Barbarian slash at futuristic villains with what looks like a lightsaber claymore should put a smile on just about anyone’s face. It’s an image that feels tailored-made to be hung on a teenager's bedroom walls. However, a truly great comic can’t survive on style alone, no matter how hard artist Roge Antonio and colorist Erick Arciniega try. They come damn close, though.
The general concept behind Conan 2099 is undoubtedly cool. If you’ve already accepted the character showing up in Earth-616 and becoming a permanent fixture, then there isn’t much of a leap to accept Conan being the same age 80 years in the future. Without spoiling too much, suffice to say that writer Gerry Duggan makes it work. The only problem is that the unfolding of the explanation does a bit too much hand-holding.
Duggan, who is wonderful scribe when given the right material, shows his hand pretty early. By this point, Marvel has had plenty of time-displaced characters whose very presence leads to a puzzle box mystery, most notably Captain America in Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s Marvel 1602 comes to mind. However, Duggan doesn’t play any cards close to the vest. Instead, he holds them out to the rest of the players at the table and asks if he won the hand before anyone else has time to place their bets.
The pacing of the issue is brisk, despite its sudden departures into expository flashbacks. While Roge’s art is dynamic and crisp, there are occasion hints at the idea of fascinating page layouts that never come to fruition. especially on a panel involving Conan climbing a rope and how his progression is conveyed.
Conan 2099 #1 is gorgeously illustrated by Roge Antonio and is built upon concept so weirdly fun that's it’s impossible to disregard its merits. There is plenty of meat on these bones, but there’s also dash of trepidation regarding how the dish is prepared. At its best, Conan 2099 #1 is a fun romp with enough eye candy to keep readers engaged. At its worst, it’s a clever pop culture mash-up t-shirt that's come to life.