Wednesday, 27 June 2012

On "Conan The Barbarian" #5 by Brian Wood & James Harren:- Reader's Roulette 3.3

In which the blogger continues reviewing the comics nominated by the splendid winners of the recent TooBusyThinking competition, with today's choice being that suggested by the noble Joe;

            
There's a radical solution to the problem of today's typically plot-light comics on show in Brian Wood and James Harren's Conan The Barbarian #5. Sadly, it doesn't involve adding any more plot to the proceedings. Instead, Wood has decided to flesh out the thinnest and flimsiest of stories with a host of indigestably uninteresting text captions. As a story-stiffening strategy, it does add a few more weary minutes of reading time to the experience of an enervatingly unconvincing plot, but it does so at the cost of both boring the reader and drawing attention to how absurdly ill-considered the MacGuffin that's driving events really is. (Hint for pirates seeking to distract attention in the middle of a "glittering city"; try not to develop a plan which involves your leader being imprisoned, condemned to death and taken to the gallows on a long-shot that you'll be able to free him and pull off your heist too. That's Saturday-morning cartoon logic, circa 1975. Why, something might go wrong!) What should have been presented as a great exciting blur and misdirecting rush of events is instead mired in a narrative strategy which does nothing other than accentuate how insultingly dumb everyone on the page is here.

        
Almost half the pages of Conan The Barbarian #5 are bogged down with these momentum-clogging captions. Into them is lobbed great chunks of largely unnecessary backstory, a discussion of  the Cimmerian's most favoured fighting tactics, the possible fate of his corpse had he been executed, the sun-obscuring properties of the city's fortress, choice cliches such as "the pits of despair", and even throw-us-way-out-of-the-narrative anachronisms such as "variables" and "moneyed social structures". If only Woods had spent the time adding a few more character beats, or even a well-honed plot- reversal or two, Conan The Barbarian #5 might have passed as an entertainment rather than a losing-the-will-to-read-on ordeal. As it is, almost a third of the issue is devoted to a profoundly uninteresting punch-up between the title character and a Mongo-sized side of beef and muscle who shows not a trace of personality beyond Mean 101 (Wordless). Still, fans of the kind of not-really-so-shocking-anymore moments which seem de rigueur in so much of today's product can at least look forward to an energetic full-page decapitation, in which the victim's expression finally seems to suggest a measure of animation and personality.

   
Two moments of excellance in Harren's always clear and at times even sumptuous artwork suggest what might have been achieved with the raw material of the story. In the first, we're presented with an imprisoned and clearly despairing Conan. Given how relatively rarely the character's ever been depicted in comics as anything other than adamantine and indomitable, the frame carries a distinctly compelling and intriguing appeal. With his flesh as pallid as a corpse and one eye swollen and bloodied and closed-up, and with the composition of the panel pushing him as far from the light as possible, this is a fascinatingly fallible Conan. Unfortunately, nothing much is done with the concept, but the panel which represents such promise remains to perhaps inspire more compelling tales. In the second of the issue's highlights, a sequence of events often unhelpfully crammed into a page-full of ill-judged horizontal frames ends with the suddenly shocking sight of the similing pirate queen Belit coated with the blood of her ambushed victims. In one shot, the idealisation of the noble savage as is typical in so many comic-book Conan tales is fundamentally undermined, and the callousness of the lawless barbarian accentuated every bit as much as the corruption and weakness of the civilisation-stunted tax-payer.

$3.50 is a considerable amount of money to shell out for two telling panels and little more, but they are panels worth the celebrating all the same.

           
Reader's Roulette Rating; If only there'd been a few more than two such remarkable frames in Conan The Barbarian #5, I'd have been happy to recommend it to you. But there wasn't, so I can't. It looks pretty, but the lily's been gilded.


38 comments:

  1. Colin,

    Your writing inspires as always! First, you're right. The two Harren panels you chose are two of the finer images in the series so far. They say more than many (any?) of the words in the script. My disappointments with Conan #5 weren't as deep as yours. What I think this issue lacked more than anything else is that there is just not enough Belit. Conan we know, but Belit is a rare bird that always leaves me wanting more and, for better or worse, Wood seems to portion her out a bit too little for me. Pardon the piggyback, I wrote about Conan #5 here: http://interestedinsophisticatedfun.blogspot.com/2012/06/conan-5.html
    I'll admit (only to you, of course) that I struggled with trying to come up with something to say about this issue. I went for world-building and atmosphere instead of serving as a comentator for a fight I found dull and awkward. I admire that Wood is trying to do something 'different' with Conan and that two-and-a-half page introduction is such a sore thumb that I felt it needed to be written about. Wood's three issue arc structure is falling into a bit of a pattern that bodes well for the last chapter in this arc (issue #3 was the best of the series so far), but this issue made me work my 'Colin Smith' critic's muscles if only because I wanted this issue to be better.

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    1. Hello Keith:- Thank you. I'm relieved that we agree on the strengths of those two panels in particular. I really meant what I said about their being remarkable in the way that they play with the tradition of Conan in comics, or at least, with that tradition as I understand it. I'm glad I'm didn't come across as being snide as regards their virtues.

      Belit has always held out the prospect of their being something other than CONAN, and all that associated bleak machismo, in the narrative. It's been MANY years since I read my way through the Howard stories, but as far as the comics go, I've always been baffled by how rarely Conan has been partnered with strong and contrasting characters. It's not I want Conan to be functioning as a new man. I just find him so interesting that I want to see how her engages with equally compelling and yet entirely distinct personalities.

      No problem at all with the link. I think it's a fascinating business to see how different bloggers approach the same subject, and our approaches are different here. I think yours is of course an entirely valid approach, and I enjoyed reading how someone with more invested in this particular creative team and comic approached the issue;

      http://interestedinsophisticatedfun.blogspot.com/2012/06/conan-5.html

      (By the way, congrats on the response to your Bulletproof Coffin post too. Huzzah! :))

      I do appreciate your kind words. If you've faith that the next issue of Conan could well be an improvement, then I'll certainly check it out. I'd enjoy having a compelling Conan title to buy into. So, fingers crossed.

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    2. There are a good number of strong and contrasting characters in the Howard tales, and the original Conan's "bleak machismo" is just one facet of the original character. Wood's character isn't really that much more complex than Marvel's take at its best, it just replaces the elements Marvel took rather than add to them.

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    3. Hello Taranaich:- Given that I can only speak for the comic-book Conan, and there only for a very few issues, all that I might add is that the Conan of the later Thomas/Windsor-Smith stories seems a considerably more complex person than the one presented here. The Conan of The Black Hand Of Vengeance, for example, seems to me to be a far more nuanced and human character.

      But then again, I'm drawing from so few examples ...

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    4. Colin: Taranaich made this point, but I'd like to back him up - in the stories just prior to Wood's revamp, Conan was hanging out with a young lady named Olivia who held her own quite nicely, even if she's less bad-ass than Belit. There are other examples, too, but she's the most recent one.

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    5. Hello Greg:- Thanks for the info. I was discussing Conan in comics in general rather than the Dark Horse run, which I openly admit to be pretty entirely ignorant of. (I bought and read two of the earliest DH collections, thought them pretty thin and binned them.) But it's good to know that there's some other substantial foils for Conan in the recent past.

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  2. Sorry for the almost unrelated comment, but... I was wondering if (and when) you would do another competition... There's one specific comic which i'm really curious to know what you think of...

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    1. Hello Thomaz:- No problem at all :) You're welcome to use the e-mail address to your right on this page to nudge me in the right direction.

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  3. "...Wood has decided to flesh out the thinnest and flimsiest of stories with a host of indigestably uninteresting text captions."

    A fresh outbreak of Don McGregor Disease?

    Okay, McGregor's plotting wasn't bad, but oh, those captions. Those captions.

    Every now and then some poor fool believes that prolixity means profundity and profundity means art. -sigh-

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    1. Hello Harvey:- Poor old Don McGregor, and yet, his work really was so over-burdened by text that he's always going to be the bench-mark for over-writing. And yet his plotting - as well as his world-building - was often compelling.

      I'm baffled by the use of text captions here. (Even those anachronisms mystify. Mind you, perhaps Howard used "variables" etc in his work. Doesn't sound too between-the-wars, but who knows?)But it's a fight'n'caper comic, which means that it needs plot before it needs waffle. The lack of the first and the presence of the second sinks the book. It just causes the reader to think about the plot, which requires, to mention but one problem; (1) the city to have crime'n'punishment procedures which would ensure that Conan survives imprisonment and arrives at his execution in fine shape, and yet relies on that same system (2) being entirely open to the influence of Belit suggesting an alternate and relatively uncertain outcome to the process. Daft.

      As you say, it's not art. Worse yet, it's not rip-snorting pulp either.

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    2. Howard's anachronisms, in my opinion, are a part of his take on the Literary Agent Hypothesis. When Howard was writing historical fiction, he went back to original sources and historical documents - but his tales are two-fisted pulp yarns just like contemporary tales. As such, it's easy to see the Conan stories as Howard's equivalent of those two-fisted tales inspired by the fictional Nemedian Chronicles, filtered through the voice of a 20th-Century Texan. The Nemedian Chronicles verse at the beginning of "The Phoenix on the Sword" has an entirely different cadence from the rest of the story.

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    3. Hello Taranaich:- Am I right to infer from what you've written that the use of "variables" and "moneyed social structures" in CBT#5 comes directly from Howard's work? Because I didn't mean to in any way suggest that the original Conan's couldn't or shouldn't contain such material. What works in a great pulpish tale doesn't, of course, necessarily work in comics. And whether those words/terms are from Howard's text or not, I'd suggest that they should've been edited here. Presenting them in the form of snippets here left them appearing distinctly out of place. A touch of editorial if not authorial judgment could have side-stepped that.

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    4. From what I've read of Brian Wood, my take is that it simply wouldn't be a Brian Wood comic if there wasn't some mention of "moneyed social structures."

      But seriously- is this the first comic he's done that's not contemporary/futuristic, with great emphasis on class consciousness and awareness of capitalism? Local, for example, which I very highly recommend, doesn't particularly have a lot of captions or anything, and actually tends to allow the action to play out without too much commentary (besides the one where the juxtaposition of the postcards with the delinquency of her cousin creates a really touching effect- damn, I love that book). Maybe, this being a different genre than he's used to, Wood is feeling a little out of his element and trying new stuff?

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    5. Hello Historyman:- I actually think that a serious look at social structure in Conan might lend the comics a degree of deoth and content which might make the Hyperborean Age more believable. I've no problem with Wood playing around in that court. It just wasn't very well done in CTB #5, I fear.

      I must admit, just as I'm not a Conan bod, I'm not particularly familiar with Wood either. It's one of the great advantages for me where the Reader's Roulette nominations are concerned. I often have to just treat each book as it comes without any kind of context. As such, I'm grateful for the nudge towards Local. The catch-up never ceases :)

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    6. In terms of the reader's roulette, when you have your next one I'd like to nudge you towards the Before Watchmen stuff, despite your and my distaste with the ethical issues surrounding its existence- I flipped through them at the comic shop, and- the NiteOwl, and a number of other ones, seem to be playing off the graphical and structural trademarks of the original book, to the extent that when I got to the Comedian it was nice to NOT see a 9-panel grid or a diagram of a clock staring me in the face.

      Yeah, I do like Wood- I suppose I should have been more specific though- many of his books tend to have a certain ... perspective in terms of our modern capitalistic society, and involving media and all other aspects thereof. A bit like reading a comic by Rage Against the Machine or some such... but I agree that a comic exploring the sociopolitical structure of the Cimmeran lands or whatever would be interesting. Though Orc Stain currently is proving itself the absolute best at fantasy world building.

      Also, is it just me, or is the use of a typewriter font for the captions anachronistic too? Regular comic-style writing is one thing, hand-writing is another, but deliberately aping a device that hasn't yet been invented yet feels a bit... sloppy, unless we're going with the Death of the Writer concept mentioned by one of the other commenters.

      1929! A year in which Barbarians and Pirates fight sometimes! 1929! A year when people are thrown in jail, and some of them spend a very long time in there! 1929! A year in which the social-political structure... exists! (sorry, I just can't get enough of those ridiculous captions)

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    7. Historyman: Northlanders was about Vikings, so this isn't the first time Wood has written something sort of like this. It's a damned fine comic book, well worth a look.

      And Colin: Local is a very good comic, probably Wood's best so far.

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    8. Hello Historyman:- I am reading the Before Watchmen books with my Q Magazine hat on. The column has already touched upon the ethical problems and BW will obviously have a place in what's essentially a "what's-on/coming-attractions" feature. I am piously matching whatever I send to the demon DC with parallel donations to more worthy causes, but it does still make me feel uncomfortable. I'm unsure about whether to write about the books about. I have no doubt that there's an excellent argument for mentioning them in Q. I'm not sure that there is a similar one for here. I'm also well aware that there's a strong argument for never mentioning them at all. Worse yet, I've found the books to be uninspiring, with the exception of a few stray panels here and there. I'm not sure that a review could ever seem to fair.

      I have found a great many folks do like Wood and a few of them find the very idea of his work being criticised as heresy. (I'm not talking about folks who've been generous enough to comment on this blog, but folks from the mysterious, not-to-be-specified "out-there"!) I've been rather surprised. I didn't think that my review was a swinging assault on a writer so much as a discussion on a specific script for a single issue. Ah, well. I've no problem with BW. In fact, I've no opinion on him one way or another. I found DMZ interesting although, as time passed, less than compelling, I struggled with Northlanders and I've a copy of The Massive #1 bought since I picked up CTB#5 waiting to be read. To be honest, I'm always surprised when a discussion about the storytelling choices made in one specific comic get taken as criticism of a creator's entire career. But it's hard to give a flying fox. I still haven't read a convincing explanation for why a thin and unconvincing plot matched with all that text is a good idea beyond "I like it", and that surely means that everyone can agree to disagree on the basis that taste carries the day. And why not?

      Taranaich implied that the text in this issue came from Howard, or perhaps that it mimics his style. (I can't find any evidence in the issue that The Argos Deception is adapted directed from a Howard short story.) I think the idea of that font is that it evokes the idea of a pulp script being tap-tap-tapped out for a Thirties magazine. If that's so, it's an interesting idea. I don't think it works, and I'd agree with your reading, but it's a thoughtful decision all the same.

      I tell you, I'm fighting not to throw in my own "1929" lines here. But instead I might say, and despite the impression I might have given recently, a Conan/Kiss team-up would be AWESOME!

      (Second time ever for that AWESOME word and me.)

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    9. Hello Greg:- Thanks for the nudges/clarifications.

      Greg's always-worth-the-visit WhatIBoughtThis Month column at CBR- it's one of favourite places to go in the blogosphere - touches this month on Conan and even deals with issues raised in this very comments section. I'm sure everyone reads it, but if you forgot to pop over;

      http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/06/28/what-i-bought-27-june-2012/

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    10. I took the courier/type-writer fonts to be an attempt to invoke the pulp material its drawn from itself. So when Brian is adapting the text, he's literally adapting the text. He's evoking the books themselves in part, as well as the imaginary world of Hyboria.

      Which worked for me, but I can see that it'd bug some tastes.

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    11. Colin: Thanks for the plug. Since I lost a reader because of my political ranting, I can use all the publicity I can get!

      Regarding the typewriter font: Busiek stopped by the blog one time and said that it was specifically done to evoke Howard's way of writing - a kind of metatextual comment on the fact that these are pulp stories, in essence. Straight from the horse's mouth!

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    12. Hello Kieron:- Odd to bump into you just as I'm failing to be able to write about UX14. I'm glad that my hypothesis about the caption font holds some water. I think I'd have liked that inventive decision more if I'd've enjoyed the script there more. Which isn't meant to be snarky at all. Horses for courses etc etc.

      And I'm looking forward to reading The Massive tonight, with everyone here encouraging me to read more of Mr Wood's work.

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    13. The Massive is really intersting. DMZ is probably his masterwork. I think NORTHLANDERS is probably my favourite, in its short-story structure wandering across hundreds of years of Viking history.

      And yes, an odd bump.

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    14. Hello Greg:- Aw, I'm always disappointed when folks just want to read work they agree with. Still, it's only one reader. Hopefully maybe there'll be a replacement from here.

      Ah! And the solution to the problem of the font. Am I allowed to feel the slightest relief that I at least got that right?

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    15. Hello Kieron:- I just realised that that "bump" line sounded smug rather than genuine. But it is a surreal business, but it's always good to swap a word.

      I really do appreciate folks suggesting that I look again. I've found so much of my taste shifting in the past six months or so. It seems that everything I read before that has to re-evaluated. DMZ and Northlanders it is then :)

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  4. I'm curious if you read the first three issues with Wood and his frequent collaborator Becky Cloonan on art. Those were what got me interested in a monthly Conan book in the longest time. Issue #4 wasn't bad, but it was a bit of a let down on the art front. And I think I just glazed over the majority of the text panels in this most recent issue. I'm hopeful that Cloonan returns to the book, as I really was looking forward to the pair of them exploring the between the paragraphs adventures of Conan and Belit...

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    1. Hello lurkerwithout:- No, all I've read is the single issue. I have, however, had several folks tell me on Twitter and via e-mail that the first three issues in the run were much better and well worth the look. I will, I do assure you, check them out when opportunity allows. I am absolutely ripe for being convinced to opt in to buying a Conan monthly title.

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  5. Colin,

    I'm feeling constrained by Twitter's 149 characters, so I thought I'd respond here :-)

    I recall an earlier discussion regarding The New 52 Batman that you recently read and were bothered with due to the inability of new readers to pick up and run with the story line. The lack of context really inhibited the ability of new readers to immerse themselves in the story and subsequently find it an enjoyable experience. In a mild act of shameless self-promotion, here's the link to the comic reviews I've been writing these past few months for Kabooooom! where I've been actively following the Conan series:

    http://kabooooom.com/2012/06/review-conan-the-barbarian-5/

    I'd like to draw your attention to my initial review of issue #2--the first in the series that I read without having been able to read issue #1. The lesson I learned (upon reading issue #3) was that the lack of context made for a drastically different reading. Since having placed issue #2 into the greater part of the story, I find the elements that initially disturbed me to make much more sense within the story itself. I'd guess that lacking the context of the previous issues is probably at least partially at play in terms of your initial impression of this issue.

    NOW, I definitely understand that we have to consider that few readers are lucky enough to just start reading right at the beginning of a story arc. We usually end up jumping in somewhere in the middle and then will play "catch up" if the story is interesting enough to warrant it. And it's unfortunate if we arrive at a point that isn't necessarily the strongest on its own, but does help to drive the narrative in certain ways. But this is one of the more... unique characteristics of this medium. But as you point out (and I did as well in my initial review), $3+ is a steep entry price for a short story line that doesn't succeed in catching the reader's interests.

    For my part, I'm far more interested in graphic novels and collected editions so I can avoid this dilemma altogether. I can enjoy the entire story in one shot, and it makes those brief episodes that are less captivating more endurable when I can immediately see there is more story to follow that should provide me with the sort of resolution I'm looking for.

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    1. Hello Forrest:- First off, THANK YOU for the link. I always feel far happier when I can point at reviews from folks which are both well-reasoned and entirely at odds with my own POV;

      http://kabooooom.com/2012/06/review-conan-the-barbarian-5/

      Reading your points helps me realise that I would ever have appreciated the material in this comic. I have EVERY faith that the material would be MORE enjoyable in the context you suggest, but I still doubt I'd have warned to Wood's scripting here. To my mind, this comic is marked by poor storytelling for the reasons which I gave above. It doesn't matter - in the terms of my wholly subjection opinion and nothing else! - whether there's a broader context which might change aspects of how I read the book. The plot seems incredibly thin to my taste, the caption largely redundant, the storytelling generally flaccid. I'd have felt short-changed if I came across these 22 pages in a collected form.

      Yet some of what you've discussed in your review clearly reflects the aspects of the comic which I most appreciated. In particular, we both enjoyed reading about a Conan who's, in your words, "neither omnipotent nor stoic". That and the quite distinct representation of Conan visually do interest me. And your enthusiasm is admittedly infectious. I guess we just have different preferences where it comes to storytelling.

      And why not? :)

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    2. My medieval lit teacher used to always say (in Latin): "In matters of taste, one cannot argue!" lol! Of course, he would often use this phrase in a variety of off-color contexts!-) In any event, I agree that it's nice to be able to look at a different perspective, see the rationale behind it as valid, but not feeling as though one were being pressured to "buy in."

      For my part, I rather enjoyed the actions sequences. I enjoy the more visceral experience of reading Conan comic books, and while this doesn't really create a literary sort of experience along the lines of Burns, Mazzuchelli, or Thompson whose artwork and storyline are so intertwined, it sure is entertaining stuff! But there are moments in the series, too, where it lifts itself up out of the entertainment level and does pose some interesting points. In particular, I'm thinking of the space between issues 2 & 3 where Conan changes his allegiances and the moral dilemma he experiences (issue 3). So, it's not all hack and slash.

      I DO find it interesting to hear that Wood was directed by Dark Horse to essentially write this story apart from the rest of the Conan continuity. I can certainly see where it would be especially problematic for diehard REH fans, but on the other hand, it does (in my mind) speak to the strength of the storyline that it can stand on its own--again, I do find the story works, you might not. :)

      I'd be interested in hearing your impression of Cary Nord and Kurt Busiek's adaptation of Conan (vol. 1 the Frost Giant's Daughter). I know you, like so many of us, having a reading pile a mile high, but if you get a chance, give it a shot.

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    3. Hello Forrest:- As you say, it's all a matter of taste :) For my money, a third of a comic in which blokes just pummel each other is just far too much standard-issue pummeling. Not so much because of the fact of the fighting, or because the art wasn't obviously competent. It's just that that amount of space given to a fight felt to me as if it needed something more remarkable than them big lads being bad to each other. It was an opportunity to stage the punch-up in such a way as to show something more of Messantia, or of its people and customs. A fight I can see in any comic at any time. But a fight that tells me something about the time and the people? That would've been more down my street.

      But then, as you say, it's just "my street".

      Nor would I have wanted to imply that CTB beyond this issue is all hack and slash. In fact, there's quite alot of this issue which certainly couldn't be classified that way. The first three pages for example were anything but.

      And of course that hacking and slashing brought the shocking panel of the blood-splattered Belit, so when the fighting gave the reader something striking and unique, I'm all for it.

      And I've been assured by good and splendid folks such as yourself that the first arc of the book was very good indeed, so I will indeed be checking it out. I've no axe to grind here, and I do like the idea if not always the practise of Conan, so if it's good, I'm interested!

      I knew nothing of the business of Wood being directed to place the book out of continuity. That's a very strange business, though I don't mean to imply that it's an indefensible one. I don't know! Still, if you should have a link which would tell me more about that, I'd be very grateful.

      I did read the Nord and Busiek TPB several years ago, but I struggled, I'm afraid. That doesn't mean that that opinion would still be mine if I re-read it. Many of my opinions have changed considerably since I started the blog. Rather than try to recall with any dubious specificity the grounds for my struggling, I'll put the collection upon the reading pile you mention and give it another go.

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  6. It's interesting to read a negative review of the comic who isn't criticising it from the "no way would Howard's Conan act this way" perspective (which is where the vast majority of my own criticisms lie, and I'll spare you from that).

    The problem as I see it is that Wood was specifically told to ignore everything except "Queen of the Black Coast": as a result, his interpretation is entirely without context to the rest of the stories, which means that Conan often acts entirely contradictory to how he does in others. Perfect example is the "fallible" Conan: while there are plenty of occasions where Conan has indeed been depicted in genuine danger and even beaten, Wood's gone in entirely the other direction, by making Conan so flawed that it's difficult to imagine how this average kid could become this great warrior king. And thus we have a Conan who walks meekly to the gallows, fully expecting to die, making no attempt to escape, or even do as much damage to his captors as he could before he did die - which is what he did in every other occasion where he's imprisoned.

    If Wood and Dark Horse said from the outset this was a new and different Conan, that'd be fine, but they've consistently said that they're being faithful to the original story. While they do some things far better than, say, the Thomas run - particularly their take on Belit - and it is a recognizable adaptation, it isn't particularly faithful.

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    1. Hello Taranaich:- Ah, well, the decision to criticise the books from the perspective of its storytelling was in large part because I just don't know enough about Conan to do anything else. As I signed up, in an attempt to establish my own limitations, I haven't read the other books in this runs and, as I owned up to in the comments, it's been MANY years since I read Howard. (I do keep meaning to go back. It's not anything to do with a misplaced snobbery that's stopping me.)

      For that reason, it's always interesting to hear from folks who do know of what they speak. I can't comment more because I'm out of my depth and I've always shuddered to see folks who attempt to nod along and pretend that they know more than they really do.

      But thank you for the information :)

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  7. hi colin--

    i have in general enjoyed brian wood's new conan, particularly the issues with his usual collaborator, becky cloonan. and i felt that 5 was weak, but saw as a result of integrating a new artist after years of doing Northlanders with cloonan. and i agree that the previous comics are stronger.

    i wish i could say that the text boxes and anachronisms that bother you are entirely a result of that. they are not. wood used many text boxes and anachronisms to greater and lesser effectiveness in Northlanders--a viking comic with much of the feel of Criminal. that said, when the narration and anachronisms work, they work beautifully, when they don't, well, right now they are so much better than so many other comics that i am sadly satisified in my lowered standards. but there will be stacks of boxes, something that finally drove me away form matt fraction's Defenders.

    i generally hope that wood's just getting into the swing of a new comic, integrating the short arcs and narrative style from his earlier work with howards writing style and world. sometimes writers can be too respectful of the source material and the next thing you know there are bricks of text everywhere. i also can't help hoping cloonan will return.

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    1. Hello Carol:- I must admit, I'm beginning to feel that I've been caught kicking the cutest puppy just because it growled and nipped a touch as I walked past. :-( Still, it's of some small (reviewer's) comfort to note that all those who've spoke well about CTB in general have suggested that #5's not the best of the run. And everyone who's spoke up for the comic as a run is someone I've a great deal of time and respect for, which means that I've something to really look forward to in the earlier issues of CTB.

      I tried Northlanders a while away and I fear that I really had problems with the language in general, and in the text captions, if memory serves, especially. Strangely enough, I'd completely forgotten about the book, and hadn't remembered that BW was the writer of that comic when I set down to review CTB#5. (I like to do the Reader's Roulette reviews with as little prep as possible, so it's the comic itself I'm seeing and nothing else.) The period is one I've always been fascinated by, and the East Of England, where I now live, is still SO marked by the evidence of those days. Walking any of Norfolk's surviving "Dark Ages" dykes creates the sense that the period was really just a few decades ago. Perhaps I'm too close to the period in terms of my own preconceptions to warm to what was undoubtedly a radical and personal take on events.

      But you do remind me that I really don't know Becky Cloonan's work nearly well enough. Or Mr Wood's, for that matter. And if you're that enthusiastic about her work, then it seems all the more important I get checking it out!

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    2. well, i do tend to differentiate between something being good and liking it. i suspect that while you might recognize some of wood's work as good, you might never really like it--because of his narrative style and his language. so i hate the thought that i am sending you back to look at more of the kind of thing that just doesn't appeal to you.

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    3. Hello Carol:- It's a win-win proposition for me. If NL turns out to be something I can warm to, I've got even more enjoyable comics to read through. If it isn't, I'll have a clearer of why I feel that way! By which I mean, I appreciate your POV and, as always, consider your recommendations as well worth paying attention to. They always have been!

      There will be no -you-made-me-read-it lawsuit arriving if it turns out to be, in my always flawed opinion, pantsville.

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  8. Really nice review...i had the same feelings of unease/boredom while reading this issue. it is a rather odd contrast-beautiful art and a boring/stupid story.

    Harren's artwork is superb and it's a joy to watch him draw the scenes of the city...and i like his conan-lithe and atheletic. his belit is just magnificent(makes me want a belit miniseries now)-sensual and dangerous...and those eyes! this is really high level artwork.

    but echoing some of the other commenters, Taranaich from above specifically, i can't believe this conan as the reaver/barbarian. he comes across as a love struck kid...which would be fine(maybe...:D) with a different character but this is conan. i mean we need to see at least flashes of why he was this tougher than tough mercenary type. at present he seems like a perfectly agreeable sort that is thrown into a variety of improbable situations.

    if wood can ever get a decent handle on conan this could be a stellar run...if not at least we have harren's stunning version of belit-and thats worth my money, at least for now :D.

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    1. Hello Selkirk:- Yes, you sum up how I felt too. And I agree with you about Harren's artwork. In fact, it was obvious that BW was anything other than a journeyman too, which made it all the more puzzling that the work had been put into a form that so worked against it.

      Everyone who's been kind to comment have left me feeling nothing but curiosity about the other issues in the run. Obviously, I won't be able to comment on how Conan is presented through the BW issues, but even the negative views have made me feel interested in seeing how everything plays out.

      My ambition was always to write negative reviews which made folks want to read the book getting pummeled. Now I find the folks I've the privilege of swapping words with are getting me to read the other issues in runs of books I've been pummeling. Strange, but fine by me :)

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