This trade paperback collects the first six issues of the new iteration of the Conan the Barbarian title at Marvel Comics. Writer Jason Aaron and principal artist Mahmud Asrar appear to be accomplished creators within the contemporary Marvel operation, and they both do competent work here. I’m not really blown away the way that I was in the early numbers of the Dark Horse run back in 2003-4, but I did find these new comics to be quick and satisfying reading. It does seem like there’s an attempt to strike a balance between the tone of the original Marvel run and the Dark Horse title.
Aaron hits a few clinkers with his language, but on the whole his Conan seems more faithful to Howard’s original hero than most of the pastiche novel Conans have been (to say nothing of the movies). Each issue starts with the same Nemedian Chronicles quote (“… when the oceans drank Atlantis yada yada …”) and a full-continent Hyborian Age map highlighted to show the location of that number’s principal adventure.
This collection has stories set throughout Conan’s life, using as a framing device young Conan’s encounter with a malevolent witch who returns to kill him in sacrifice to her arch-demon benefactor many years later when Conan is king of Aquilonia. Whether she succeeds (as implied in the “Life and Death of” title of the book) is left unresolved at the end of the sixth issue.
Appended to the reprinted contents is a vast gallery of alternate cover art. For the first issue alone, there were at least a dozen covers. I really have to wonder if this now venerable publishing gimmick is really serving any purpose. Are readers foolish enough to buy multiple copies for the different covers? Well, I guess I represent the opposite extreme, since I waited for the trade collection and then borrowed it from the public library.
This volume collects issues 6 through 10 of the recent Doctor Strange comic book, detailing the culmination of Strange’s battle against the Imperator and his Empirikul army, along with the standalone Doctor Strange: Last Days of Magic which belongs between issues 6 and 7. The latter in particular features a range of minor magic-powered superheroes. Jason Aaron’s writing plays up the pathos of the destruction of magic, but is sometimes quite funny. Chris Bachalo’s art is solid.
Zelda Stanton, the librarian whom Strange has taken on as an assistant, has several important roles to play in this plot arc. The flavor of the thing as a whole reminded me of the David Tennant Doctor Who episode “The Last of the Time Lords,” with Zelda in the Martha Jones role.
This collection of the contemporary Doctor Strange comic book covers issues 11-16, immediately following Strange’s costly defeat of the trans-dimensional anti-magic army of the Empirikul. His powers are at a complete ebb, and his accustomed sorceries are mostly inoperable. So this plot arc has a “greatest hits” of his old foes competing for the privilege of snuffing him while he’s down. Jason Aaron’s story makes Strange into a more dedicated pugilist that he has been in the past. There’s some amusing banter between Wong and Zelma. And the arc ends with a tease regarding difficulties to come.
I like that Strange now carries a sword, which is not for fighting, it seems. It is part of an occult magician’s kit, after all. Most of the compositions/pencils in this book are by Chris Bachalo, whose work is commendable, showing influence from the relatively recent work of Emma Rios, and making good as a successor to Dikto, Brunner, and Colan for bringing a coherent and engaging visual style to Marvel’s flagship occult superhero title. His re-imaginings of Nightmare and Dormammu are top notch. Issue 11 had art from Kevin Nowlan, and I was not so impressed there.
The most amusing issue of the arc is perhaps number 14: “A Gut Full of Hell,” in which Satana attempts to conscript Strange into her infernal enterprise. I was relieved to find out that Strange was still capable of astral projection, surprised that that his astral form was nekkid, and dismayed that someone felt the need to eclipse his butt with a black rectangle of modesty.