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Conan The Legend #0

Conan The Legend #0
writer: Kurt Busiek
artist: Cary Nord
colorist: Dave Stewart

Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas…there was an age undreamed of…

Those words, which set the stage for Conan The Barbarian, come surprisingly late in Dark Horse's zero issue. Instead, writer Busiek has taken an interesting perspective. Not just discovering the end of Conan's life (which creator Robert E. Howard did, and even the movies tried to do), Busiek, as the title implies, deals with the legacy of Conan.

Call it a pastiche of Shelley's Ozymandias. In a period sometime after Howard's fabled Hyborian Age, a dissipated feckless prince and his entourage stumble across a cave full of gold and assorted baubles. But for this young nobleman, the greatest treasure comes in the form of a toppled statue. Surprisingly life-like, and obviously of someone not usually the subject of ancient art, the statue has an inscription that fans the last sparks of interest in this nameless royal.

His Vizier dismisses it. "Conan," he translates from the runes. "A peasant's name, common as mud." But his contempt is misplaced, and by the time this story is over, our interest will be piqued that maybe these men are not as far removed from the Cimmerian as we at first thought.

Busiek drops a nice mixture of "real" myth and archaeology. From the inscription on Conan's statue, it's clear that there's something Arthurian about the barbarian, or at least there will be in Dark Horse's telling. Digging into the Nemedian Chronicles, the Vizier notes bitterly that most of the records are actually just of financial transactions, and not so much tales of heroism past. Though we may marvel at legends of Babylon, most of what we have is, in actuality, just what was bought and sold, too.

It's a nice taste of what's to come. The story may be merely serving as a frame for the series, but a few elements look like foreshadowing to something larger. Here's a hint: it's never a good thing when Viziers (or Wazirs) have snake eyes.

Yes, Cary Nord's art really sets the tone. Reproduced directly from his pencils and computer painted by Dave Stewart, the pages have a muscular look right out of Marvel's classic Savage Sword of Conan black and white book. Nord has a style that evokes several of those who have worked on the character before. He mentions people like Dale Eaglesham as influences, but the art references further back. In a great sequence of pages, the layouts blur from John Buscema to Tony DeZuniga to even Frank Frazetta, with a little bit of Frank Thorne thrown in for good measure.

That's not to say it's imitative. It all melts together into something unique in itself, with a look that would fit in the '70's (where it would have been groundbreaking), but is still very much of today's comics (where it will likely move to the forefront).

So is the market really clamoring for the return of Conan? At 25 cents, take a look for yourself. That's how Dark Horse suckered me in - the guy at my comic shop threw it on my pile just because of the price. But I'm glad he did. The regular book won't come out until February, 2004, but already Busiek and Nord have me looking for more. That's a reaction I did not expect to have.


Derek McCaw

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