Written by Christian Bischoff
Fred Van Lente’s stellar rendition of Conan continues in Conan the Avenger’s 16th issue, Blood Oasis Part One. This Conan line is the fifth series of Conan comics put out by Dark Horse, based on Robert E. Howard’s iconic character from a series of stories published in the 1930s in Weird Tales magazine. Conan has become massively popular throughout his 80 year tenure, and has come to be known as a staple of the sword and sorcery genre. The many novels and tales of Conan published throughout the years recount his journeys as a wanderer and as a hero of incredible strength and skill. Conan the Avenger continues this tradition and exists as a retelling of Conan’s travels following his loss of his love, the pirate queen Bêlit, and the pirate crew he had been journeying with for years.
The new arc places Conan in the middle of a vast desert, having just escaped Xuthal with the former slave girl Natala. The pair journeys in search of an oasis to the south, to grant them respite from the harsh conditions of the desert. Van Lente’s Conan is a contemporary tribute to Howard’s Conan of old, an unsurpassed fighter of both strength and smarts, with a martial intelligence that has allowed him to survive so long through so many perilous encounters. The Conan in these pages is nothing like the Conan of the big screen, who challenged foes with a stoic strength.
Instead, the picture of an intelligent, battle-hardy, and at times humorous man is painted. Conan the Avenger fights with the haggard skill of a battle hardened man, but manages to maintain an aspect of levity that complements the gravity of his bearing. In this way, Van Lente’s Conan is a triumph. His supporting characters shine as well, primarily the fiery former slave Natala. She is a wonderful foil for the oft-serious Conan, who sports a fiery disposition and a fighter’s heart despite her physical shortcomings in comparison to the barbarian of Cimmeria.
Worth mentioning is artist Brian Ching, who makes Van Lente’s characters come to life with a wonderful expressive style that humanizes Conan’s fictional adventures. Conan’s cold, forceful skill in battle is depicted with stunning ease, and the Ching’s delicately detailed facial expressions couples with Van Lente’s skillful writing allows the reader to instantly understand Conan’s relationship with Natala and his bearing that is at once noble and barbaric. This issue is the prelude to a promising arc, so don’t look for much action here. The only action is rising action, as the scene is set for a great battle in the oasis. It leaves the reader wanting for more, and has left one humble reviewer sitting with bated breath in anticipation. Issue 16 is a transitional issue, but it is one worth picking up, and I highly recommend any Conan lover do just that.
Rating: 9 out of 10