An additional data point in favor of my long-held theory means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Conan the Barbarian #4
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Gerardo Zaffino
Cover: Esad Ribic
$3.99
Marvel

“Come, you ignorant beast! Try and kill me so I can live again!”

I was reluctant, as per my nebulous rules for writing about comics, to tackle an issue of Conan again so soon, but this issue provides further evidence for my pet theory that, as an archetype, Conan is a character who can be slotted into any kind of story with ease.

While the character has in many ways defined the genre with which he is associated, his outsized characteristics make it impossible to keep him caged within the confines of a genre.

Mystery story? Conan can do that. Romance? Sure, why not? Make Conan a masked vigilante? Well, we’ll see how that works with this issue. (Spoiler: It works very well.)

I mentioned that it’s impossible to cage him, and that was a deliberate choice, as a kind of imprisonment – or an attempt at such – is at the core of this story in which we find Conan in the early days of his reign as king of Aquilonia.

In a case of “be careful what you wish for,” Conan finds that achieving his lifelong dream isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and while he knew, intellectually, that there was more to being a king than just sitting on a fancy chair and having people defer to you at all times, he didn’t feel it in his gut. He is, however, feeling it in his gut now – quite literally.

The king becomes violently ill, but will not allow any healers to attend to him, because he understands the nature of his ailment. He’s got a case of “Civilization Flu,” the result of living a life not marked by war and the constant struggle to survive.

Unfortunately, now that he’s a king, he can’t return to the life he once led, and so he must find some other outlet for the instincts that refuse to be caged.

To help himself find the balance that he needs, as so many people do, he seeks out a therapy animal.

Well, what passes for one for a man like Conan, at any rate.

The lion had been a gift to the new king, and had killed three men in its capture. Conan hopes that a life-or-death struggle with a wild animal will cure his malaise, but things don’t quite go according to plan, as the animal senses a kindred spirit, and the two end up becoming bosom companions rather than mortal enemies.

Denied that particular outlet, Conan hatches a scheme as his advisers give him his daily briefing, telling him about a group of Argossean kidnappers who are holed up in a particular location and the plans for the Black Dragons – the king’s elite, personal guard – to deal with the hostage-takers.

Knowing that the Black Dragons will likely move on the Argosseans in the morning – when the kidnappers will be too drunk or hungover to put up much of a fight – the king decides to slip out into the night and take matters into his own hands.

Recognizing the need for discretion, Conan covers his face and heads out to make short work of the kidnappers.

Who was that masked barbarian?

He continues in this manner for a while – those around him are puzzled by the fact that his illness seems to have manifested in physical wounds – steering all of his daily briefings towards focusing on crime, and sneaking out into the night.

Eventually, having achieved what he needed to, the king takes a trip to Kush, where he releases his lion friend into the wild. Upon his return, he goes on to have a successful and prosperous reign as a good king, right up until the day on which he disappears…

I like the narrative approach that Aaron is taking so far, moving around to different periods in Conan’s life, telling seemingly-unrelated stories which will ultimately lead us to where we left off at the end of the first issue, with King Conan being hauled off to be sacrificed to a god who attempted to claim his blood decades earlier.

In many ways it reminds me of the old Savage Sword of Conan, which usually contained stories from different eras in Conan’s life in each issue, seldom in a serialized fashion. Even when the stories were serialized, they didn’t always run in sequence; in one issue you might have part one of arc and then not see part two until several issues later.

(Funnily enough, the new Savage Sword has, so far, taken a more standard serialized approach.)

I like the heavily-inked style of Zaffino, which perfectly suits the Conan presented here, with the hatching lending a weightiness to our hero, showcasing the scars and missing pieces that have resulted from a lifetime of struggle.

This was a fun little diversion while we wait for the culmination of the story that was set in motion back in #1 and it’s a good example of Conan’s ability to thrive in any setting while still remaining true to the core concept of the character.

Recommended Reading

I haven’t done the RR in a while, because no one is making use of the links anyway, but let’s give it one last shot.

Programming Note

I’m going on vacation tomorrow, and next Sunday I will just be returning at around the time I normally start writing these posts and will not have been to the comic shop for the week, so there will be no Spotlight next week.

There may not be one the week after, either. Or the week after that.

I’m not calling it quits on writing them – at least, I don’t think I am – but I am going to take a bit of a break. I’ve mentioned before that while these are (sometimes) fun to write, they’re only tangentially-related to the purpose of this site, and I feel like it’s become too much of the focus.

And, frankly, it often feels like too much effort with too little reward.

Regardless, I have a huge stack of trades and hardcovers that I need to finally get around to reading, and, having completed book one, I want to spend some time focusing on what’s next for Worldtamer, and also on figuring out a way to build OpenDoor Comics into what it was intended to be.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by, and we’ll see what the future holds for the Spotlight. In the meantime, I will periodically stop by and post things that are more in line with what I originally envisioned for this editorial blog, and, if nothing else, keep you posted on the latest Worldtamer developments.

As always, special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).

Supporting OpenDoor Comics is a thing you can do, by whitelisting the site in your ad blocker, by purchasing something from the OpenDoor Comics Shop, by creating your own comics on the OpenDoor Comics platform, or through directly giving money via Patreon or PayPal.

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