Spotlight Sunday 9.24.17

Spotlight Sundays

If you’ve read any of my Spotlight Sunday entries, and have also read traditional reviews of, well, anything, you know that what I write here isn’t really a traditional review so much as a rambling recap of what happened in the selected comic, along with somewhat-related side anecdotes, and just my overall feeling about the words and pictures the comic contains. I don’t even do any sort of rating, stellar or bodily appendage-related or otherwise.

That’s largely because reviews aren’t really what this site is about; I’m mostly just taking the opportunity to throw some thoughts out there while building a content library as I continue the task of trying to entice other creators to start utilizing the platform I’m trying to build, and to talk about comics. Because talking about comics is a thing I like to do.

Still, there are spoilers – though while I may spoil the overall story, there are usually a lot of details I don’t get into, and I encourage you to pick up the comics in the Spotlight for yourselves and see what you’re missing – contained in this whatever-you-want-to-call-it, so consider yourself warned as we take a look at this week’s Weigh In Wednesday winner:

Wonder Woman/Conan #1
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Aaron Lopresti
Cover: Darick Robertson
Rated T+
DC with Dark Horse

In last week’s entry, I mentioned that I’ve never read any of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels, as I had already aged out of the target audience by the time they landed, but I was probably never really in the target audience anyway. I won’t give in to the airy nonsense of claiming to have “an old soul” or even lay claim to having been especially precocious – if anything, I’d just say that I’ve pretty much been a cranky old man since I was twelve and/or at that age I was a pretentious git who was impressed by his own “maturity” – but as I expanded my reading habits to include things other than comics and moved past books aimed at the very young, I pretty much just skipped right over the books that were written specifically for adolescents and teens. (I have read many of them as an adult, however.)

I jumped straight to new and classic works of Science Fiction and Fantasy, not even bothering to stick my pimply nose in the kids’ and teens’ sections of the library or the bookstore.

More than anything else at that time, I read a lot of Conan novels. And by a lot, I mean all of them, or at least as many of them as I could get my hands on. I read all the original stories by Robert E. Howard, the expanded and reworked – some would say “mutilated” – and original works by Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp, as well as newer Conan novels by authors like Robert Jordan.

It was a logical transition for someone looking to move from being someone who read comics almost exclusively to someone who also consumed more straightforward prose, as I read a lot of Conan comics, too.

The point of this longer-than-intended tangent is that it’s fair to say that I’m a big fan of REH’s sullen-eyed, iron-thewed Cimmerian.

I’m also a big fan of Wonder Woman – I just watched the movie again the other day and, once again, tears of joy streamed down my face during the “No Man’s Land” segment, which is, in my estimation, the single greatest depiction of super-heroism to ever grace the Silver Screen – and of Gail Simone.

So, yeah, of course I picked up Wonder Woman/Conan. (I didn’t even have to pick it up – the folks at my comic shop know me well enough that they added it to my pull list without me needing to ask.)

The obvious first question when considering a crossover involving these two characters is “How do they manage to be in the same place at the same time?” Conan, after all, lived in what’s called the Hyborian Age, a (fictional) prehistoric era thousands of years in the past sometime between the sinking of Atlantis and the beginnings of Western civilization.

Granted, as an Amazon, Wonder Woman is generally depicted as being immortal, but most iterations of the character still have her being relatively young when she first ventures out into Patriarch’s World, and I haven’t seen many stories in which the Amazons were shown to have existed quite that far back in the past, though there is, of course, nothing really ruling that out.

Whatever the case, we don’t get the answer to that question in this issue, so I assume it’s a mystery whose nature will be revealed as the story progresses.

Our story opens with a young Conan, accompanying his father, journeying away from his own village for the first time in his young life, and encountering a young girl named Yanna who, to Conan, “walked in mystery.”

Cut to a slightly later time and a different place, and we find an adult Conan encountering a group of men from Asgard, a country that neighbors Conan’s native Cimmeria, preparing to burn off a man’s jaw. Having no particular love for Aquilonians – such as the would-be Baron Ünderbheit cosplayer – Conan prepares to walk away, until Kian, the Aquilonian, offers to pay Conan handsomely for his assistance.

An altercation soon follows, one which leaves the jaw-collecting Aesir without a jaw, or, you know, continuing existences. They do not, however, all expire before one of them informs Conan that the reason they were after Kian’s jaw was that he welched on a debt.

Kian explains that soon enough he will have gold aplenty, as he has bet a large sum of gold against the house-favored champion at a nearby gladiatorial arena. He’s certain that the champion will lose and he will win his fortune, because said champion is a mere woman.

It’s a losing bet, of course, as the so-called “Warrior Witch” doing battle in the arena wearing a mud-and-blood-spattered outfit that evokes the design of her more iconic costume is clearly Wonder Woman.

Despite exhibiting considerably less than the full extent of her fighting prowess, she’s able to defeat all of her challengers. She is not, however, able to overcome her captors who are forcing her to fight, and is soon hauled back into the dungeon and chained to the wall.

While the question of how Diana found herself in such a situation is a mystery to us, the woman herself is a mystery to Conan, who flashes back to his memories of Yanna.

Finding a way in to the dungeon, Conan seeks to free “Yanna,” who has no clear memory of who she is, but is not certain that she’s who Conan thinks she is. Some part of her does assert itself, though, and she declares that she is not the “Warrior Witch,” as her captors call her, but rather, Wonder Woman.

As she stands to her full height with a proud and regal bearing at the memory of this other name, Conan responds the only way he can: “Crom!”

Unfortunately for our heroes, the slavers have no intention of setting their champion free, sneaking up and delivering a sharp blow to Conan’s head that knocks him out colder than a Nazi getting a much-deserved sock on the jaw from Diana. As the issue ends, they announce their plan to chain Conan and Wonder Woman together and force them to fight each other…TO THE DEATH!

That’s what I just said!

Along with the mysteries of how Diana found herself in this time and place, without access to her memories and apparently bereft of the full use of her powers, and the question of whether Diana and Yanna are one and the same, or if not, who or what Yanna was, we also have the mystery of the enigmatic Corvidae, a pair of talking crows who had enjoyed the bounty that Conan left behind for them in the form of the dead Aesir, and who reveal, after watching the gladiatorial match, that they aren’t always crows.

The implication is that the Corvidae are somehow driving the action. It’s kind of an interesting coincidence that this would be the case, as in the current storyline in Conan’s ongoing solo series the action is being driven, in part, by a corpse-eating ghul who’s been following Conan and devouring the deadcrumbs he leaves in his bloody wake. Given the nature of this story, though, it’s clear that there’s more involved than simply ensuring that a bloody-handed reaver continues to put food on the table.

Along with the questions about what in the name of Crom and Mitra is going on in this crossover event that are in place to push readers to find out what happens next, the writing is sharp, clever, and funny, as befits a story by Gail Simone. I’ve mentioned this before, but if you aren’t following Gail on Twitter – @GailSimone – you should be.

I’ve never really been a fan of Aaron Lopresti, by which I mean his work doesn’t engender the same kind of enthusiasm from me that the work of some of my favorite artists, like, say, Nicola Scott, or Amanda Conner, or George Perez, does. Which is normal; not all artists, no matter how good they are, can rank among my favorites.

Still, he’s good. In fact, as you can see for yourself, he’s very good, and I don’t intend any insult or to damn him with faint praise. Quite the reverse; Lopresti has always struck me, through his work, as someone who is solid and dependable, and while it might not seem like it, for a comic book artist, that is pretty high praise. Solid and dependable are very good things for artists who work in a deadline-driven medium to be.

In fact, I was glad to see that the art chores for this book were placed in his more-than capable hands, and I will add that I’ve long viewed his work during Gail’s run on the regular Wonder Woman comic as some of his best.

When you’re doing a comic like this that has a premise that’s a bit out there – even if, on an intuitive level, high-concept level, it makes perfect sense – it seems to me that it’s very important to get the art right. Not that it isn’t always important to get the look right in a visual medium, but for something like this, it seems like it’s an even greater imperative, and Lopresti is an excellent choice for meeting that standard.

His work here is great; good design work – particularly with Diana’s dirty gladiatorial outfit – and an excellent visual flow, and overall it just hits the right tone.

On Twitter, Gail stated that she tried to stay true to the original REH vision of Conan, and I think she does. I’ve maintained for years that one of the strengths of Conan as a character, and the key to his longevity in popular culture, is that in his purest form, as originally envisioned by Howard, he can be adapted to fit into any context, and, when handled well, doesn’t seem out-of-place in virtually any genre. Conan is just such an elemental creature, driven by simple, primal motives, though ultimately much more complex than many people realize, that you can build a story around him in the same way you might build a story around a storm, or a fire.

(One of my favorite Conan comics stories casts him in the role of detective in what is essentially a locked-room murder mystery. And, as a story, it works, because Conan works pretty much anywhere.)

And, of course, we all know – or at least we should – that Gail has a very good handle on Diana, so I look forward to #2, which will, no doubt, be the winner of its own Weigh In Wednesday vote.

That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday. Thanks to everyone who voted, and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday.

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).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!

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