Chronicles of King Conan – Vol. 5 The Black Dragons and Other Stories Review!
Alright everyone I’m going to say that I already knew this review in particular was going to be an interesting one – Considering that this was my first introduction to Conan – The Barbarian. This collection features work from Writer: Alan Zelenetz, Penciller: Marc Silvestri, Artist: Geof Isherwood, Dave Simons, Colorist: George Roussos, and Cover Artist: Michael Kaluta.
This Conan collection focuses primarily on the loss of Conan’s son, and how his grief is affecting his rule. Poor old Conan is literally blinded both by anger due to the frustration of not finding the killer of his child OR his child’s body and the grief any parent would feel at the loss of a child. Conan lets the country fall to ruins around him as he pretty much ignores everyone and thing not pertaining to his son’s death. The king’s unreliable conduct and the sheer lack of leadership is troubling to all of his citizens as well as his comrades and family, but as always where some see a kingdom on the edge of falling apart others see their chance to snatch control and power from the preoccupied and unstable king.
First off I’ll say the cover art for these stories are awesome! You can’t help but get a visceral and almost desperate sensation from the art style used. The stories themselves find themselves lacking at some points, but more often than not, the art is spot on at depicting how “macho,” Conan and his crew are. At times this tends to be a bit much. Literally almost every man, or young boy, in Conan – The Barbarian is absolutely shredded, and huge. Literally to the point where they fight off monstrous beasts and beings from other planes of existence. The monsters/creatures featured in these stories are some of the better designed ones I’ve seen. Dire wolves, phantasms, and my favorite, some sort of shapeless tentacle’d other-dimensional horror that Conan’s hand-picked warriors, The Black Dragons, couldn’t beat until one had the bright idea to set it on fire. (This totally killed it. Go figure.)
Secondly I HAVE to comment on the man, Conan, himself. I have to blunt. Conan is a bit of an ass. He’s pig-headed, kind of a jerk, totally an “Alpha-Male,” and for the lack of a better word – Sexist. Granted these stories take place at a different time at a different place where social norms aren’t as they are now. Conan literally attempts to chop off his son’s hands to see how brave they are, and if they are worthy of being a Barbarian. If you move/flinch your hand you’re automatically labeled as a coward in his eyes. (This totally happened to Conan’s second son, who turned to dark magic, which Conan also totally hates.) He told his wife “It’s the woman’s job to check on the children when they sleep,” and “It’s the woman’s job to coddle and feed children,” when asked by his wife to check on their children. This guy is far from father of the year. He’s so hung up on his son’s death he lets the country fall apart and puts the blame of his son’s death on one of his close confidants – Just cause. He refuses to listen to reason and just keeps steam-rolling ahead, much to the chagrin of his wife and comrades.
Thirdly the villain(s) throughout these stories are interesting. Instead of looking for the instant gratification of a murder or poisoning (Which also happens), they have their eyes on the long game. One of Conan’s closest friends, with the help of some extra-evil dark magic practitioner, engineer all sorts of schemes to drive Conan to the brink of insanity with both grief and rage – Which in my opinion is REALLY effective against the big guy. There are four magic users throughout these stories. One being Conan’s unloved son, another being Conan’s court mage, and the other two are villains. Magic doesn’t really come into the stories until about half-way through all of these stories. The stories involving the Black Dragons were the most entertaining, at least to me. These guys are a group all hand-picked by the King himself to basically go wherever Conan tells them, AND then to kick as many butts as physically possible.
All in all for my first official reading of Conan- The Barbarian I have to say it on a whole, an enjoyable experience. There were some hit/miss moments, but that’s the case with any story these days. The art was exceptional! The characters themselves fell flat at points and others made their presences known. (Like when Conan raged on about his son.) If you’re curious about Conan and his times as king, the trials and tribulations him and his court face, and are willing to take a dive into the deep, dark, waters that are Conan – The Barbarian then I say pick this collection of stories up, just be sure to keep your temple in control – don’t want to pull a Conan and start fighting bears or anything!