Comic Book Review: Conan the Barbarian #1
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Title: Conan the Barbarian #1
Writer: Jim Zub
Artists: José Villarrubia and Robert De La Torre
Publisher: Titan Comics
Publication Date: 2nd, August 2023
Format: FC, 39 pages; Series
Synopsis: Robert E. Howard’s legendary Conan is back in a new tale of bravery and heroism!
Years after the battle of Venarium, a weary Conan returns to his homeland to seek rest and solitude. However, a mysterious scout rides in to warn the Cimmerians of an imminent threat on the march from the Pictish wilderness. Will Conan and his new ally be able to hold off this new horde of invaders?
It’s one of those quixotic situations I find myself in when I admit that I had a soft spot for the fictional world and characters of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age. (Not just Conan, but the Red Sonja film as well.)
Admittedly, I only saw the movies, as I let myself be deterred from reading comic books as a young age. I have not watched them as an adult, as I figure they might destroy a childhood illusion (maybe someday), but they somehow became a light in the confusing murkiness of a kid struggling with their gender identity/gender nonconformity.
Even the Conan character. I often embraced the archetype of the rogue—characters such as Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Conan the Barbarian, of course.
I was both excited, and a little hesitant, to read Titan Comics’ Conan the Barbarian #1, for the same reason I fear watching the 1980s movies. That I will be sorely disappointed, and not only Conan and other related characters will prove themselves to be a childhood memory that was built on illusion, but that my whole conception of actually being gender nonconforming was a similar illusion created in the more fanciful and impressionable mind of a creative dreamer.
Yes, the Conan world of the films was probably quite machismo, and not entirely to my liking in regards to feminist values even back then, yet there was still something there I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but which I was drawn to.
I have a vague memory of Conan, despite his brawn, being compassionate and sensitive (I was young a long time ago, so don’t ask me for a concrete example.).
And the Conan I read about in this Titan Comics issue still holds appeal to me even as an adult. He’s a nonconformist, a loner, and an intentional outsider. Yes, a rogue, in a way. He’s a restless traveler in a culture that preferred staying in one place, according to a scene in the first few pages.
Here, the Pict scout’s clothing (identified as a woman) is close enough to the other (male-identified) clothing as to not be overtly stereotypical (ya know, the boob armor and the skimpy bikini set), especially with her cape wrapped around her. Brissa of the Gurian tribe and Conan of Cimmaria meet as fellow warriors. Unfortunately, it pushes it a bit when he addresses her as “woman” which is a little too close to derogatory for readerly comfort—and then he calls her a “girl”. It was so irksome, it almost made me want to put the issue down, if not for the responsibility assigned to me as a reviewer. It’s like whatever points this issue had been racking up, were gambled away in a couple of panels.
I hope the creator of this comic is more mindful of that mindset sneaking into future Conan issues.
Because this is more than just a comic series. It’s symbolic of what forcing people to adopt gender norms that don’t fit does to an individual, and likewise preventing them from exploring fluidity of character and nature—rogues, in a way—so that they lose their heroes before they even have the chance to gain them.
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“Cat Whisperer” Kirsten Lee Barger has written articles on everything from cats to a piece about the “Di Wae Powa: They Came Back” homecoming event (Special thanks to Executive Director Karl Duncan and the Poeh Cultural Center: https://poehcenter.org/diwaepowa/.). In addition to befriending not only feral cats (as well as skunks and the occasional chipmunk or squirrel), she strives to support authors with everything from editing services to book coaching, and more. Find her on LinkedIn, here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirsten-lee-barger-4a984a49/ or visit her at her website: https://kirsten-lee-barger.mailchimpsites.com/.