Author: Jason Aaron
Artists: Mahmud Asrar, Gerardo Zaffino
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Each issue of Conan the Barbarian features a flashback story in the life of King Conan, narrated by a nameless host who shares the most intimate details of Conan’s life, building to the pronounced epilogue of the infamous barbarian’s life. Each separate story contains a connection to the events that would eventually lead to this indomitable man’s fateful end.
Jason Aaron wrote each story as if he had been waiting to do so for ages. The world of Hyboria is effortlessly brought to life, immersing the reader in Conan’s world. Mahmud Asrar’s art is perfectly matched with the storytelling and characters, offering equal amounts of grit and vibrance. Issue #4 features the bold and rough work of guest artist Gerardo Zaffino.
Violence: Conan’s adventures are spattered with blood and violence. Each book contains scenes of intense battle, dismemberment, and use of medieval weaponry.
Sexual Content: Conan the Barbarian depicts a world of debauchery, depicting frequent sexual situations, brothels, scantly clad men and women, and promiscuous coupling.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Included in the setting’s depraved lifestyle is the frequent consummation of ale or other alcoholic beverages.
Spiritual Content: Conan and other characters frequently mention the will and honor of various gods. Conan claims allegiance to a single god, representing monotheism, yet there is no representation of the Christian God.
Language/Crude Humor: Some crude language is used, however stereotypical English curse words do not frequently occur. Conan and other characters use crude humor on occasion.
Other Negative Content: Many of Conan’s adversaries practice forms of witchcraft and are based in the occult.
Positive Content: Conan, despite his boorish lifestyle, also lives by a code of honor and frequently defends those who are unable to defend themselves. The debased lifestyles of these characters is not depicted as glamorous or advantageous, rather as brutal, destructive, and detrimental.
In 2018, the publishing rights for the character Conan the Barbarian were returned to Marvel Comics after a long stint at Dark Horse Comics. Marvel published Conan comics from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. Conan’s popularity has sustained for almost a century. Therefore, Marvel knew the reacquisition of Conan had to be accompanied with a powerhouse book to please fans. The books that have resulted from this transaction are an absolute treat for any fan of the most famous barbarian in history. Prior to 2018, Dark Horse produced many quality Conan storylines and titles. With Conan the Barbarian and its accompanying 2019 titles, Marvel has met, if not exceeded, expectations.
Conan has endured as a popular hero because he views the world in black and white terms: Evil must be punished (severely) and good must be protected. Conan is an anti-hero in that he is a murderer and a thief, and yet he is the hero because, in the end, he always makes the choice of the greater good while protecting the defenseless.
The first issue opened with the briefest of introductions to the character. Page one depicted Conan’s hectic birth as his mother’s village is being raided by invaders, and the second page portrayed King Conan seated on his throne. The first two pages of issue one demonstrated the scope of the forthcoming story: This would not be a linear tale of Conan’s life, but a story told from different points in Conan’s journey to his own death. On the third page, we find a young, battle-worn Conan fighting a horde of warriors for money. A beautiful woman watches nearby, taking great interest in the Cimmerian. Taking advantage of his weakness for the opposite sex, the woman seduced Conan and lured him away from the public eye. In private, she is revealed to be an ancient witch who sought to sacrifice a great warrior to her god, Razazel. Conan managed to kill the witch and escape from her nefarious trap. Flash-forward decades later, and King Conan encountered the same witch and her offspring who announce Conan’s fate is to be sacrificed to their god. The cliff-hanger ending of issue one is continued at the end of every subsequent book, implying Conan’s death is inescapable.
In Issue #2, Conan fought alongside an army of Picts (a fictional aboriginal tribe) against a swarm of giant snakes, unaware the Red Witch’s children were watching from afar. The third book told the story of a seventeen-year-old Conan who was imprisoned and waiting to be executed in the Nemedian border town of Red Tree Hill. Guilty of stealing gold from the local townspeople, Conan had no right to plead for pardon, yet fate spared him of his sentence. In Issue #5, Conan is stranded at sea, facing an onslaught of sea monsters, and in #6 Conan is appointed the commander of a king’s army in need of a bold leader. Through each adventure, for what appears to be most of Conan’s life, the Red Witch and her children lie in wait.
In the previous paragraph, I purposefully skipped Issue #4 so I could draw special attention to this comic. I’ve been reading Conan comics for most of my life and have loved the character since I watched the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies with my father as a youngster. This comic is quite possibly my favorite Conan story ever. Jason Aaron wrote a story in which Conan the Barbarian became a vigilante hero. Conan is frustrated and stifled by his role as a king. What used to be his greatest aspiration has now become a disappointment due to the monotony of ruling a kingdom. In a desperate attempt to relive his days as a vagabond defender, Conan disguises himself and slips away in the night to punish evildoers in his kingdom’s streets. But even then, Conan’s fate is being influenced by the Red Witch.
Conan lives in a world where a myriad of gods exist. However, Conan stands out among his contemporaries as a monotheist in that Conan believes in a single god, Crom. Conan pronounces his allegiance to Crom while also cursing him as an absent, impetuous deity. In life, we can sometimes feel like God is not there for us; like God is distant. However, we must remember that, unlike Crom, God is ever-present in our lives and is always in pursuit of his creation: Us. In Psalm 23:4 and Deuteronomy 31:6, God promises his people he will never leave them; that he will always be by our side.
In the same way, just as God pursues his people, another stalks mankind in an effort to keep them from knowing God. The Bible describes Satan as a roaring lion who hunts his prey, seeking to devour them (1 Peter 5:8). In this story, Conan is stalked by the evil Red Witch who seeks Conan’s demise. Throughout his life, this evil presence has been in the shadows watching and waiting for the perfect time to strike. In the same way, the devil waits for a moment of weakness to put temptation in our way and ruin us. Unlike Conan, we have awareness of this threat and we can defend against it. As 1 Peter 5:8 also says, be on your guard. Moreover, we have a God that is not absent, but acts in our defense and offers his power to defeat our adversary (Ephesians 6:10-17).