Thursday, May 19, 2011
Comic Review: Conan: Born on the Battlefield
This telling of Conan’s youth manages to be both compelling and true to Robert E. Howard’s grand character. We see him as a youth, living among his people, learning the ways of the world as he hears stories from his grandfather. He is not taken into captivity. He is not driven by revenge for the death of his parents. No. This is Conan. He ventures into the world because he wants to. Always a man apart, even among a people apart, he is moved by his own will, not the whims of others. Kurt Busiek is the first author that I’ve read who seems to really get Conan, get what Howard was writing about. And it shows here. As the Ed Brubaker intro mentions, Busiek has meticulously deconstructed and reconstructed the Hyborian age as it was plundered and bent to the will of one of literature's greatest (yeah, I said it) and most misunderstood characters.
Though Cary Nord’s artwork in the main series is, I think, the best since Frazetta at capturing the energy and power of Conan and his world, Greg Ruth’s work in Born on the Battlefield is top notch. At times beautiful, at others bloody brutal, and even on occasion, nostalgic for life on the frontier; it is very evocative and fits very well with what feels almost like an extended flashback. In Howard’s original stories, we first see Conan as a young man, in his late teens. But there were ever hints of his life before. And here we see it, without spending too much time, without adding pointless detail.
Conan fans, and I mean fans of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, not the dumb brute who lumbers (shirtless of course) across the screen or sadly too often on the panels of Marvel’s comic of the 70s, but fans of the real Conan, should do themselves a favor and read these Kurt Busiek comics. It’s grand stuff that reminds me why I was drawn to Conan in the first place, why he always remains with me, and why Howard will always haunt the back of my mind, whenever I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. And for those who only know Conan as the monosyllabic muscleman, shed your preconceptions and check these out. Or, better yet, go out and buy the recent reprints of Howard’s original versions in a three volume set from Del Rey. They are masterworks of American literature too often dismissed because of their pulp origins.
Conan: Volume 0: Born on the Battlefield
Author: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Greg Ruth
Publisher: Dark Horse Books