Conan and the Midnight God #1
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Will Conrad
Colors: Juan Ferreyra
Cover artist: Jason Shawn Alexander
Editors: Scott Allie & Matt Dryer
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $2.99 US
From Marvel’s Conan comics to the Ah-nuld movies to The Savage Sword of Conan magazines, I’ve never been one for the barbarian genre. I’ve said this time and time again, so it should come as no surprise that I approached this sword-and-sorcery comic with some trepidation. To my surprise, I found what might be the beginnings of the best Conan story I’ve ever read. Writer Joshua Dysart presents us with a vision of Conan as a conflicted soul, torn in several different directions at once. It’s perhaps the most grounded vision of the warrior king I’ve seen, and I’m surprised to find I’m interested in where Dysart plans to go with the rest of this story. The artwork captures the title hero’s moods perfectly, reinforcing the down-to-earth elements in the story. The plot is fairly simple, but it boasts a political element that drew me into the book a little more as well.
As King Conan approaches his 50th year, sitting upon the throne of Aquilonia, he reflects back on his youth. Even as a teen, he was a fierce and feared warrior who lived for battle and relished every moment he held a blade in his hands. But now, his responsibilities as a king and a husband weight heavy on his time and his mind, and he finds himself longing for carefree but chaotic days filled with battle and adventure. Further souring his mood is the arrival of a diplomatic envoy from the faraway land of Stygia. Under the leadership of Thoth-Amon, the Stygians were mortal enemies, but now, they come in peace, looking to rebuild their devastated realm… or are they?
Will Conrad’s work here reminds me of the style of Cary Nord, which isn’t surprising, since Nord was part of the creative team behind the Conan revival at Dark Horse Comics. The most important part of this story is the depiction of Conan’s moods, and Conrad does an excellent job of conveying his exuberance and energy as a teen and his dissatisfaction and anxiety as a middle-aged man. He’s aided in those efforts by a strong coloring job by Juan Ferreyra. Conan’s youth is characterized by earthy tones tinged with red; it conveys life. A grey pallor looms over Conan’s reign in Aquilonia. Furthermore, the lettering by Comicraft’s Richard Starkings adds brings out the dark and ancient tone of the story. The narrative captions in the opening flashback scene boast a classic look, while Conan’s speech balloons are presented in unusual, harsher shapes to convey his stoic and tough personality.
The central conflict is an emotional one for the title character, but the plot is dressed up with a region that’s on the brink of war. The Stygians’ pretense of diplomacy is clearly a ruse in order to plan the seed for war. If it was just Conan’s land versus theirs, it wouldn’t be as interesting, but in order to wage war, Conan must cross other territories, and not everyone welcomes the notion of a bloody conflict like Conan and the Stygians do. There are also those loyal to Conan who feel peace is something worth preserving, so there’s potential for plenty of side conflicts on the road to war. Dysart adeptly brings the more challenging notion of international affairs to life in an almost alien setting.
I’m not sure who the Midnight God is yet, but if Dark Horse was looking for an alternative title for this five-issue limited series, it could have gone with Conan’s Mid-Life Crisis. Yeah, sounds too goofy for the tone of the story, but it’s not altogether an inaccurate description of this story. Conan should be happy. He has a wife (and queen) whom he loves, and he has a child on the way. He has conquered the land he once helped to invade as a teen, but being king doesn’t seem to satisfy him. He longs to wage war, to roam the land doing battle with evil. He clearly feels trapped by his responsibilities, both regal and familial. His resentment is palpable and makes sense, but ultimately, Conan is the villain of this story, or at least one of them. He wrestles with what he sees as his true calling and with the responsibilities that most men must take on. This flawed and conflicted vision of the Cimmerian warrior is a compelling one. I look forward to see if Dysart follows up on these same ideas and themes in subsequent issues. 7/10