This week’s main review is The Savage Sword of Conan #1. Plus, the Wednesday Comics Team has its usual rundown of the new #1s, finales and other notable issues from non-Big 2 publishers, all of which you can find below … enjoy!

Savage SwordThe Savage Sword of Conan #1

Writers: John Arcudi, Patrick Zircher, Jim Zub
Artists: Max von Fafner, Patrick Zircher
Pin-up Artists: Roberto De La Torre, Rebecca Puebla, Joe Jusko, Gerado Zaffino, Howard Chaykin
Letterer: Richard Starking’s Comic Craft’s Jimmey Betancourt
Publisher: Titan Comics

Review by Jordan Jennings

The Savage Sword of Conan #1 is the latest Conan series from Titan Comics and seeks a grand return the Cimmerian to the realm of the black and white magazine format that the Barbarian became synonymous with the during his heyday at Marvel Comics. The challenge, though, is that one of the defining characteristics of the classic Savage Sword magazines was that they were free of the constraints of the comic code and were a lot more violent than Conan’s mainline comic that Marvel was publishing at the time. That is not the case here with Titan. How do you evoke the feel of the pulp magazine when you consider that the current Conan series wears its pulpy influences on its sleeves? You’re as likely to see a man get cleaved in half as you are to see the cleavage of a voluptuous woman, after all. Simple. You lean into the magazine format wholesale. 

The Savage Sword of Conan #1 comes complete with black and white art, newsprint paper, and multiple features. This is a comic that features a hefty 47-page Conan epic, a pulpy 2-page Conan prose tale, a supernatural 17-page Solomon Kane backup story, an informative essay on Solomon Kane, AND several pieces of pin-up art. Savage Sword is a comic full of value and mirth, and does so with 70+ pages of content when all said and done. Now with any anthology, the focus comes down to the parts themselves. Are the stories worth your time?

 Conan and the Dragon Horde

John Acrudi and Mark von Fafner serve up a story full of lies, deceit, dragons, and more in this Conan double-length feature. The story focuses on Conan as he works for a prince who seeks to overthrow his brother and inherit the gold mines under the town. While leading the prince’s army of sell swords, Conan befriends the engineer and only woman in the army, Ineah. This goes as well as you might expect as the duo hit it off spectacularly well. Conan always works well with a woman with a strong personality. This is no different as Ineah is a bit different than the usual love interest as she is more focus on killing with machines and wit than with just a blade.  

Conan’s characterization in general is in line with the rest of the other Conan stories. He is multifaceted in his skills and wit. The 48-pages gives Acrudi plenty of space to showcase these aspects and keep the plot moving to a satisfying conclusion with twists and turns throughout. It is a satisfying one-shot Conan story that was delightful. 

The art from Von Fafner is equally delightful. He plays around with the black and white nature of the story and creates a comic that is visually interesting. The variety of page layouts and use of two-page spreads creates a story that is full of energy and keeps to the tone of the action script. Von Fafner’s Conan is expressive and not some stone-faced stoic brute. Von Fafner’s command of body language is top notch and is not just limited to Conan. Von Fafner plays around with a variety of textures to help differentiate between the various elements of the page to compensate for the like of color. The textures are reminiscent of what Mitch Gerads employees for his black and white art. One thing I wish I had for this review is a physical copy of the comic. I would like to see how the art looks on the newsprint paper stock. I imagine it looks pretty darn great but without it in my hands in time for this review the best I could do is to look at the digital copies provided. That said, the art is fantastic.

Master of the Hunt, Part One

To further evoke the classic Savage Sword of Conan series, the book features a Solomon Kane backup by writer/artist Patrick Zircher. Solomon Kane is admittedly a B-tier Robert E. Howard character, but is a solid character to feature in a backup slot for a comic like this one. Zircher’s writing isn’t the strongest part of this, as the narration could be a bit clearer, but he crafts a solid supernatural mystery that pulls in Welsh folklore. There is focus of introducing the mysterious Solmon Kane but doesn’t try to explain away the character’s mystique. 

The story follows Kane as he helps a wife and her son find the husband that went missing hunting down the supernatural beast that slaughtered the sheep herd. It is a simple story that gives us the basics of Kane and is a nice change of pace following the Sword and Sorcery story of Conan. 

Zircher’s art contrasts with the more effect heavy art of Von Fafner. Zircher opts for a more rendered look with a lot of details in the form of line work in the backgrounds and character designs. Nothing is too busy, mind you, but it does further provide the 1-2 punch to the Conan story. Zircher has a good use of body movement and makes frequent use of shadows to help set the tone. Master of the Hunt is a different flavor of pulp and I found it to be enjoyable despite never reading a Solomon Kane story before. 

The Other Goodies

The introductory essay by comic legend and long time Conan scribe, Roy Thomas, is an excellent read and does a masterful job of setting the reader’s expectations for the book. The two-page prose story by Jim Zub is simple and pulpy as advertised. I love the conceit that it was inspired by Joe Jusko’s Conan piece (which serves as the main cover). There is this Conan poem by Robert E Howard that is accompanied by this fantastic pin-up from Gerado Zaffino that is phenomenal. I want that piece on a poster, it’s so metal.

Overall, The Savage Sword of Conan #1 is an excellent start to this new series and follows the proud tradition of Savage Sword’s of the past. I highly recommend checking this out, especially if you are a fan of the current Conan the Barbarian series. It captures the vibe of the series and then relishes the magazine format.

Wednesday Comics Reviews

  • Ribbon Queen #8 (AWA Studios): This week marks the finale of one of my favorite books of late — The Ribbon Queen, from writer Garth Ennis, artist Jacen Burrows, inker Guillermo Ortega, colorist Dan Brown, and letterer Rob Steen. I’ve been heaping praise on this comic throughout the course of its run. It’s been a white-knuckle ride to read month-to-month, a horror-laden police procedural story that spans time. It goes to some truly gruesome places with its visuals, as well as with the difficult choices it puts in front of its lead characters. This week’s finale absolutely sticks the landing. This was a story about the graphic unraveling of human bodies…it was never going to have a happy uplifting ending. But what we get here is an ending that feels sort of fittingly tragic. All in all, this is a book I’m going to buy in trade to keep on my shelf for a re-read soon — I liked it that much. (Zack Quaintance)

The Prog Report

  • 2000AD Prog 2371 (Rebellion Publishing): First, I’ll repeat what I’ve been writing in this space for weeks — if you’re a fan of smart comics, and you’re not reading Judge Dredd: A Better World, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Second, I’ll note that this week’s eighth chapter is the most stunning yet, with a shocking turn that feels audacious and surprising, but still tragically inevitable. This is a story that on its surface explores police reform through a Judge Dredd lens, yet as it has progressed, it’s become something much deeper about the cost of wanting to improve society, rather than just doing your best within the status quo. It speaks to not only how hard it is to logistically guide meaningful change, but how costly it can be to dare to push even common sense solutions to long-held societal ills. Of course, these themes need top-tier storytelling to really resonate, and that’s certainly what we’re getting here. Artist Henry Flint is doing absolutely incredible work at every turn here, from the big splashy moments to the high-pressure claustrophobic packed pages. Anyway, please excuse me while I pick my jaw up after that one. That story is by writers Rob Williams and Arthur Wyatt, with art by Flintand letters by Annie Parkhouse. As always, you can nab a digital copy of this week’s Prog here. —Zack Quaintance

Read more entries in the weekly Wednesday Comics reviews series!