Story: Fred Van Lente
Art: Brian Ching
Colors: Michael Atiyeh
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
What They Say:
Conan has survived his trial by combat against Janissa, but an even greater danger stands revealed—can the two warriors set aside their differences long enough to unite against it? Witness a major turning point in the life of the Widowmaker!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The Bone Woman—and ancient and powerful sorceress—has once again tricked Janissa the Widowmaker into doing her bidding. Janissa once served the woman gladly, but finally broke away to live a life of her own. At least, that’s what she thought. In truth, she never left the Bone Woman’s employ, and every decision she made, every act she undertook, was done so by the sorceress’ manipulations. The Bone Woman plays a long game, and the fruits of her deception have led her to the Oasis of Akrel, where monks guard a beacon fire that prevents the return of the great old God Nazu. The beacon is now extinguished, and the only people to stand in the God’s way are Conan and Janissa.
So how does one kill a Lovecraftian Great Old One? Conan’s plan is simplicity itself: “Hit whatever attacks us, man or beast, repeatedly, until it dies.” Although it’s elegant in its simplicity, Valerius proposes a counterplan that might be more effective. It turns out the monks had a backup plan should the beacon fail—a huge gong whose reverberations would destroy (or at least drive off) the Great Old One. Unfortunately, the bone Woman has other plans and an army of the dead to back her up.
What follows is an action-packed fight against zombie monks, the Bone Woman, and a Great Old One. The story hums along like the engine of a fine-tuned race car, full of adventure, suspense, and more than a little humor—mostly from Conan’s dialogue.
I can’t quite place my finger on why or how, but I feel like Fred Van Lente has one of the strongest handles on Conan’s voice of any writing the Cimmerian today. There’s wit and honesty to his words, as well as a primal simplicity that’s true to the character. Some of his lines are funny, like, “Wizards and warlocks. Fah! Always insisting I kill them.” And others get at the core of his being, such as when Natala decides to leave him to join up with Janissa’s group. Janissa says that she wouldn’t take her on until she checked with Conan, to which the Cimmerian responds: “Nonsense. I didn’t free her from bondage just to replace her master. She is free to come and go as she pleases.” This statement gets at the heart of who Conan is: a free man untainted by the corruption of civilization.
I’ll be sad to see Natala go, as she and Conan play off each other well, but her leaving makes sense and provides a good resolution to her story arc over the past few issues. It’s probably for the best, anyway, as the next storyline will be an adaptation of the original Howard story “A Witch Shall Be Born,” and lots of bad stuff is going to go down very soon.
I’m very excited that this team is going to adapt that story. “Witch” is one of my favorite Conan tales, and features some of the most iconic Conan moments. If “Xuthal at Dusk” is any indication, then what we’re going to get is a straight up adaptation, which might be a little jarring given that Howard’s style and tone don’t fully mesh with what Van Lente and Co. have been doing with their own original stories, but if any team can pull it off, it’s this one.
I haven’t seen the solicitations for issue 20 yet, so I don’t know if Brian Ching and Michael Atiyeh will return as the art team. I certainly hope they do, as they are the dynamic duo of Conan comics, as far as I’m concerned. There’s something about Ching’s art that I feel is perfectly suited to Conan’s stories, and Atiyeh does a wonderful job of creating mood and atmosphere through his colors. Together their work is ugly and beautiful, loud and silent, action-packed and somber, straddling the two poles of Conan’s personality: the roguish warrior delighting in blood and thunder, and the melancholic philosopher-king forever a stranger in his own world.
Conan the Avenger #19 brings the “Blood Oasis” storyline to a rousing close. This story has twisted and turned in ways I hadn’t predicted and it’s full of everything I love about Conan. It’s savage and beautiful, thoughtful and energetic. It’s “red” writing—as Stephen King likes to call it—at its best. If you’ve been reading these reviews, but not picked up the issues, then I strongly suggest you buy issue 20 when it comes out, as it will be the start of an adaptation of one of Howard’s greatest Conan stories, “A Witch Shall Be Born.” It will make for a good jumping-on point for new readers and should be a helluva tale. By Crom, Dr. Josh gives this an…
Age Rating: N/A
Released By: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: October 28th, 2015