Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Conan The Barbarian #20 - Marvel Comics

Nicely bookended with the titular character fighting for his life in two very physical confrontations against a non-human opponent, Jim Zub’s narrative for Issue Twenty of “Conan The Barbarian” must surely have pleased the vast majority of its audience with its heavy dose of realistic action-packed adventure and swashbuckling swordplay. In fact, up until the Cimmerian’s climatic wrestling bout with Heng the Insurgent this comic’s main plot-thread is satisfyingly reliant upon the bronze-skinned giant’s down-to-earth survival savvy, rather an over-reliance upon a supernatural weapon or some poorly-penned unearthly ability to out fence an entire horde of heavily-armed Khitai royal guard.

Foremost of these conflicts is arguably Conan’s ferocious defence against a pair of savage leopards, who momentarily seem to have the upper hand over their would-be prey. Armed with just a long knife, the hero suffers a vicious bite from one of his attackers when he understandably becomes distracted by the hapless Meiwei’s plight. Yet this bloody blow actually galvanises the barbarian into a feral frenzy of thrusts, slashes and fatal stabs rather than impair his fighting prowess, and as a result some readers could probably just imagine Robert E. Howard himself writing something along these lines within one of his short stories from the Thirties.

Similarly as successful is the Cimmerian’s practical response to being trapped in between the guards of an Imperial Tax Collector and a sudden cavalry-charge by some bandits. Facing the threat of being either gutted by a phalanx of foot soldiers or ridden down by horses, Meiwei’s reaction is to somehow flee for her life. However, as the adventurer quickly points out to the terrified noble girl, “running will only get us a blade in the back or a spear in the face”, so instead Zub has “the warrior in the field hat” desperately try to stand his ground by fighting against any infantryman foolish enough to come with arm’s reach.

Prodigiously empowering this twenty-page periodical with his pencilling is Cory Smith, whose excellent early layouts depicting Conan’s tense tussle with two Panthera pardus really sets a first-rate pace for the rest of the publication. Indeed, the American artist’s illustrations are particularly impressive when portraying the barbarian’s surprise at just how powerful Heng’s wrestling moves are, and it is easy to hear the regret in the Northerner’s voice when he is forced to break the bandit’s neck; “You… You damn fool! You died for nothing.”

Writer: Jim Zub, Artist: Cory Smith, and Colorist: Israel Silva

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