As a sub-set of the fantasy genre, Sword and Sorcery has a flavour all its own. Unlike the high-fantasy of Tolkien, for instance, Sword and Sorcery is earthier, less elegant, more influenced by pulpy horror and overt sexuality than stories about folksy hobbits and courtly elves. Robert E Howard, creator of Conan, was perhaps the greatest progenitor of Sword and Sorcery, and the team behind Conan the Slayer #3 are definitely following in his footsteps. The issue is a gory, rollicking, spooky, earthy adventure, and writer Cullen Bunn and artist Sergio Davila deliver the goods with relish.
Conan and his allies are neck deep in peril, finding themselves at the mercy of a family of Sea Trolls. This issue finds the Cimmerian adventurer face to face with the matriarch of the clan, and her designs on Conan are more intimate than meets the eye. Meanwhile, his allies the Kozaki remain in conflict with the Turanians, who have schemes and machinations of their own. If that weren’t enough, the Kozak Chieftain finds himself under threat from one within his tribe. Is everything as it seems, or will Conan uncover some hidden truths?
Bunn nails the robust and often purple prose of which Howard was an expert. He could tell tales of ambitious and mercenary people through dialogue and narrative passages that contained an almost flowery tone. Even when Conan is cursing someone or something, the inventiveness and wit of his oaths bring just the right altitude to the proceedings. Bunn matches that quality, and writes a Conan that is just as cunning, resourceful and iron-willed as the literary version. Too often, adapters of Conan forget that he’s more than just a warrior with a strong sword-arm. He’s also a man who survives by his wits and self-reliance. In this issue we get to see that Conan, as he bides his time and figures out secrets. Still, Bunn delivers what every Conan fan enjoys, namely the Cimmerian charging headlong into bloody battle.
The other major part of the issue revolves around two captured Kozaki and a captured Turanian, who manage to share information and some common ground, even as their animosity remains. It’s a nice scene that adds a touch of complexity to the issue, at least as much complexity as you want in a Conan tale.
Davila’s art is perhaps the best on the series to date. He has to depict a variety of monsters and action throughout Conan the Slayer #3, and he acquits himself admirably. All the creatures are imposing and distinctive, and each of the supporting characters are individualized and rendered with personality. He knows how to pace a story well, using layouts and panel arrangement for emphasis. And the action is bloody and fast and lean, which is exactly what it should be. He depicts Conan in a classic way, emphasizing his speed and agility as well as his power, not falling into the trap of rendering him as a muscle-bound tank. There’s a great page that shows Conan running across the deck of a ship, leaping over the railing and landing in the shallows that almost seems to move, so well does Davila give it a kinetic energy.
Conan the Slayer #3 may be the best issue of the series yet, which is great for fans hoping the book will keep getting better and better. With all the intrigue, excitement and action Bunn and Davila have woven into the story, it’s not difficult for anyone to sign up for more adventures with our favorite mercenary of the Hyborian Age.
Conan the Slayer #3 will be released September 28th, 2016 by Dark Horse Comics.