Published on March 14th, 2024 | by Jules-Pierre Malartre


Conan the Barbarian—Bound in Black Stone TPB

—Conan is back! This is my Conan, the ’70s sword & sorcery hero making a comeback. I would
not be more excited even if Schwarzenegger were to pick up his Atlantean sword to shoot a
third Conan movie.

These are great days to be a Conan fan. Even though there is no chance of a new Conan movie
in the foreseeable future, there is a new Conan comic book out, and it’s the best one since the
heydays of Marvel Comics’ Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan titles from the ’70s
through the early ’90s.

After Marvel stopped publishing Conan books in the ’90s, it took ten years before another
publisher (Dark Horse Comics) picked up the title. The Dark Horse series was a critical success
and many will argue that its interpretation of the sword & sorcery hero was much closer to R. E.
Howard’s vision of Conan. Dark Horse published Conan comic books until 2018. Conan did make
a return to Marvel Comics in 2019, but it proved to be a short-lived run. Titan Comics acquired
the rights and published issue 1 of the revived Conan the Barbarian title in August 2023. Both
the Dark Horse and Marvel Comics revivals had their devoted readers, but to fans of the original
Marvel series, this newest series by Titan Comics will strike a nostalgic chord.

Eight issues are out so far, and if you haven’t picked up the title yet, you might want to avail
yourself of the Bound in Black Stone trade paperback released in February 2024 that collects
issues 1 through 4 (plus material from issue 0 issued for Free Comic Book Day 2023). It’s a great
introduction to Conan whether you’re an old-school fan or new to Robert E. Howard’s barbarian hero. It includes a couple of interesting articles by archeologist Jeffrey Shanks on Howard and Conan, a highly detailed map of the Hyborian Age and some character sketches.

It’s a bit light on bonus features for a trade paperback, but it will please both the long-term fans
and new readers, and leave them asking for more.

The first story arc of this new series finds Conan a few years after the battle of Venarium
(where he proved his mettle by climbing over the walls of the Aquilonian outpost to fight off
the invaders). So, it is a story of young Conan, picking up his trail as he returns to his homeland
(probably after he was captured and sold into slavery by the Hyperboreans). It’s a story right
out of the best pages of the old Savage Sword of Conan magazine, featuring a horde of undead
soldiers out of the Pictish wilderness, vile sorcery, a sexy female sidekick and plenty of sword

This new series feels as if the creative people over at Titan Comics miss the old days of the
original Marvel Comics’ Conan. When I picked up issue 0 (published for Free Comic Book Day in
the Spring of 2023), I thought that I was looking at a reprint of an old Marvel Conan book
penned and inked by the John Buscema and Ernie Chan team. The cover immediately evoked
some of the great covers by Buscema and other artists who contributed to the original Conan
comic book runs by Marvel Comics.

By the time I turned to the splash page on page 4, I would have been convinced this was a
reprint were it not for the names of the new creative team printed at the bottom. The artist
was Roberto de la Torre. Yet, this book looked like the same Conan titles I read back when I was
a teenager. It was not just a matter of the art style being similar; it was also the characters
striking similar poses (de la Torre captures perfectly Conan’s surly expression popularized by
Buscema), the cinematic quality being identical, and the scenery being just as evocative. Even
Conan’s feminine sidekick is a “Buscema woman” (a reader of the original Conan the Barbarian
once commented in the letters page that Buscema could draw only one woman with only
subtle changes in clothing, hair color and length). This latest incarnation of the barbarian is a
return to the source, not only to Buscema but also to countless other artists who illustrated
Conan in hundreds of issues of Marvel’s original Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of
Conan books.

While some critics might be screaming “ripoff,” I am thrilled. This is my Conan, the ’70s sword &
sorcery hero making a comeback. I would not be more excited even if Schwarzenegger were to
pick up his Atlantean sword to shoot a third Conan movie.

Roberto de la Torre has worked for Marvel where he illustrated a number of titles, including
Age of Apocalypse, Thunderbolts and Iron Man. Looking at his previous work now, I never
would have thought he could be such a dead ringer for Buscema.

The cover for the first issue (and the Bound in Black Stone TPB) by artist Dan Panosian captures
Conan’s essence, but it doesn’t hint at the Buscema-esque style of the work inside.

The series is penned by Jim Zub who is no stranger to Conan or fantasy. He was the writer on
the Baldur’s Gate comic-book series based on Dungeons & Dragons released by IDW. I was very
glad to see that Zub was able to make the leap from Marvel Comics to Titan Comics on this
series. His writing was one of the best things about the Conan Marvel revival in 2019, and I’m
glad we’ll be able to continue enjoying his work on Conan. Zub can write a good story and he
has a flair for writing believable conversations in a media that can still produce dialogue that
sometimes feel stilted and unreal. He’s the new voice of Conan and he is the heir apparent of
other great Conan comic book writers like Roy Thomas.

When Marvel reacquired the Conan rights in 2019, I remember reading an article calling it the
return of the toxic male comic book character. Rereading some Conan comics from the ’70s
through the ’90s, I can certainly understand why people would feel this way. Some of the
stories have not aged very well. And while both the Dark Horse series and the new Marvel
series did try to portray a version of Conan more appropriate for our days and age, the
characters will always be associated with male toxicity to some extent.

Will the new Titan Comics Conan also be called toxic? I don’t really care, to be honest. I’ve only
read issues 0 through 4 so far, and it feels like a full return to the thrills and adventures of ’70s
Conan. I haven’t seen him throw a woman over his shoulder and carry her off to his bed yet,
but I assume it’s only a matter of time when that happens. Does the new book treat women any differently? Issue 1 has a tavern wench that would be more than happy to please Conan,
but it also features a very strong female character, a Pictish warrior woman that can chop
heads off just as well as Conan. She is no different than the many strong female characters that
were featured in the original Marvel Comics series, from Red Sonja to Belit, yet that original run
did not escape the male toxicity label, and it’s possible that this new series will also suffer that
fate. Conan is a hero for another time, but who can still be enjoyed today. This new series is a
nostalgic pleasure and I hope it runs for a very long time. I’m hoping that all original Conan fans
will read it, and that new readers will discover the character through this book.

This new comic book is not the only new Conan product to hit the stores in the past year or so.
Back in August 2023, Titan also published Conan the Barbarian: The Official Story of the Film. I
wish I had seen such a “making of” book of the first Conan the Barbarian movie when it
originally came out in theatres. Last Fall, Titan also rereleased the novelization of the original
Conan the Barbarian movie by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter (two of the most well-known
Conan pastiche writers), which is fortunate for those of us who missed it when it originally
came out in 1982. In January, Arrow Video also released 4K versions of both Conan the
Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. But that’s not all, Titan is also relaunching Savage Sword of
Conan, drawing inspiration from the original black & white Conan magazine series by Marvel
from the ’70s (see my separate review of issue #1). It’s only a limited series comprised of six
issues, but it will be a great companion to the Conan the Barbarian title.
Titan seems to bet that Conan can be relevant in the 21st century. I, for one, cannot wait to see
how the new publisher will manage to blend nostalgia to relevance in this Conan book for the
new comic book age. All in all, it’s a great time to be a Conan fan.

Conan the Barbarian—Bound in Black Stone
Publisher: Heroic Signatures/Titan Comics
Artist: Roberto de la Torre
Writer: Jim Zub

Format: Trade paperback, 128 pgs
Notes: Collects issues 1 through 4 of Conan the Barbarian, plus material from the Free Comic Book Day 2023 special edition (issue 0).

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About the Author

Jules-Pierre Malartre currently resides in Rigaud, Quebec, which is cold enough to save him from big-ass spiders, but as close to The Great White North that he will ever dare go. In 2005, he quit a promising aerospace engineering career to go into freelance copywriting. Since then, he has become considerably poorer, but much happier. When he is not writing technical manuals, newspaper articles or online features, he is busy working on his first novel. His first short story, “The Rest Was Easy,” was published by the online literary magazine Amarillo Bay in 2013.

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