Reviews

Published on March 26th, 2024 | by Jules-Pierre Malartre

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Review: The Savage Sword of Conan #1

Conan is back in all his black & white savagery.


As a lifetime Conan fan, I was pretty stoked when Titan Comics acquired the comic
book rights to Conan in the wake of the short-lived 2019 Marvel Comics revival.
As of this writing, Titan Comics has published eight issues of the revived Conan the
Barbarian series with issue #9 slated to be released March 27. It’s been an absolute
blast to read the book and immerse myself once again in the Hyborian world of Conan.
But as much as I liked the four-color Conan the Barbarian monthly comic book
published by Marvel Comics as I grew up, my favorite was always its black & white
magazine-sized companion book, The Savage Sword of Conan. As good as the color
Conan the Barbarian book ever was, the black & white Savage Sword of Conan
magazine was even more, well, savage. Not hampered by the Comics Code, The
Savage Sword of Conan could venture where the other Conan book could only dream
to thread. Some of the greatest Conan stories, including how Conan became king of
Aquilonia, were adapted in the pages of The Savage Sword of Conan. Launching a
magazine-sized comic book was always deemed risky with the chances of success
being very low, but The Savage Sword of Conan developed a strong fan base, and 235
sword-swinging issues were published.
Both books were a must-have for Conan fans. In the wake of its revival of the Conan the
Barbarian comic book, it was only natural that Titan Comics would also resurrect The
Savage Sword of Conan. Issue #1 came out February 28, and it did not disappoint.
The first striking thing about issue #1 is the cover by Joe Jusko. There were several
variant covers for this issue, but as amazing as the other covers were, the only one that
mattered to me was the one by legendary artist Joe Jusko. Jusko needs no introduction,
especially if you’re a Conan fan since he produced some of the most iconic covers for
the original run of The Savage Sword of Conan under Marvel Comics. If I’m going to
indulge in nostalgia by buying a new Conan comic book, it will be even better if it
features cover art by a celebrated Conan artist! If you can afford to buy only one copy of
this issue, better make it the one with the Jusko cover, because it will ensure you have a
genuine piece of awesome Conan art in your hands. There are actually two versions of
the Joe Jusko cover: One with the trade dress and a virgin cover that does full justice to
Jusko’s art.
Featuring a new Conan story titled “Sacrifice in the sand,” this issue finds the
Cimmerian at the head of a small band of Hyrkanian archers in the mercenary employ
of an exiled prince intent on reclaiming his city-state. But what makes this book
interesting to fans who have already read hundreds of other Conan stories? The art by
Max Von Fafner is reminiscent of the work of a number of other artists who have graced
the pages of previous Marvel Comics Conan books. As for the story written by John
Arcudi, the original runs of Marvel Comics Conan books are full of such stories of

Conan’s mercenary days East of the Vilayet Sea. So, some might think this book is just
pure rehash. But then again, the amazing cover by Joe Jusko could also be thought of
as just another piece of art featuring the same tired elements—Conan standing over a
mound of corpses with a scantily clad woman clinging to his leg. If you’re a fan of sword
& sorcery, however, a new Jusko cover is exactly that: NEW! No matter what the subject
matter is. Such covers have been painted countless times by a number of renowned
artists over the past decades, by anyone from Boris to Frazetta and many others not as
well known. Yet, they do not lose their appeal, no matter how many times people have
seen their like. And that’s because they are iconic!
Fafner’s art is actually very interesting. He makes extensive use of solid black, in a
medium where he only has one more thing to work with: White. Black & white art is hard
to master. Here, Fafner shows great control of the two colors he’s given to work with. He
uses pure white and solid black (and every shade of grey in between) very efficiently,
making it easy for the eye to follow images and story. He has a way to draw Conan’s
eyes that hints at the blue of those orbs, even if he only has black and white to work
with. I hope to see more Conan stories drawn by this artist.
Arcudi was given a tall order: write a Conan story that feels fresh despite the hundreds
of previous Conan stories that a number of readers will undoubtedly have already read.
And while it would be easy to say his story is just a rehash from a number of other
Conan stories, it would not be giving due credit to the unexpected twists and turns of the
story, the thoughtful character development that went into secondary and even tertiary
characters, and the dialogue that feels so genuine. Yes, the story is predictable. So is
Conan’s fling with the female lead, and Conan’s eventual clash with some of the other
characters in the story. However, by the time I was done reading this story, I did not feel
cheated. There is a strong nostalgia element that comes into play with the revival of The
Savage Sword of Conan, and it does tend to damper criticism (at least, I think, in the
mind of Conan fans just thrilled at his return). I’ll bet that a number of long-time Conan
fans will feel the same way about this magazine—that it was worth the cover price. I
was pleased to see that Arcudi made the female character an engineer. This is no
classic Conan damsel in distress, which is very refreshing, even though she stills ends
up naked in Conan’s bed.
This book (including its cover) may not be politically correct, but this is a story of “an age
undreamed of,” “Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the
sons of Aryas,” and so on. It’s a male-centric story that uses Conan’s POV to linger on
the female character’s physical attributes on a number of occasions. This will
undoubtedly anger some readers. Conan is not only a hero from another time—he’s
also a hero for another time. He’s a barbarian who desires very simple things: slaying,
looting, drinking and wenching. He’s not your typical enlightened 21st-century comic
book hero, and I’m sure this book will not avoid the toxic label.
In its Marvel Comics heydays, The Savage Sword of Conan offered a lot more than just
a Conan story, and Titan Comics decided to honor this tradition in its revival of the
magazine. Issue #1 also serves up a great story featuring another creation of Robert E.

Howard: Solomon Kane. Many long-time Conan fans will remember Solomon Kane
since he was a recurring character in the back story gracing the last few pages of a
number of Savage Sword of Conan issues. Kane is a 16th-century Puritan adventurer
scouring the English countryside looking for evils to fight. Howard published a number
of his adventures in pulp magazines, and they are still available in print today. Solomon
Kane also had his own comic book series for a while, and he even received the
cinematic treatment in 2009. Written and drawn by Patch Zircher, this new story of
Solomon Kane finds the Puritan fighting evil once again. The story captures the reader’s
attention from the get-go. Both art and story are surprisingly good for a back-up feature.
It’s also to be continued in issue #2.
This issue of The Savage Sword of Conan serves up one more story, this time in prose
form, written by Jim Zub. It’s a very short story featuring Conan. Some would argue that
prose storytelling has no place in a comic book, but many other books in the past have
successfully blended graphic and prose storytelling. And this short story does not
disappoint. It’s short, to the point, highly evocative and graphically descriptive. I was
happy to see what Jim Zub, one of my favorite comic book writers, can do in prose form.
Even readers with the shortest attention span when it comes to prose should enjoy this
Conan story.
The issue also features a very detailed map of Conan’s Hyborian Age, which is always
very welcomed by fans obsessed with the geography of the many lands and countries
the barbarian visited. There are also a few pin-ups and a cover gallery.
As I write these words, issue #2 of Savage Sword of Conan is about to hit bookstores.
Hurry up to catch issue #1 while you still can. I’m saddened that it’s only a limited six-
issue series. But, who knows, if the fans demand it, Titan Comics might be convinced to
release a regular ongoing series in the wake of this limited one.

Title: The Savage Sword of Conan #1
Publisher: Titan Comics/Heroic Signatures
Artists: Max Von Fafner (Conan), Patch Zircher (Solomon Kane)
Writers: John Arcudi (graphic story), Jim Zub (prose story), Patch
Zircher (Solomon Kane)
Format: Magazine size, black & white
Number of pages: 80 pages
Recommended age: 17+

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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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