Conan the Barbarian #4 is the first part of “The Argos Deception”, written by Brian Wood with art by James Harren.
This issue begins with Conan adjusting to life as part of the crew of the Tigress, whom he joined last issue. He and his new love (and captain of the Tigress), Belit, hatch a plan whereby they and their crew will return to Messantia, capital of Argos, where Conan is wanted for murder. They will turn Conan in for his bounty, and while the city puts the notorious Conan on a very public trial, Belit’s crew will loot the city. Then, they will free Conan before he can be executed and sail to freedom. However, the Argosseans are much more cautious with Conan than expected. Since his last trial ended with Conan killing the judge and fleeing the city, this time Conan is tried in his cell in secret. His public execution is scheduled for the next day. Conan fears he will be abandoned to die by Belit, be she visits him in his cell and tells him they will rescue him and have moved up the timetable of their operations.
For those unfamiliar with Conan and his lore, this new Conan the Barbarian series is adapting and expanding upon the short story “Queen of the Black Coast” by Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan. That story tells of Conan’s days sailing with the Black Corsairs and their captain/queen, Belit, who becomes Conan’s first true love. The first chapter (which was adapted in Conan the Barbarian #s 1-3) details Conan’s first meeting with Belit, and the rest of the story takes place 2 or 3 years later. Brian Wood is now telling original stories set during the gap between chapters 1 and 2 starting with this issue.
I enjoyed this issue quite a bit. Although it was surprising to see Conan return to Messantia so quickly after fleeing the city in #1, it makes sense within the context of the story. Conan is not one to let the opportunity for revenge slip away, so I can believe he would want to loot the city after his previous encounter there. Mr. Wood uses Conan’s recapture by the Argosseans to separate him from his new love, and thereby show us how Conan feels about Belit and his lack of faith that she would sacrifice herself and her crew to rescue him. It makes their reunion in his cell extremely powerful, and also shows us the strength of will of Belit. We begin to see why Conan could love this woman so deeply.
The art on this arc is by James Harren, following Becky Cloonan on the initial three issue arc. Harren and Cloonan’s art styles are distinct, but they share a certain sensibility of style that I believe will help hold the series together in collected form (Cloonan returns with #7). I enjoyed Harren’s slightly beefier Conan as compared to Cloonan’s, but I am glad Dark Horse is continuing to show us an early-to-mid 20’s Conan who is not a muscle-bound superhero, and not significantly bigger than the Black Corsairs.
As the beginning of a new story arc, I think this issue is a good jumping on point and recommend it.