Dark Horse’s latest Conan series dishes up widescreen action and brilliant art in a faithful adaptation of Howard’s short story.
Fred Van Lente, soon to take over writing duties for Dark Horse’s flagship Conan the Barbarian title, proves his Hyborian Age mettle with this first issue of a four-part miniseries. The story of the book will be familiar to longtime Conan fans, both in the details and in the broad strokes of the plot. “The People of the Black Circle” was one of Conan creator Robert E. Howard’s original short stories featuring the character. First published in the magazine Weird Tales way back in 1934, it’s no stranger to adaptation, with Roy Thomas and John Buscema having previously translated it for comics in Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan. Here Conan is in classic sword-and-sorcery form, facing off against the Black Seers of Mount Yimsha in their conspiracy to overthrow the monarchy in Vendhya and conquer the kingdom for their own nefarious ends.
More than the plot, though, one of the first things you’ll notice about this book is the art. Ariel Olivetti is a veteran of the Big Two who has worked on a host of well-received titles, and he has an elegant, painted style that is both very consistent and instantly recognizable. Those who are familiar with Olivetti’s work probably know what to expect, and his debut illustrating everyone’s favorite barbarian doesn’t disappoint. While the characters (especially that guy named in the title) are sometimes a little overly muscular, to an almost cartoonish degree, the fluidity of Olivetti’s art balances the narrative out to make the few problems barely noticeable.
The fact that Van Lente is adapting a pre-existing story shines through most notably in the dialogue. While not as long-winded as the characters’ diatribes in Howard’s original, enough remains of Howard’s distinctively pulp style that you wouldn’t mistake this for an original story. Rather than slowing the narrative down, though, this just adds to an appreciation for Van Lente’s skills. In adapting the story, he could have rewritten vast swaths of it to aid the story’s flow, and it may have even been a better comic for it. But there is an unmistakable respect for the original present here, whether it’s in the occasionally corny dialogue or in Olivetti’s at times Frazetta-esque art.
Despite occasional difficulties with pacing, Conan and the People of the Black Circle is another in a long line of very good Dark Horse adaptations. With Van Lente on board, Conan is certainly in good hands.
Fred Van Lente (W), Ariel Olivetti (A) • Dark Horse Comics, $3.50, October 23, 2013