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Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Skull of Set. Doug Moench(Writer),Paul Gulacy(Penciler),Gary Martin(Inker),David Jackson(Letterer),Steve Mattsson(Colours). Marvel Comics(1989)

A very entertaining and hugely enjoyable Conan story that mixes up the usual ingredients with flair and imagination. After a fight in a tavern Conan takes the job of leading the escort for a wagon of weapons heading for a strategic location in the war between Koth and Argos. Attacked by bandits Conan finds that the wagon has much more than weapons on board. Following an encounter with another group fleeing the city, the entire group lands among the ruins of a small city and under siege from both bandits and Argossean soldiers pursuing a traitor. At this point the real trouble starts and continues with great style and energy right up to a nicely judged and very satisfying conclusion.
The great pleasure of this comic is not that it tries anything new rather that it takes the familiar and makes them fresh and smart. The women are beautiful and frequently very dangerous, the demons are big, nasty and very bloodthirsty, the wizards are clever, the action is fast and furious. Best of all Conan has all the barbarian swagger, cunning, courage and wit that makes him the fabulous character that he should be. He has to solve difficult and life threatening problems by being smart as well as fast, he has to enjoy the adventure. Doug Moench delivers all of this with great craft, the dialogue is just the right shade of purple, the structure of the story is thoughtful, the plot threads are beautifully tied together.
The art is a luscious pleasure, the panel structure is used with care and skill to pace the story and to zoom in and out to considerable effect. The cast are the exact mixture between types and individuals that they should be, the aristocrat who is full of contempt for others, his beautiful, scantily clad and lonely wife, the merchant and the mysterious female priest. They move through the action with grace and clarity, their actions as much as their features are expressive and involving.
The colouring by Steve Mattsson is stunning, it is virtually a character in its own right while at the same time not drawing undue attention to itself. It is bold and striking, the colours catch the straightforward mood of the story and deepen it at every turn. Deeply satisfying and a pleasure to read.

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