Saturday, 21 July 2012

That's it, I'm calling a moratorium.

Alright folks, I tried. I really tried this time. But after reading the preview for #7, I don't think I can talk about Brian Wood's Conan the Barbarian any more. And it's because of this page.

Conan and Belit land safely on the Pictish coast, near Korvela Bay. Conan's "spirits are lifted" being in northern lands. Conan and Belit travel through the "green lands" of the Pictish Wilderness for several weeks. Then they hit Black River - which means that cosy little inn there in the centre panel is smack in the middle of Eagle, Toucan or Sea-Falcon tribelands, the most savage of the Pictish tribes.

Say, didn't Howard write about Conan travelling through the Pictish Wilderness once, but in the other direction, from Thunder River to the coast? In "The Black Stranger?" What was that like?

With a gasping, incoherent imprecation he turned and fled westward. He did not pick his way now, but ran with all the speed of his long legs, calling on the deep and all but inexhaustible reservoirs of endurance which are Nature's compensation for a barbaric existence. Behind him for a space the woods were silent, then a demoniacal howling burst out at the spot he had recently left, and he knew his pursuers had found the bodies of his victims. He had no breath for cursing the blood drops that kept spilling to the ground from his freshly opened wound, leaving a trail a child could follow. He had thought that perhaps these three Picts were all that still pursued him of the war-party which had followed him for over a hundred miles. But he might have known these human wolves never quit a blood-trail.
The woods were silent again, and that meant they were racing after him, marking his path by the betraying blood-drops he could not check. A wind out of the west blew against his face, laden with a salty dampness he recognized. Dully he was amazed. If he was that close to the sea the long chase had been even longer than he had realized. But it was nearly over. Even his wolfish vitality was ebbing under the terrible strain. He gasped for breath and there was a sharp pain in his side. His legs trembled with weariness and the lame one ached like the cut of a knife in the tendons each time he set the foot to earth. He had followed the instincts of the wilderness which bred him, straining every nerve and sinew, exhausting every subtlety and artifice to survive. Now in his extremity he was obeying another instinct, looking for a place to turn at bay and sell his life at a bloody price...

... The Cimmerian knew that for a thousand miles this western coast ran bare and uninhabited except by the villages of the ferocious sea-land tribes, who were even less civilized than their forest-dwelling brothers. The nearest outposts of civilization were the frontier settlements along Thunder River, hundreds of miles to the east. The Cimmerian knew he was the only white man ever to cross the wilderness that lay between that river and the coast...
"...You have been living with the Picts?" Valenso asked coldly.
A momentary anger flickered bluely in the giant's eyes.
"Even a Zingaran ought to know there's never been peace between Picts and Cimmerians, and never will be," he retorted with an oath. "Our feud with them is older than the world. If you'd said that to one of my wilder brothers, you'd have found yourself with a split head. But I've lived among you civilized men long enough to understand your ignorance and lack of common courtesy - the churlishness that demands his business of a man who appears at your door out of a thousand-mile wilderness..."

..."You're lying," said Zarono without conviction. "You've told us one lie already. You said you came from the woods, yet you say you haven't been living with the Picts. All men know this country is a wilderness, inhabited only by savages. The nearest outposts of civilization are the Aquilonian settlements on Thunder River, hundreds of miles to eastward."
"That's where I came from," replied Conan imperturbably. "I believe I'm the first white man to cross the Pictish Wilderness. I crossed Thunder River to follow a raiding party that had been harrying the frontier. I followed them deep into the wilderness, and killed their chief, but was knocked senseless by a stone from a sling during the melee, and the dogs captured me alive. They were Wolfmen, but they traded me to the Eagle clan in return for a chief of theirs the Eagles had captured. The Eagles carried me nearly a hundred miles westward to burn me in their chief village, but I killed their war-chief and three or four others one night, and broke away.
"I couldn't turn back. They were behind me, and kept herding me westward."
This entire story arc is impossible as it is, but the idea that Conan, a Cimmerian, and Belit, a southern woman completely inexperienced in such a climate, could just trek across the Pictish Wilderness with a pack-horse while receiving aid packages from friendly farmers is just... you can't say anything other than it's wrong. Because it is wrong. It's as wrong as Thulsa Doom and Khalar Zym just marching into Cimmeria with little to no resistance for exactly the same reasons. It's as wrong as depicting Cimmeria as a land of cheerful peasants who host pre-Greek Olympic games and battle Dil Pickle dragons.  It's as wrong as Conan the Adventurer.  There is no way you could spin this as being remotely faithful to the Hyborian Age as Howard wrote it when it directly contradicts practically the entirety of not only "The Black Stranger," but every other story that describes the Pictish Wilderness as a wild savage expanse - like "Beyond the Black River," commonly cited as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Conan story of them all. This single page invalidates "Beyond the Black River."

I'm done, guys. Anything that comes after this page can't possibly top it, and anything I could say would be redundant. Wood, Cloonan. Lolos, Harren, et al, best of luck in your edgy, rebooted, re-imagined Conan, made for a new generation.  Call it Ultimates Conan. Call it New 52 Conan. All-Star Conan, Conan Forever, Conan Begins, Brian Wood Presents Conan, Conan: The Quickening, Conan the Barbarian: Friendship is Magic. Call it whatever you like. Just don't call it faithful to the source material.


  1. A seemingly well deserved "Ouch!"

  2. Yeah, I'm done. I tried hard to be forgiving and give Wood a chance but too many sharks have been jumped here. I'm out.

  3. Welcome to the club, Al. I stopped reading and blogging about it with issue #4. It's good to let go...

    1. Still haven't read 4, but if I had, I probably would've given up there too.

  4. I'm a dabbler in Howard's Conan ... new to his material and what I've read is strikingly dissimilar to what Wood is writing now. I don't like Wood's direction in Conan which is a shame because I thoroughly enjoyed The Northlanders. Straying a bit off topic here, Al, I've not read many of Roy Thomas's Conan issues. What was your general opinion of his version?

    "Conan the Barbarian: Friendship is Magic". You SLAY me!

    1. In my opinion, Roy Thomas did the best professional adaptations of Howard's stories. Busiek and Truman have done some good work, to be sure, but Thomas hit it out of the park on a far more regular basis. Naturally there are some, IMO, missteps (like his kajiggering of "The God in the Bowl" and "Hour of the Dragon"), but when he's on, he's on.

  5. Its so wrong, one could even suspect its only put in there as a provocation.
    But I can see the reasoning here. 1 Wood look at a map and see the likely landing to make a straight line for cimmeria. 2 Wood think picts must be representing the brittish isles thus the Hobbiton cosy.

    It really proves Woods lack of basic insight in the hyborian age.

    Im with you on this Al, no one can say you didnt give them a fair try.

    1. Of all the things to get wrong, trekking through Pictland like it was a walk through the Shire is just the most infuriating thing you could possibly do (for me).

      Beyond that river lay a huge forest, which approached jungle-like density along the spongy shores. Men paced the runways along the log parapet day and night, watching that dense green wall. Seldom a menacing figure appeared, but the sentries knew that they too were watched, fiercely, hungrily, with the mercilessness of ancient hate. The forest beyond the river might seem desolate and vacant of life to the ignorant eye, but life teemed there, not alone of bird and beast and reptile, but also of men, the fiercest of all the hunting beasts.
      There, at the fort, civilization ended. This was no empty phrase. Fort Tuscelan was indeed the last outpost of a civilized world; it represented the westernmost thrust of the dominant Hyborian races. Beyond the river the primitive still reigned in shadowy forests, brush-thatched huts where hung the grinning skulls of men, and mud-walled enclosures where fires flickered and drums rumbled, and spears were whetted in the hands of dark, silent men with tangled black hair and the eyes of serpents. Those eyes often glared through the bushes at the fort across the river. Once dark-skinned men had built their huts where that fort stood; yes, and their huts had risen where now stood the fields and log-cabins of fair-haired settlers, back beyond Velitrium, that raw, turbulent frontier town on the banks of Thunder River, to the shores of that other river that bounds the Bossonian marches. Traders had come, and priests of Mitra who walked with bare feet and empty hands, and died horribly, most of them; but soldiers had followed, and men with axes in their hands, and women and children in ox-drawn wains. Back to Thunder River, and still back, beyond Black River, the aborigines had been pushed, with slaughter and massacre. But the dark-skinned people did not forget that once Conajohara had been theirs.

      Yeah, just the sort of place for a cosy little inn...

  6. This will be retconned anyway, if ever Dark Horse gets to Beyond the Black River.

    1. That's a big if at this point. Maybe we should just commission Petri Hiltunen to do all the Conan stories.