• Conan The Slayer: Blood In His Wake

    Conan The Slayer: Blood In His Wake
    Released by: Dark Horse Comics
    Released on: April 19th, 2017.
    Written by: Cullen Bunn
    Illustrated by: Sergio Davlia
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    When this latest Conan series from Dark Horse Comics begins, Conan of Cimmeria is injured and feverish as he walks, alone, through a harsh desert landscape. The evidence of battle shows – arrows are stuck in his flesh, he is scarred and clearly in bad shape. But Conan, being Conan, soldiers on. Ahead of him lays his ending, behind him only the dead. Even in this state, even as near to death as he is, there are those on his trail, hunting him down – in this case a small group of men expecting that the vultures circling above will lead them right to him.

    But Conan, being Conan, is wily and smart – he lays in waiting and then attacks. He kills one of the four instantly, then does battle with three, then two and then one. Again, behind him he leaves only the dead. The vultures are well fed today. As he continues his travels he looks back to past battles, when he led the Zuagir against the Turanians, how his men were “slaughtered for their loyalty.” Hubris is man a great man’s downfall, Conan no exception, though he survived where the others did not.

    He closes in on a camp, making his entrance and then passing out in front of those who would defend the grounds. Mykylo, the leader, orders that the unconscious barbarian be brought to his tent. There they bind him to a pole and throw water on him until he regains consciousness. Mykylo is curious about the barbarian from the north, he sees the battle scars and knows that the sword he walked into camp with was not made of Cimmerian steel. Conan taunts Mykylo’s son, Kyrylo, but his younger brother, Taraslan, steps in before it gets to be as bad as it could have been – and then strangers on horseback approach the camp looking for a fugitive, a dark haired barbarian they call him. It seems their employer wants his head in atonement for the Zuagir raids, and this man will pay handsomely for it…

    Kyrylo heads into the desert to consult with a supernatural being who tells him ‘dead men have no fear of blades.’ Kyrylo appears to be taken aback by this, reacting with surprise to the bravado shown by this creature, but when the cloaked, rotting corpse offers him a pact, Kyrylo tells him of his troubles with Conan, how his father Mykylo and younger brother Taraslan welcomed him as if he were one of their own. Kyrylo feels they should have handed him over, to strike a truce with the Turanians, and that he feels his father is no longer fit to lead their people. Of course, Kyrylo feels he should be the new leader. Before this creature can make his offer, he disappears into a pile of dust and bones but Kyrylo already has plans set in place.

    Conan, meanwhile, recovers from his wounds. Taralsan makes the mistake of waking him, but then instructs him to prepare – some of the scouts they sent out last night have not returned and they need his help figuring out what happened. Before they leave, Conan and Mykylo talk of Kyrylo’s true intentions. He’s not as sneaky as he believes himself to be but as Conan rightly points out, blood can be blinding. Conan, Taralsan and the lovely Oksana ride out into the desert and find a corpse decorated in such a way so to serve as a warning to outsiders. Regardless of this ominous sign, they head further into uncharted territory but soon learn the hard way that they’ve been setup. Oksana proves her worth to Conan in the ensuing fray, but this is more than just a mere ambush…

    Blood In His Wake Part 3, opens in a palace where Lord Jehungir Agha Of Kharwarism is informed by Ghaznavi how his men were slaughtered by the Koazak’s that they were sent to assassinate. He’s upset, but informed by Ghaznavi that the Hetman’s son is willing to kill to attain power and once he does, that’s their time to strike.

    Meanwhile, Conan wakes up. His hands are bound with rope and he’s in bad shape, but he’s alive, locked away in the belly of an old ship, a ship that’s definitely seen better days. His captor? A massive female monstrosity of unknown origin, a green and hulking thing, a sea hag who wants Conan to sire some sons for her. He’s repulsed, until she crams a fish down his mouth, at which point he sees her as a beautiful and curvaceous blonde woman, very human indeed. Taralsan and Oksana, who Conan had recently fought alongside, are also captives, as is one of their enemies. They are bound and held along the shore, not in the ship with our barbarian hero. They can’t help but notice the skeletons littered on the ground all around them and figure that they are not long for this world. And they might be right. The sea hag’s three sons are watching over them, feasting on horse meat until their mother gives them permission to fill their bellies full of long pig. The beasts leave and it is then that Taralsan is told the truth, that his own brother, Kyrylo, orchestrated the ambush that landed them here in the first place.

    And just then, Conan escapes from the belly of the ship. The sea hag orders her sons to give chase, but Conan has figured out the truth about these creatures and once he finds a sword, all bets are off.

    The Zuagir Raiders lay dead, their corpses littered across a battlefield surveyed by The Ghul. This ‘Eater Of The Dead’ witnessed the battle and wants more, he wants the singular survivor of the battle, a lone warrior who staggered away on his own, a man responsible for the death of hundreds. When The Ghul comes across a shipwreck on a rocky coast and finds there a sea hag cursing this man named Conan who slaughtered her sons, The Ghul knows he’s getting closer.

    Elsewhere, Conan rushes a weakened Taraslan much to the dismay of Oksana. Conan knows they don’t have time to rest and that they must get home. When they do, they arrive to a funeral pyre – Taraslan’s father, the one who admitted Conan into the village in the first place, has died and likely at Kyrylo’s hands so that he could claim the throne in Taraslan’s absence. Conan has no patience for this and while Taraslan’s is weak and unfit to do so, Conan musters up the bravado to confront Kyryslo in front of his own men and to accuse him then and there of conspiracy and murder. Some of the Kozak’s obey Kyryslo when he orders them to attack the Cimmerian and those that do pay the ultimate price. After the battle the surviving Kozak’s seem to see things from Conan’s point of view and refuse to fight on his behalf, leaving Kyryslo to take on Conan by himself.

    And then there’s the matter of a certain bargain that Kyryslo in the last issue, one that will clearly have ramifications before this issue is finished.

    Kyrylo paces in the ruins of the castle that are more like a tomb. Here he converses with the demon who helped him get to where he is, a demon who has taken the form of his recently deceased father, the man he murdered. They talk of how to build a kingdom over which Kyrylo will rule, unaware that outside Taraslan and Conan watch. The torchlight in the top window is a dead giveaway, they know Kyrylo is there and Taraslan wants revenge. Conan advises him not to send in the Kozak soldiers loyal to him until they know if Kyrylo is truly there and, just as importantly, who might be with him. Oksana decides to go ahead and scout the location, but Conan winds up going in her stead.

    As Conan heads towards the castle, Taraslan complains to Oksana that Conan treats him like a child, the same way his father used to treat him. Oksana knows that Conan is right. If Taraslan is to lead, he has a responsibility to stay alive, but Taraslan wants to follow Conan’s example of bravery.

    Conan heads to the ruins and knows something is wrong. He can sense that many have died here, but there are no signs of battle. He feels as if the place is cursed. When dead soldiers rise out of the nearby swamp, swords at the ready, Conan realizes his instincts were right. The battle goes in Conan’s favor to start with, until he realizes that by cleaving their corpses he’s freed their spirits… and those spirits are angry! The same dead soldiers attack the companions Conan has left behind – Oksana and the Kozaks. When Conan returns to them in order to lead them away, he learns that Taraslan has set out on his own. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Conan must decide if they stay and attempt to win a fight against an impossible foe or flee and leave the man he’s sworn to protect…

    Dehungir Agha broods in his palace in Kharwarizm, for he is not convinced that the Kozaki men have been slaughtered as easily as his spies tell him they have been. He’s concerned that whoever replaces their recently deceased leader will be an even bigger thorn in his side, planning and launching raids against his people knowing full well that they didn’t stand a chance against his army, the army that serves his master, Yezdigerd. His advisor, Ghaznavi, makes a fair point, however- they’ve gone through three leaders in a short period of time and with no warlord in charge, they are weak.

    Cut to what’s left of the Kozak forces, gathered around a funeral pyre watching Taraslan’s corpse turn to ash. Conan is among them, paying his last respects to a boy who had become his friend. As Conan sets out to leave, the lovely Oksana calls him on it – she knows they need him but is upset that Taraslan died under Conan’s watch. Their conversation is cut short when an arrow pierces the neck of the man standing next to him. They’re under attack by a gang of black clad assassins.

    Conan runs into the fray while Oksana rallies the troops. As Conan slashes his way through the horde, he recognizes the leader of this group, even though a mask conceals his identity. But the Turanian assassins made a mistake attacking during a funeral, for in doing so, by interrupting a sacred rite, they have awoken something fair more difficult to do battle with than a simple Cimmerian with a sword… come not only to lay waste to his foes but also to name his successor!

    The last issue in this six issue run, written by Cullen Bunn, resolves some of the plot points from the first five issues while opening up a few more. There’s a pretty neat twist here that takes place after the battle and of course, the last few pages provide a bit of a cliffhanger, the kind that ensures we’ll be back next issue to see where this is all headed. Bunn’s not reinventing the wheel here, his take on Conan is pretty traditional but he writes the characters that populate this world well and he does a fine job of mixing up elements of fantasy, action and horror in decent servings with some appreciable character development worked in to anchor the story.

    Sergio Davila’s artwork remains as good as it’s ever been. There’s nice detail here and some really strong panel layouts and character design work. The fantastic creatures look appropriately otherworldly while the humans are expressive and dramatic with their facial expressions and body language. Michael Atiyeh’s coloring work complements this really nicely, helping to bring Conan’s world to life in vivid detail without crushing out the detail in the penciling work.