Conan: The Hand of Nergal
Writer: Timothy Truman
Artist: Tomas Giorello
Published: Dark Horse, 2008
After the last review, I had the urge for some much-needed action. So, with eager eyes, I turn to the most famous of barbarians: Conan the Cimmerian!
Conan actually got his start in 1932 in Weird Tales, a magazine known for its fantasy and horror stories, and his creator, Robert E. Howard, is considered to be the father of the sword and sorcery genre. Conan didn't even appear in comic book form until 1970, but once the leap was made, he was an instant hit, expanding his fan base. Then, 1982: a young Arnie portrays Conan in the film, Conan the Barbarian, catapulting the character to heights that only Hollywood can bring.
I have never read any Conan in the past, but when someone says “barbarian”, he is the first thing that comes to mind, as I'm sure is the case with most people familiar with pop culture. And, of course, I am familiar with the following famous quote from his film debut:
Anyway, this tale, The Hand of Nergal, is, in fact, an unfinished work of Howard himself. Writer Timothy Truman, who previously wrote Turok: Dinosaur Hunter [a Conan-like character], took the threads of several Conan story lines and tied them together to coincide with what Howard had written some 80 years prior. Not bad, Truman... but let's see if he pulls it off.
We are given a story-within-a-story [called a “frame narrative” in the biz], as a curious prince's caravan stumbles upon a fallen statue of a man who looks “rough. Dangerous. Real.” Curious, the prince has his creepy adviser do some research into who this mysterious man could be. Silly prince... it's Conan! The creepy adviser finds some old scrolls and thus begins our tale for realsies...
Conan, fleeing trouble from a previous adventure, enters into the service of the army of one Prince Than [often confused with Prince Then]. Their current mission is to escort the Prince's bride-to-be, Princess Ereshka, to his pad for the impending wedding. However, just as the Princess arrives, they are attacked by a large force of undead creatures. Seeking to kidnap the Princess, they instead accidentally take Iniri, a young waif she had recently befriended.
Conan, Ereshka and some old guy are the only survivors of the attack, and they give pursuit. Turns out, the evil warlock behind the ghouls and the kidnapping is Prince Than's own sickly adviser, Atalis. It seems Atalis had promised to grant him eternal glory, but, like evil advisers are wont to do [I hope the prince in the framing story takes note], Atalis took it TOO FAR! Apparently, eternal glory means serving as a host body for Atalis as he helps his evil death god, Nergal, conquer the world. Dammit Atalis, THAT WASN'T PART OF THE DEAL!
Meanwhile, a former companion of Conan's, Nestor the Gunderman, has returned from the dead for some reason and is hunting down the Cimmerian. Everyone's paths cross in a big showdown with some tentacled beastie in Atalis's tower.
I liked this comic, but it didn't blow me away or anything... I actually expected something a little more epic. I learned, however, that one of the main differences between sword and sorcery and high fantasy is that SAS tends to focus more on the individual [Conan], while HF tends to have a more epic scope [think LOTRish].
The old man character didn't really add anything to the story, hence why I didn't bother learning his name. And neither does the Nestor-back-from-the-dead story, although he is cooler than the old man.
I enjoyed the artwork, as it provided a good dose of gore. The Cimmerian rips through his foes with reckless abandon, innards flying everywhere. The undead foes have a demonic twist to them, looking like bloody, puss-dripping, zombified orcs. Atalis inhabits Than's body through the ol' still-beating-heart-swap. All very appropriate for the approaching Hallowe’en!
I was previously unaware of the depth of the Conan mythos. Howard mapped an entire version of Earth as it would've been circa 20 000 BC [the fictional “Hyborian Age”]: Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia are all one continent, fleshed out with a wide variety of kingdoms and peoples that mirror our own world [Conan's homeland, Cimmeria, being one of those lands].
Also, according to the afterword by Truman, the name "Nergal" actually comes from the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh and is also mentioned in a 2000-year old letter from the king of Cyprus to the king of Egypt. Crazy. It adds to the loose historical basis for Conan. I am a fan of historical fiction, having written some myself in Creative Writing in college a couple years back... check it out!
Oh, fun fact: President Obama is apparently a big Conan fan and has actually been featured in his own Conan-like mini-series, Barack the Barbarian.
stimuli! get it? oh, man...