"Wolves in the Woods"
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: Greg Ruth
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Plot: As his tribe struggles to survive during a particularly harsh winter season, a young Conan finds himself isolated from the community. He's too mature to find much enjoyment playing with the other children, but the men of the tribe still consider him too young to join the hunting parties. However, when his grandfather is pinned under a log in the woods, Conan gets the opportunity to prove his worth when he has to protect the trapped man from a hungry pack of wolves. Needless to say, Conan manages to survive this encounter, and it earns him a new-found respect from the tribe.
Comments: These stories that are set during Conan's childhood are working at a bit of a disadvantage in that no matter how dire a situation Kurt Busiek comes up with we know that Conan has to survive to grow up an become a young adult. However, these stand alone adventures do benefit from the simple fact that a young Conan is not essentially guaranteed a victory in the battles that he fights, and as such there is the potential for him to learn some painful life lessons. This issue basically presents the story of how Conan managed to overcome the perception that he was still a child, as he's backed into a corner, and he has to make a decision about whether he's going to make a stand at the risk of his own life, or is he going to run for his life and leave someone he loves to suffer a gruesome death. There really wasn't much doubt which choice Conan was going to make, but the battle that results has a wonderfully sense of urgency about it. Kurt Busiek sells the illusion that Conan is in over his head, so his victory becomes even more impressive. The way that Conan manages to secure his victory was also wonderfully unsettling, as he reaches a point where he has to fight in a manner that is downright animalistic, and there's something deeply disturbing about what Conan does to win this fight. The issue also nicely establishes the decidedly harsh environment that forged Conan, as it's quite easy to believe that Conan would grow up to be tough as nails when one gets a look at the events that shaped his childhood. The issue also establishes the source of Conan's wanderlust, as his grandfather filled his head with stories of grand adventure.
Greg Ruth's art has a wonderfully moody quality about it, and I always welcome his visits to this title, as if nothing else he delivers some truly jaw-droppingly beautiful covers. The cover visual is an amazing representation of this issue's big action sequence. In fact, the highlight of this issue would have to be the art's delivery of the battle inside, as the young Conan clashes with the leader of the wolf pack, and this is a wonderfully intense bit of art that managed to leave me momentarily convinced that Conan wouldn't be walking away from this encounter in one piece. The art isn't quite as clear in its presentation of some of the talking heads scenes, as there was a couple times where I found myself a bit lost about what was going on when I turned the page. The art simply dropped readers into a new scene, but for the most part Greg Ruth did another amazing job on this issue, and I look forward to his next visit. The art also deserves credit for how it was able to capture the desolate locale where the action takes place, as it's easy to believe it would be difficult to survive in this environment.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!