"Siege at Venarium"
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Greg Ruth
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Right on the tails of Cary Nordís finale, Dark Horse has gotten out another Conan issue, this time taking readers back to the beginning of Conanís story, one in which he is on the verge of manhood, still dwelling in the hills of Cimmeria. While the battle of Venarium was important to Conan in Howardís work, here Conanís roll is expanded greatly, perhaps needlessly, but to entertaining affect.
The ďSiege at VenariumĒ finds Conanís homeland invaded by the expanding Aquilonian Empire, which provides great opportunities for both action and character development. However, as many a reader has been bemoaning the departure of Cary Nord, letís focus on that first. The team behind Conan wisely avoided finding an artist to simply imitate Nord and located an artist that has a decidedly different style. Visually, this represents the break in the story arcs very well, particularly since issue #45 takes readers into the past. Ruthís art, particularly the use of color, does an excellent job of conveying a sense of viewing the bookís happenings through the lens of history. Nordís strong lines have been replaced by softer ones, giving the entire book an almost hazy appearance.
The writing here also does justice to the historical nature of the issue. Questions have always abounded about why Conan chose to leave Cimmeria, why his attitude in life could be so very dark and how, exactly, did his relationship with his grandfather forge the man Conan was to become. ďSiege at VenariumĒ touches on all of these and, for the most part, does a good job of answering these questions. All of these are bound in an interesting look at life in Cimmeria. While this may be a time of war, the book suggests that not all that much has changed for the harsh life of the Cimmerians. While they now fight an outside enemy, this simply means that the hill barbarians have stopped fighting each other for a moment. The reader is introduced to Donal, who Conan crippled at an early age, and Conanís grandfather; a man wise and tempered by age, but still capable of every bit of savagery that his young comrades can muster.
Interestingly, the reader is also given a complex look at the Aquilonians. While it would have been simple to just cast Conanís future people as evil imperialists, the book gives a more rounded view. Conanís ties to the invasion are the one hiccup in this issue, though. While it might have been enough to simply have Conan play the important role in the upcoming siege that Howard hinted at in his work, this is expanded upon here to actually make the entire invasion Conanís fault. While this might make for interesting later issues, here it just seems to come across as making the entire Hyborian Age revolve around Conan. As part of the enjoyment of the original works was the sense that Conan was a piece of a much large game, a player in a much larger world, this detracted from the story for this reader.
Overall, ďSiege at VenariumĒ is a complex story looking into the Cimmerians origins that promises lots of action and bloodshed down the road. The creative team behind this book has easily put aside the notion that this series wonít be able to survive without Nord.
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