It took me a while to get used to the continuous rotating artists, but since they've settled into the current pattern of using one artist per three-issue arc, I've really been enjoying Brain Wood's Conan the Barbarian. Wood's name is seemingly everywhere at the moment, but Conan is, for my money, his best ongoing work at the moment. The love story between Conan and Bêlit has been fantastic, and his writing is so pulpy that it feels like it's coming fresh off his typewriter for the latest issue of Weird Tales.
Things have been happening fast and furious in Wood's stories. Conan and Bêlit have been tested and tried at seemingly every turn, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake. The pace has made for some excellent reading, but there hasn't been much time for the characters to really pause and take stock of everything they've done.
Enter this issue.
After a particularly brutal lovers' quarrel that involved an extended siege in Shem, Conan and Bêlit find themselves in the pleasure houses of Ianthe, quenching their thirsts and libidos. Of course, drinking and sex can only take a story so far, so Wood quickly introduces the Yellow Lotus, a potent drug that can cause shared hallucinations. What follows is a fascinating issue that is rife with metaphor and symbolism.
It's quite an ingenious set-up, as Conan and Bêlit's drug-fuelled journey into their subconscious becomes a brilliant character study of our Cimmerian protagonist, as Wood delves into his many conflicting feelings that have only been hinted at in passing thus far. By literalizing his mental struggles, Wood manages to write one of the most action-packed psychoanalyses I've ever encountered.
This is excellent news for David Gianfelice, as he takes the golden opportunity to lay down some absolutely gorgeous pages. He retreads many of the settings and images we've seen in past issues while also exploring new locales, dancing with ease between the beautiful dreams that Conan and Bêlit yearn for and the awful nightmares that dog their heels - often providing both in the same panel. Unsurprisingly, Dave Stewart continues to weave his magic, providing dazzling colours to perfectly match the high and low moods of every scene. Dreams have always had a strange nonsense logic to them, and Wood's script and Gianfelice's art nail those strange connections through and through.
Verdict - Buy It. Conan the Barbarian #16 is a great comic by Brian Wood and David Gianfelice. Their prior experience working together is evident, as they both bring their A-game here, making for perhaps the strongest opener to any Conan arc this series has yet had, which is saying quite a lot considering the talents we've seen before. The Nightmare in the Shallows looks like it's going to be a good one.