Many are the tales that have been told of Conan The Barbarian, from his savage upbringing among the grim hills of Cimmeria to his misspent youth among the thief-haunted towers of Zamora. The bards still speak of his time as a mercenary leader and a pirate captain, before he finally became king of Aquilonia, greatest of the Western Kingdoms, by his own hand, after a lifetime of traveling the Scarlet Road by his own terms. Yet much of Conan’s history remains a matter of debate.
Of course the Robert E. Howard fans only count those stories by Conan’s creator as canon when it comes to Conan’s history, which was first roughly assembled into a timeline by P. Schuyler Miller & John D. Clark in 1936 and approved by Howard himself. While others have formed their own timelines since then, incorporating those pastiche stories they consider worthy of inclusion in the legend, the origins of Conan remain largely untouched and it is generally agreed that he left Cimmeria sometime after his 15th summer. Yet the tale of Conan leaving home has never been told by any writer… until now!
Hither come Conan The Barbarian: Exodus – a one-shot story by Croatian comic book writer and artist Esad T. Ribić, which details Conan’s journey southward out of the lands of his people and his first encounter with civilized men. Exodus offers a story almost entirely without words and what little language exists is rendered in a runic font by Travis Lanham. This subtly conveys that young Conan doesn’t know the language of whatever land he has come to, making him (and us) entirely dependent on what we see to determine what is going on around us.
Before that, however, we’re treated to a number of scenes straight out of the novels of Jack London, with Conan living off the land and struggling for survival. He has encounters with a number of wild beasts, fighting off wolves, mountain lions and bears as we see him scavenge for berries, hunt what small game he can and grow giddy at the sight of fresh water after what can be assumed to be days of dehydration.
Ribić spins an entirely different kind of Conan story here but one that is perfectly in keeping with Howard’s recurring theme of man vs. nature. It is also unusual in that we are presented with a vision of Conan who is desperate and frightened, far from incompetent but all too aware of his chances against an entire pack of wolves armed with only a simple hunting knife and a spear. These points mark Exodus as something special, even ignoring its status as a true piece of sequential art with no words to convey the story.
The artwork is largely up to this heavy burden and Ribić’s work is as impressive and visceral in its detailing as it was in his earlier work on the 2004 Loki mini-series and 2015’s Secret Wars. Only a few odd panels here and there, coupled with some awkward panel placements that break the smooth flow of the story, rob Exodus of perfection.
While not everyone will enjoy Conan The Barbarian: Exodus (including, surprisingly, some Conan the Barbarian fans, who may want something with more sword-fighting), this comic is good for what it is – a ripping yarn about survival and struggle in a harsh land, depicting a young Conan who is not quite the warrior he will be someday. It’s an interesting change of pace from the usual Conan the Barbarian story and that makes it well-worth checking out. It’s also a must-read for anyone who enjoys survival fiction.
Conan The Barbarian: Exodus #1 releases on August 14th, 2019!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.