Becky Cloonan is some big shoes to fill. So it's even more impressive that James Harren is able to pick up art chores so beautifully on the new arc for Brian Wood's "Conan The Barbarian" #4.
Wood continues the story of Conan and his queen Bêlit with the beginning of new arc "The Argos Deception" and he smartly writes this issue in a way that isn't boring for continuing readers and easy to follow for those who might want to jump on now.
In this issue, we get to see a great turn as Conan, Bêlit and the crew of the Temptress begin the execution of a tricky plan that involves Conan being captured and likely executed if anything goes wrong. Conan being separated from his new crew and queen is wonderfully handled, as Conan almost immediately begins to doubt himself and the plan as he realizes how exposed he is and how much trust he has placed in his queen. It's some solid emotional character work that mixes nicely with the otherwise high adventure story.
Harren's style is significantly different than Cloonan's but he sticks closely to her original character designs, which allows readers to move effortlessly into this new story. Harren's Bêlit is equally as intriguing as Cloonan's and though Conan is the star, Bêlit still draws the eye and imagination powerfully on the page. Harren excels equally at the epic and the personal making him a great fit for Wood's stories, which traditionally move between those extremes with fluidity. Harren's opening splash page of Bêlit's ship, The Tigress, at sail on the open ocean is breathtaking, as is his double page spread of the ship coming to dock in Messantia and the stark landscape of Conan's frozen dream. But these scenes are contrasted with emotionally moving panels of Conan and Bêlit's intimate moments, such as the relief in an embrace between Conan and Bêlit in his prison cell. The work is equally breathtaking but in totally different ways. Dave Stewart's colors are a dream. Ranging between dark and evocative and bright and shining when the scenes demand it.
"Conan The Barbarian" thus far has been the perfect example of how to make great comics. Dark Horse is getting it right with top talent, a consistent schedule and smart editorial choices. The result is simply great comics, month after month.