"Conan the Barbarian" #13 by Brian Wood and Mirko Colak is an issue that takes pause after the tumultuous emotional rollercoaster in the previous arc "The Death." With another artist shift, readers also get a new location and the relationship between Conan and Bêlit is drastically changed. This issue is more about the coiled spring than the usual Cimmerian release.
After the events of "The Death," Conan and Bêlit go their separate ways until fate conspires to bring them forcibly back together. Conan is in a low place in this issue with his emotional stores depleted, which negatively affects his decisions. A marauding army sweeps him up and assimilates him into their ranks, but not their cause. The foreground of this tale then becomes the campaign of these strangers against a stronghold that now houses Bêlit. This is a great set up for a mammoth tale of romantic and epic action, but the setup is all this issue holds.
The final sequence of the soldiers talking about the gorgeous woman in the fortress is a brilliant display of raw emotion. It's easy to feel Conan's jaw clench as the men cast their thoughts into the ether. The character of Conan, rather than his physicality, is the purpose of this issue and it is nice to see someone as devoted as Robert E. Howard to building the man into more.
The art from Mirko Colak is stark and raw. He builds the world of Shem well and populates it with rich characters with intricate faces and builds. His Conan is lean and mean. This isn't a gargantuan beast of a man, he's a lithe warrior with speed as well as strength, not that either are really shown in this issue. Colak's job is to render the emotion of the people and the scope of the world. He does both well. There is a certain verve of motion and emotion slightly missing from Colak's work that was present in some of the previous artists. Perhaps with more to play with in the next issue, Colak will be able to better deliver his work.
"Conan the Barbarian" under the cohesive guidance of Brian Wood has been a refreshing take on the iconic character. It's not that the stories are drastically new, but rather how they are delivered is refreshing and masterful. Wood draws a tight seam between the pulp action and the emotional character arcs of his narrative. He is constantly paired with artists at the peak of the industry. Sadly, this issue doesn't showcase these traits as effectively as many previous "Conan" installments, but it still stands as a very good issue. When an issue like this can be a low point on a title, it says a lot about the quality of the book as a whole. This month's setup will no doubt deliver in the next issue but on its own, "Conan the Barbarian" #13 reads as a touch flat.
It should also be noted that this is Dark Horse's 100th Conan book, but there is no renumbering or distracting celebration -- and interesting occurrence in our current comic market.