Monday, May 21, 2012

Conan the Barbarian #4: The Argos Deception Part 1 Review

Returning Beginnings: Conan the Barbarian: The Argos Deception Part 1

Despite the pacific nature of Buddhism, it violently accused as the source of all human suffering Ample sufferings storm down upon those desiring, yet amidst these pains, desire can provide focus. Protean by nature, desire varies in its degrees and manifests for a myriad matters.

Brian Wood, James Harren, and Dave Stewart create another new beginning for Conan with the “Argos Deception” In part one of this storyline, Conan’s relation with Bêlit extends to fresh facets of desire and trust. The plot has Conan conveyed to Argos’s authorities so they can be distracted while the pirates rob the town. After securing the treasure, the pirates promise to free Conan before they depart.

The desire of Conan for Bêlit’s acceptance fulfilled itself in issue three. When entwining arms around his desired, it transforms, just like the Proteous, old man of the sea. Once the initial acceptance between lovers consummates, what becomes of desire?  The desire shifts to another future wish: Will love remain and grow? Will love erode? Were those initial sensations even love? What will be the nature of a shared life with this person? Can this person be trusted? The answers to these questions influence the nature of the reborn desire.

For Conan, his desire seems to include making an extended new life with Bêlit. He continues to ingratiate himself with the crew through routine tasks aboard the Tigress. The narrator writes “He learns quickly. It is a good life.” This new desire echoes other new beginnings in this issue. Conan starts  new work as a sailor, not a defender of the crew or a co-commander who sets himself apart and gives orders. His relation with Bêlit starts a new course. Now they interact on a daily basis in mundane tasks. The Tigress embarks upon a new piratical plan for obtaining treasure. A new artist graces the book. Having finished adapting Robert E. Howard’s “The Queen of the Black Coast,” Brian Wood begins an original storyline. With all these new beginnings, it is perhaps fitting that the Tigress returns to where this entire series began, to Argos’s Port of Messantia.

Desire, while an endless quest providing a purpose, also holds its keeper in a perpetual state of lack, an absence from the desired. The peril of such absence is despair. In this issue, the creative team matures and deepens the desire Conan and Bêlit share and trumps despair with trust. Similar to many young new lovers Conan questions Bêlit’s intentions and sincerity. After surrendering to the Argos’s authorities, and imprisoned and sentenced to death, Conan asks the question his desire and delight have prevented him from recognizing until now, “He has placed his life in the hands of criminals. Murderers. Strangers. And his heart in the hands of this strong, powerful woman, who would do what she wants and answer to no one but herself. So what would bind her to Conan? How can he hold on to a woman like that?”

Conan despairs and dreams a frigid barren landscape where he traverses the cracking ice of a  broad lake (Why is Wood so often using dreams and visions so prominently in his run on the book?). While onboard the Tigress, Conan heard only sincerity and affection in Bêlit’s posed question, but alone is a cell condemned to death skepticism, treachery, and greed provide the overtones to the same question of Bêlit: “Do you trust me?”

The artwork mirrors Conan’s understanding of this question. The lush detailed port of Messantia, is how a trusting lover who is a true believer sees the world, in detail and striking beauty, in the company of other humans, as Harren rendered the scene. Wonder of the outré and thrills at what exists present themselves in this scene. But when despairing, Harren has close and cramped compositions. Conan slumps and remains alone. Even though guards are present, Harren hides their faces (with shadows from helmets, or by drawing the guards with their backs to the reader), which intensifies Conan’s solitude. Dave Stewart heavily employs greys, blues, blacks, and tans which mimic Conan’s absent spirit and crushed desire.

But thankfully Bêlit returns and justifies the risk Conan took in trusting her. Conan jettisons despair and again seizes confidence (as well as indulging in some jail-cell lovemaking) and readies himself for the brutality, prowess, and violence involved in escaping Argos, for the second time. The creators of this story deftly convey Conan’s new desire for Bêlit as it makes its initial moves beyond mere infatuation.   

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