While this issue doesn’t have ghosts, vampires, werewolves or (thank Crom) zombies, a doppelganger does lurk in the theoretical frames. D&Ders know, few creatures can wreak havoc in the lower levels of a dungeon crawl worse than a doppelganger. No need to worry though (unless you are reading this review in a dungeon’s sub levels…in which case you’re probably on the wrong blog…), this beast confines itself to the metaphorical (mostly).
Continuing October’s focus of a single comic-book page for each review, this week (from last week’s release) highlights page 19 of Conan the Barbarian, written by Brian Wood, drawn by Vasilis Lolos, and colored by Dave Stewart. This issue concludes Conan and Bêlit’s tracking of a mad reaver (a childhood friend of Conan named Maeldun) who razes villages throughout Cimmeria while using Conan’s name. The young couple catches up with him, kills him, and (happily) leaves Cimmeria.
Page 19 has the conclusion of the final confrontation with Conan and Maeldun in a six-panel page. The page has a balanced division and an apt composition emphasizes the doppelganger aspect of the two boyhood friends’ final fight.
Dividing the page in two vertically, the top half occupies the majority of the page by slightly more than half. In this top section, three panels demarcate the space. On the left, two equal size rectangles are stacked and the right side of the panel (its width less than the two squatter rectangles) a taller rectangle fills the space and spills beyond the border right to the very edge of the page.
The swords guide the eye through this paneled trinity. The top left panel has Maeldun and Conan crossing swords and facing off (also serving a reminder to the reader of the link between the two in that they are the same height and share similar looks). The pale tan of the background color makes the white (with very very light grey shadows) of the sword blades all the more prominent that takes the reader’s eye to the panel below, where a darker yellow, almost burnished golden, background resides. The color helps unite the panels, yet still keeps each one distinct…just like Conan and Maeldun.
The two combatants maintain their left/right orientation of the previous panel, but Lolos rotates them at an angle, placing Conan’s backside closer to the reader and Maeldun further away. This angling of the characters adds to the dynamism of the speed lines and also starts the reader’s eye moving to the right to take in the tall rectangular final panel on this top part of the page…the panel where Conan guts Maeldun.
In this panel, Conan’s sword acts the magnet to the reader’s eye. The gaze travels along the edge of blade, pulled faster by the light off-white chiton worn by Conan and the black armor protecting (albeit not very well on this page) Maeldun. Arterial red fills the background, serving both to highlight the killing blow, but also to highlight the off-white blade of Conan’s sword that balances the panel and unifies it to the two rectangular panels to the left through the similar color of the sword blades and Conan’s sword maintaining the same angle in both panel one and panel three.
Red draws the eye and connects panel three to four. The loud crimson background in three echoes the thin lines of blood that seep beneath Maeldun’s armored forearms in a stark white background. The balance on the lower half of the page reverses the top part. The tall rectangle is on the left, and the two wider rectangles are stacked on the right. The white central border orients to the left of the page’s vertical axis, where as the center border on the top of the page is to the right of center (this is starting to sound like a political analysis). Yet the two asymptotic lines balance out the page.
The fifth panel has the dark gray of Maeldun’s helmet at the top left of the rectangle, which pulls the reader’s eye up from the white negative space of panel four, showing the reader the dying anguished face of Maeldun. His face tilts to the right giving a ¾ view. The head angle slants at a similar angle to the horizon line of the hill in the sixth panel. The eye falls from panel five, slides along the slope of the hill, hits the word balloon. A triangle forms of two heads (still attached to the bodies) of Maeldun’s cronies and lines can be traced to the apex of a triangle, the curled corpse of Maeldun. Conan stands with his arms extended, showing triumph, but also balancing out the panel as the counterweight to the tan of the narrator’s box.
The snowy white background lifts the reader’s eyes to the top half of the page with white on the swords blades in panels one and three; this coloring keeps the page unified and the eye moving and active during this final fight scene. This page design with its two balanced, yet distinct, sections mirrors the one-on-one fight between two similar characters and emphasizes the dual theme (Conan & Maeldun, Conan & Bêlit, civilization & wilderness, land & sea, etc.) that seems prevalent in this series. Don’t worry though, the doppelganger was the one on the left…who is dead physically if not metaphorically.