Best Shots Advance Review: CONAN - SERPENT WAR #1 'a Pulp Team-Up For the Ages'

"Conan: Serpent War #1" preview
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Conan: Serpent War #1
Written by Jim Zub
Art by Scot Eaton, Scott Hanna, Frank D’Armata, Vanesa R. Del Rey, and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Marvel/Robert E. Howard-verse is born in the solidly entertaining debut of Conan: Serpent War. Pulling from the pulp legend’s full canon as well as Marvel’s own history with Howard adaptations, writer Jim Zub takes us through a walking tour of the “Savage Tales” timeline. By uniting Conan the Cimmerian, the wanderer Solomon Kane, and privateer Dark Agnes, Zub offers a rich, pulpy tapestry of characters for the reader, introducing each to new readers tempering the scenes with a wealth of easter eggs for longtime fans.

Zub delves deeply into Marvel history to fully justify these characters’ new arrival into the 616. Anchored around final team member Moon Knight and Niord the Aesir, the former co-star of Conan’s first Marvel series, Zub introduces an enemy powerful enough to bring everyone together - the serpent god Set, who through a ritual cast across time, unites the team for a nefarious purpose thus delivering a team-up one could seldom imagine outside of fan fiction. Couple that with the classically inspired, swashbuckling artwork of Scot Eaton, Scott Hanna, Frank D’Armata, Vanesa R. Del Rey, and Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and you are left with one of the better efforts from Marvel’s recent acquisition of the R.E.H. characters. Tailored for newcomers and old fans alike, Conan: Serpent War #1 is a pulp team-up for the ages.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Something stirs in Cross Plains, Texas. A man, James Allison, is plagued with dreams of lives formerly lived — lives from ancient times and before the fall of Rome, where he held a different name, Niord, the Hunter of Aesgaard, a kingdom established in Conan’s original 1970 series. Niord once fought and died protecting his tribe against a grand serpent, one who is now using him as a beacon for heroes across time.

Given a hazy, ghostly look by Vanesa R. Del Rey and Jean-Francois Beaulieu, these scenes serve as the throughline for Serpent War, proving that Jim Zub has surely done his research into the past of the Howard characters under the Marvel masthead. It also provides, at the very least, a narrative reason for the team-up, something much appreciated in a time of characters simply meeting and going about a story because editorial called for them to do so.

But even beyond the solid plotting, Jim Zub cuts quickly to the heart of why these characters are so engaging. Providing splashy, action-filled introductions to each of the cast members, Zub displays a tight grasp of their voices and tones. Conan is introduced post-battle in the Hyborian Age, reeling from the night before and wounds sustained from a classic Conan story “The God in the Bowl” and stumbling into another battle, placing him into the clutches of Set. Far into the “future” (read: 1584), the paladin Solomon Kane is investigating a once-thriving town, one that has been conquered by the Cult of Set, drawing the holy warrior into the conflict. Dark Agnes, years earlier in 1522, is also beset upon by the Cult, fighting on the French countryside and captured as a sacrifice for Set. Meanwhile, the modern-day Moon Knight is called into action by the god Khonshu and called to Cross Plains for the “convergence.”

Credit: Marvel Comics

While that all sounds a little “role call,” Zub's introductions really shine, providing readers tense, instantly engaging introductions to their skills, voice, and temperaments as they are called to action. Better still, artists Scot Eaton, Scott Hanna, and Frank D’Armata frame each scene with poster-ready double-page splashes, dominated by burly hero shots of each character, framed with their prose’s “greatest hits” in the form of dense collages of their past adventures. It’s all tied together with Zub’s purposefully purple narration, calling to mind the immensely written prose of Howard himself.

From there, the creative team deliver stark mini-adventures, all connected by Allison’s monologue from across time. While Zub provides the appropriately pulpy scripting, Eaton, Hanna, and D’Armata translate it into rich, muscular artwork that highlight the kinetics and genre flavoring of each characters. The Moon Knight and Solomon Kane sequences in particular stands out, thanks to Eaton’s dramatic, sweeping take on the character’s capes and weaponry as they leap into battle against the lizardmen cultists, solidified by Hanna’s deep inks and D’Armata’s moody colors.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

On paper, you wouldn’t think a book like Conan: Serpent War would work. It could either be a lazy team-up or, worse, a slapdash use of the characters. But thanks to Jim Zub’s clear reverence for the Robert E. Howard canon and research into Conan’s Marvel history, Conan: Serpent War stands as a respectfully entertaining pulp blockbuster, one graced with not one, but two game art teams providing solid cinematic pages. As Marvel’s first modern-era Robert E. Howard canon crossover “event”, Conan: Serpent War #1 sets the bar high.

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