Stalling Beautifully – Wonder Woman/Conan #4 (Dark Horse/DC Comics)

Wonder Woman Conan 4 1This series has quickly become one I look forward to every month. The decision by Gail Simone to supplement the main story featuring Conan and Diana with a developing flashback featuring a younger Conan and a girl called Yanna who looks (and acts) an awful lot like our favourite Amazonian princess has proven to be an astute one. With an increased opportunity for mirroring and foreshadowing, it’s added greater emotional depth to the narrative and, indeed, last month’s cliffhanger emerged out of that flashback plot rather than the main one. Having finally brought our heroes into direct contact (and conflict) with the Corvidae, the story’s principal antagonists, we enter the second half of the story with a fairly clear idea of where the plot – and our heroic duo – is headed. What is less clear is how the action of the present ties in with the memories of Conan’s past. Will we get some clarity this issue? Let’s see…

The issue opens with some rather touching narration over images of Conan leaving his sleeping father in the middle of the night as he decides to follow Yanna into self-imposed exile. The narration is strong here, emphasizing the ties of loyalty and love he has to his father and the pain he’s inflicting on himself as he leaves him. When he finally catches up with her, there’s a moment of tension in which Yanna aims her bow at him, but the outcome of the conversation is never in doubt and the sequence ends with some playful name-calling which, in an economic and effective manner, illustrates their friendship.

Wonder Woman Conan 4 2

Back in the present timeline, Conan and Diana are clinging to the wreckage of the slaver boat on which they’d briefly served a couple of issues ago and trying to resolve whether Diana really is Yanna or not. That conversation is spiced up with some gentle digs at Diana’s childhood nickname of ‘Princess’ and a startling observation from Conan that he’d be able to determine if Diana is Yanna if she “but showed [him her] breast”. As potentially interesting as that is, the pair don’t get to follow up this subject because they arrive in the harbour of a ramshackle coastal town and set about finding the nearest tavern.

But not before relieving a nearby merchant of his coin purse. Diana, of course, has a problem with this, but Simone reminds us that, for all their connection, Conan and Wonder Woman have distinctly different attitudes towards such things. We’re then presented with an extended sequence in which Conan attracts the attention of an attractive serving maid and Diana attracts the attention of a considerably less attractive (i.e. overweight and hairy) tavern owner. Something similar happened a couple of issues ago, but while that encounter had a distinctly dangerous edge, this one is mostly played for laughs, ending with both barmaid and innkeep smiling soppily as the objects of their affection leave the establishment.

That’s not to say that there’s no action. There is. While in the tavern, Conan and Diana end up in a fight with some rowdy Aquilonian soldiers who have some prehistoric (fancy that) ideas about how men and women should interact with each other. A drunken Diana comes to Conan’s rescue and one of the Corvidae tries to manipulate her through a dream, after the other Corvidae visits Dellos the Slaver, who apparently is on the Corvidae’s pay roll. This is all a little confusing and, unfortunately, it’s not as engaging as either last issue’s story or other parts of this book.

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We end with a return to a flashback scene – this time of the young Conan and Yanna attempting to get across the mountains to leave Cimmeria. In a mirror of the fight scene we’ve just seen, the two youngsters are confronted by bandits but they do not come out of this quite as well as their older counterparts. The issue ends on a powerful moment that I won’t spoil here, but suffice it to say that it does the job of keeping the momentum of the series going, while at the same time casting the connections between Conan’s memories and the main narrative in a new – and troubling – light.

Overall, this is competent storytelling. The flashback that bookends this issue is well-told and paced and packs a strong emotional punch. The tavern sequence is mostly filler, though, and, although it’s useful to have the relationship between Dellos and the Corvidae spelled out and the conversation between Conan and drunken Diana is entertaining enough, the sense that much of this issue is marking time in preparation for the story’s climax is difficult to shake. The intervention of one of the Corvidae in Diana’s drink-fuddled mind is interesting but not especially well handled, and it isn’t really followed up once she returns to consciousness. Lopresti’s art continues to impress, however, and there’s no denying that Simone understands both the main characters very well and has crafted a sophisticated and emotionally convincing friendship between them.

In terms of pacing and the development of the overall plot, this issue is a little disappointing. That said, Simone’s handling of these characters is assured and warm, and Lopresti’s art is dynamic and expressive and generally rather beautiful. Although not particularly advancing the story all that much, this issue does nothing to derail it and there’s actually a lot to enjoy here. This series is still recommended and I’m looking forward very much to seeing how it ends.

(This review originally appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics site.)

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