These days, life seems like a grind.
With a limited range of opportunities available (no movies, no restaurants, no social gatherings) to us all, a firm sense of resolve to see this thing through is what we need to cultivate. Who better than Conan the Barbarian?
Conan the Barbarian #19 (Jim Zub, Cory Smith, Roberto Poggi, Israel Silva, VC’s Travis Lanham)
In my experience, Conan is a vastly underestimated hero. Misunderstood and commonly perceived as simply a brute, witless, unimaginative and constantly relying on his strength at arms by those who have never really gotten into Robert E. Howard’s creation, Jim Zub’s presentation of this character reveals one who not only has a deep strength but the intelligence to realize that patience is more than a virtue, it’s a survival skill.
After fighting off an attempt by a demonic entity contained in a sword, in this issue, Conan finds himself the prisoner of an unknown group of soldiers in a mysterious land with no knowledge of how he got there or how understands their language. All Conan knows is that he was trying to do the right thing by returning the sword to its rightful owner, the warlord, Maltus-Rai, and is imprisoned, tortured and treated like an invading savage in the land of Khitai.
Part One of Land of the Lotus, titled “The Scholar’s Mercy” sees Conan beginning his conscious journey into the land of Khitai at the hands of captors who imprison him, humiliate him, torture him for information and label him a thief. As he aptly reflects, this is not the reward he was anticipating.
However, this is the ultimate representation of this character’s intelligence and patience. He waits for his opportunity. He knows that the only constant in life is change. Sometimes you are on top and other times, your nose is in the dirt. What matters is having that patience required to wait out the lows for the right time to strike.
Which is what makes me think that this is a character that we need to emulate. Patience is needed, not just to wait out this pandemic, but also to remember that it won’t be forever. We have a greater sense of hope than Conan does in this issue, as well as a greater perception. His encounter with Meiwei the Scholar is an instance that brings about change, and just as his battle-honed senses are able to detect the sudden attack upon the caravan, Conan also knows about the winds of change and that though they can be unpredictable they can always appear. All that’s needed is patience to wait out the change … but that’s the grind I’m talking about.
Cory Smith’s work on this book is definitely the best I’ve seen to date. Not to put down the previous artists’ work, but I have to say that his work has rendered the Cimmerian in the manner in which I’ve always imagined him. His musculature, his dark eyes and grim expression really come to life in this artist’s penciling. Not only does it fit my expectations, but I’m sure it will others’ as well.
It’s the dynamism that also stands out. The combat, frenzy of ambushes and the heart-pumping moments of the chase that are counter-pointed by those still moments of waiting, foreboding and just counting down the seconds waiting for the right time to strike. I think Smith hasn’t just captured the power of Conan but the intelligence behind his behaviour as well, which really highlights that sense of patience as a survival skill I was talking about.
Like I said, life is a grind these days. The daily rigours of our responsibilities, which haven’t abated, combined with the limitations imposed upon the way we reduce stress have all affected us.
But it won’t last forever.
Unlike Conan, we have the advantage of knowing it won’t be forever. Conan just waits for the moment to change and to be quick enough to seize upon the opportunity when it arises. That’s his survival skill and to be frank, with our added knowledge that change is definitely about to happen, and by Crom, can we be any less?
Until next week, I’ll be waiting with you. You know?