We’ve reached the end of Fred Van Lente’s tenure as writer of “Conan” and the best way to sum it up is by saying this: It was certainly a thing that happened. I want to say that his run would’ve been better served by having an arc to it, as was the case with the title character’s romance with the pirate queen Belit during Brian Wood’s tenure, but that’s not entirely true. Previous writers Kurt Busiek, Tim Truman, and Roy Thomas had no long-range plans for their runs and they were a lot more entertaining. That’s likely because their work gave the impression that these writers were fully invested in the character and his adventures. Van Lente has seemed content to simply put Conan through his paces as it were, with the most interesting bits coming in the return of familiar characters like Thoth-Amon and Janissa the Widowmaker. Left to his own devices and Robert E. Howard’s source material, the results are considerably less inspiring.
Such is the case with “A Witch Shall Be Born.” Things kick off with Taramis, Queen of Khauran, being secretly deposed by her long-lost twin sister, Salome, who is also the witch of the title. After she lets in the savage Shemites to enforce her rule, Conan suspects that something is up and starts cutting people down only to wind up crucified for his efforts. The time spent with the character on his cross is the most interesting part of the volume, as guest artist Jose Luis ably depicts his savage will to survive amidst hallucinations. From then on it’s the usual story of Conan getting his strength back, assembling an army, and leading it against the witch. It all leads to a very busy finale where Salome employs her magic in ways that could’ve made the rest of the story more interesting. Cullen Bunn is set to take over for Van Lente with Dark Horse’s next “Conan” series and it’d be nice if he can return the barbarian’s comic book adventures to their former glory. If not, well, then I’d say anyone looking to enjoy “Conan’s” adventures with this publisher should just check out volumes zero through sixteen and leave the ones that follow on the shelf.