This is what happens when have a creator who clearly loves “Conan” but doesn’t want to actually do an official story featuring the character. Instead, creator Andrew MacLean gives us a burly, irascible, white-bearded master swordsman who carries around the severed head of Agatha the Blue Witch, and bears the nickname “Head Lopper” for his done-in-one fighting style. He prefers to be called Norgal, thank you very much. If the fact that he carries around the severed -- and very conversational -- head of a blue witch didn’t clue you in to the fact that he has led a colorful and adventurous life, the story from this volume will drive that home for you. Here, Norgal announces his arrival in the island realm of Barra by cutting off the head of the sea serpent that guards the port of its biggest city. This attracts the attention of numerous parties, including the island’s queen who asks that he kill the Sorcerer of the Black Bog who is responsible for the plague of beasts upon the island. Norgal agrees and soon finds that he is in for a great deal more trouble than he initially signed on for.
The four issues of “Head Lopper” collected in this volume are just a little unusual compared to most other comics being serialized today. They were extra-sized 64-page issues released on a quarterly basis. MacLean does a great job of camouflaging that fact in the story as it’s broken up into smaller chapters and reads smoothly throughout its 200-plus pages. Your enjoyment of this story, however, will hinge upon two things: the first being whether or not you like sword and sorcery stories in general, and the second being whether or not you can appreciate someone trying to do “Conan” on their own terms. I’ll admit that using Robert E. Howard’s legendary barbarian as a point of comparison might be a bit unfair to MacLean here, but the fact remains that whenever you’ve got a creator telling a story about a burly, nigh-invulnerable swordsman mixing it up with mythical monsters and unscrupulous magicians such a comparison becomes implicit if not invited.
So it’s good that MacLean’s style works well here with his clean, straightforward style lending itself well to the action. Whether Norgal is mixing it up with wolves more than thrice his size, taking on evil gods, or finding out the limits of steel, the action is always absorbing and eye-catching on the page. We also get plenty of good banter between the swordsman and Agatha throughout the volume. The nature of the curse that binds them may be ill-defined here, but it’s hard to imagine the story without her acerbic, acidic banter to go along with his action. Which is good because this first volume of “Head Lopper” doesn’t offer any fresh spins on the sword and sorcery genre with its tale of a wizard that needs killing and the burly swordsman who’s man enough to do the job. MacLean, however, is man enough to bring his own distinct style to this story and make it an entertaining romp in the process. Now that he’s done this, I’d rather see more of the Head Lopper’s adventures than the creator tackle “Conan” proper.