Friday, December 17, 2010

Conan: Road of Kings #1


"Back in Cimmeria, I broke a bull's back on the day of my manhood. If I can't swim for a full night, what am I good for?"
This is a paraphrase of a line that Roy Thomas used many times in his run on the original Conan the Barbarian comic book way back when. I suspect he dropped it in as a wink to long time fans in his first issue of the Dark Horse Comics Conan:The Road of Kings 12 issue series. Roy needn't have bothered. There's no mistaking anyone Else's Conan for Roy's.
From the first page, with its tightly written introductory captions and its 'start right in the middle of action' beginning, this very well could have been an issue of Marvel's Savage Sword of Conan magazine. (Not the color Conan comic since there's a bit more partial nudity and implied sex than probably would have flown in a spinner rack comic book in the 1970s.)
Now depending on your take on the old Conan series, this could be good or bad. I'm a major league fan of Roy Thomas, so for me it's great to read Roy's particular way of turning a phrase again and to marvel at his narrative driving dialog. This is a guy who knows how to get the most out of captions and speech balloons, using them just as surely as the artist's panel to panel storytelling to keep the comic moving swiftly from first page to last. It's a skill sadly lacking in many of today's comic book writers. (Or maybe it's the editors.)
It's funny because though this is the first issue of the new series it's also kind of a throwaway, because Roy has to use this issue as a segue-way from the last issue of Conan the Cimmerian to the new series. Cimmerian ended with the last part of an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Iron Shadows in the Moon, which left Conan the new captain of a pirate crew and saddled with the lovely Olivia, a former princess of Ophir.
Roy said in an interview that in issue one he had to get rid of the pirates as quickly as possible and set up the premise for the Road of Kings. In just twenty two pages he does this admirably. There's plenty of sword swinging action and adventure and a nice plot twist or two.
As to the art, I'm reserving judgment on that for now. Penciller Mike Hawthorne is new to me, but it looks like he hasn't decided exactly where he wants to go with his style yet. The guy can draw, but the art bounces between cartoonish and more realistic with no apparent pattern. The inking by John Lucas, also new to me, is a little uneven too. Anyway a lot of this may settle down as the series progresses. We'll see.
So yeah, if you liked Roy Thomas's Conan back in the day then, you'll probably like it now. If not, best to wait for the Tim Truman scripted adaptation of Robert E. Howard's The Scarlet Citadel, coming out later next year.

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