Friday, January 20, 2012
Conan: Road of Kings #12
Conan: Road of Kings issue #12 came in this week, finishing off the twelve issue mini series and setting up the next installment in the series, an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Queen of the Black Coast. If you've been reading my reviews you know that I'm a big fan of RoK. In fact. I think it the best Conan mini-series Dark Horse has published that wasn't a REH adaptation. As the original pastiches go, I thought this one the most solid.
Now some of this could be ageing fanboy bias. Roy Thomas, the writer on Road of Kings was the original Conan comic book writer going all the way back to 1970. When I discovered Conan in 1973, Roy was at the helm and so I grew up reading his take. However, I don't think nostalgia is entirely to blame. I've stated over and over in these reviews how well Roy Thomas writes Conan. He "gets" the character in a way that is sometimes amazingly close to Howard, closer than most prose pastiche writers have gotten. The dialogue in RoK is as snappy as anything Thomas has ever written and his plotting seems effortless.
Road of Kings finds Conan in jail in the corrupt city of Argos, due to go before a notorious "hanging" judge. The charge? Conan knows who killed a guard captain and the watch thinks he knows where to find him. The judge orders Conan to turn in his friend. Conan, being Conan, declines. The judge makes threats, and Conan, being Conan...well let's just say things turn bloody. There's a nice bit where one of the soldiers, who has been threatening a shackled Conan, telling him how he would kill the barbarian if he got the chance, gets a chance. You can imagine how well this works out for him.
What's sort of interesting, is this is the second time Roy Thomas has adapted this particular scene. Way back in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian issue #57, Roy set up his own adaptation of Queen of the Black Coast by dramatizing the courtroom scene, which is only told as a flashback in REH's original tale. The Marvel issue was illustrated by Mike Ploog whose Will Eisner-ish style was an interesting change from regular penciler, John Buscema. I'll have to dig that out this weekend and compare the two.
The art in this issue is another fine job by Mike Hawthorne. Hawthorne brings some serious storytelling chops to Conan. His panel to panel continuity reminds me of guys like Buscema and Gil Kane who knew how to move a story along and to actually tell the story with pictures. Hawthorne isn't interested in drawing loosely connected pin-ups, as many modern comics artists seems to be. He also spends a lot of time on facial expressions, so that the reader gets a better idea of the character's thoughts and emotional state. He doesn't just draw everyone scowling all the time. You can see Hawthorne's Conan thinking. His action scenes are first rate too. When Conan finally breaks free, get out of the way.
Anyway, issue #12 is a fine finish for the series. Well written and well drawn, with action, humor, and suspense. This week also saw the arrival of the Hardback collection of the first six issues of Road of Kings. I snatched that one up. I expect to re-read this series quite a bit in the future. So if you missed the original run, snag the hardback or the trade when it's out. Recommended