This issue gives us a gloomy, yet satisfying, ending to Conan's latest adventure. Last issue, Conan found that he had been an unwitting partisan in a cabal to overthrown the tyrant king of Aquilonia, and supplant him on the throne with the simpering fop Arpello. Conan was none too happy at being played like that, but he was in too deep to just bow out, and he figured the least he could do was to protect the child Albonia and her mother the Countess Thelitis.
Now, in Conan: Road of Kings #10, Conan has no choice but to see the conspiracy through. However, as the plan moves forward, everyone will discover that almost all of the members of the cabal — save the dimwitted and the pure — were pursuing another agenda that ran cross-purposes to the stated goal. The saying "no honor among thieves" hold double-true for mutineers and king-killers.
I don't want to give away any spoilers, because Roy Thomas has packed this issue with some cool surprises and great scenes. The Countess Thelitis is more cold-blooded than I gave her credit for, and able to shock even Conan with her ruthlessness.
As in previous issues of Road of Kings, I love Conan's interactions with his supporting cast, his frustration with the intricacies of conspiracy and his own thoughts on what exactly is worth fighting for. My favorite characters from this run were the priest J'honn and the girl Albonia, both of whom had interesting personalities and reacted well with Conan. They drew out parts of Conan rarely seen, like tenderness and that "gigantic mirth" we hear about in the preamble but see so little of in fiction.
Artist Dan Panosian seems to have hit his stride with Conan in this issue. The artwork is vastly improved. He brings an interesting touch to the series, with pencils that are both cartoony and rough at the same time. His Conan is large and fierce, while Countess Thelitis looks like a Disney princess. Panosian had some interesting panel work, and some very nice sword-swinging action scenes. I am still not totally in love with Dan Panosian as a Conan artist. I think his backgrounds are too sparse, and some of his characters ill defined. Prospero in particular is just a standard pretty boy do-gooder.
My real issue is with the coloring. I have seen some of Panosian's artwork in black-and-white, and some re-colored by Richard Pace, and it is clear that it is the coloring that is keeping this issue from being really spectacular. The coloring is a step-up from Issue #9, with the garish yellows and oranges, but now it is just flat. Everything seems to have about two colors, with little depth or rounding of the images. Granted, it is better than the old four-color format of yore, but after seeing what the comic could look like with a more innovative colorist this issue is disappointing.
Which brings me back to the idea that I don't think Roy Thomas has really gotten artistic support to carry out his run on Road of Kings. The storytelling is great, and I love Roy Thomas' Conan, but the artwork and production values just seem to be at a lower-level than the rest of Dark Horse's Conan series. And now, just when Dan Panosian has got a feel for Conan, he departs after two issues. Unfortunate.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.