ADVANCE REVIEW! Conan: The Road of Kings #11 will go on sale Wednesday, December 21, 2011.
I have not been kind to Conan: The Road of Kings. This 12-issue miniseries heralded what should have been the triumphant return of Roy Thomas, the man who brought Conan to the world and one of the greatest Conan comic book writers, but instead it has become the red-headed stepchild of Dark Horse's Conan releases. Some of it was the story. As Thomas himself confesses the storyline was episodic and fit within the confines of the assignment. Thomas had to get Conan from Point A to Point B in a decided number of issues. But most of it was the art. After having grown accustomed to sweeping imagery with deep, painterly colors Conan readers were suddenly thrust back into the cartoony line-drawing and flat coloring that had fallen out of fashion decades ago.
But with this penultimate issue, I realize that I will miss Road of Kings. Roy Thomas writes a Conan that I love to read. And all though it has taken him awhile to comfortable again with a character he hadn't written for ten or more years, as the series progressed I enjoyed it more and more. I wish I could keep reading this Conan.
Issue #11 is a lot of fun. In the last issue Conan put a new king on the throne of Aquilonia with about as much emotion as he might place a drinking cup on a tavern table. Now, laden down with gold as his reward for his king-making, Conan goes wandering to the port of Argos looking for adventure. There he meets up with an old shipmate Ivanos and the two make plans to sell as mercenaries to the Argossian army to put a few coins in their pocket. Conan, not hurting for money, wants to join up just for the adventure while Ivanos has plans to earn a bonus and marry his pretty barmaid girl Shandi. But a Captain of the Guards has his eye on Shandi too, and so… clearly this isn't going anywhere good.
I don't know if it is just Roy Thomas having fun with his farewell issues of Conan, but there are a lot of clever scenes in Road of Kings # 11, several jokes and jibes and twists that gave me a smile. From the very start, when Conan sails into Argo on a cattle scow helmed by a scrawny man in a bronze horned helmet, to Conan's dealings with the blackmarketeer Publius, there are several reminders that Conan doesn't have to always be a grim-faced slayer and that his is a man of "gigantic mirth" as well as "gigantic melancholy." Reading these scenes is just fun. It is like Roy Thomas taking a final bow before exiting the stage — he has nothing to prove at this point, and is just going to enjoy himself.
And the art — well after having Dan Panosian for a couple of issues, we are back to Mike Hawthorne. I don't like Hawthorne's art. I especially don't like it for Conan. I can't help but feel sad when I think about how great Road of Kings would have been if Thomas' story could have been paired with a more talented artist. And Dan Jackson's colors still suck.
But you know what? I just don't care anymore. Nothing is going to change at this point, so I am just going to sit back and enjoy the last two issues of Road of Kings knowing that we will get back to grim, serious, awesome Conan next month with Phoenix on the Sword and the controversial Queen of the Black Coast. For these last two issues I plan on just going where Roy Thomas wants to take me.
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.