ADVANCE REVIEW! Conan: Road of Kings #9 will come out on October 19, 2011.
It is sad that Roy Thomas’ return to Conan has never really been given a chance. His writing is a good as ever, and he knows Conan like few other writers alive, but he has been consistently saddled with sub-par artists who shouldn’t be working on a Conan book. Mike Hawthorne’s work was able, but stiff and lacking any subtlety or flair. This issue gets a temporary replacement artist in Dan Panosian, whose art is so cartoony I wonder if he thought he was doing Conan: The Animated Adventures.
So what do we have going for Issue #9? Conan and company fight some zombies. Only they aren’t really zombies, but insects who burrow inside dead bodies and use them as meat puppets. That’s about it. This issue is an all-battle issue, which can be cool from time to time. And with non-human enemies, that means limbs are flying all over the place and swords are cutting from skull to crotch in a single swipe.
So what works? Roy Thomas’ writing. He has some fun with the dialogue, which is all you can really do with the all-battle issues. There is a great scene where the priest J’Honn realizes that the zombie-attackers aren’t alive, and squish out green puss instead of blood when hit, which means that his priestly prohibition from spilling “red blood” won’t stop him from joining in the fray. Then in the middle of zombie-slaughter-fun, J’Honn and Conan have a philosophical discussion on the nature of magic, and the difference between a priest and a wizard.
J’Honn and Conan work really well together as a duo, and Thomas uses them well to interject both humor and seriousness into and otherwise bland scene. My other favorite scene was when Conan was saved from the zombies by the little girl Albonia, and when Conan gets on bended knee and promises to repay the debt, she quips, “You saved me lots of times Conan.“
So what doesn’t work? Pretty much everything else. It is really sad to see a book treated this way. I don’t know if they were on a tight deadline or if something was going on in the background, but there is a sort of round-robin of inkers going on in this issue. That is never good. Even though the art is all Dan Panosian (I think) the look changes drastically from page to page based on the inking. Changing artists from issue to issue is bad enough, but changing inkers within the same story just destroys a book.
The colors in this issue are also unusually garish. Richard Starkings and Comicraft normally do a respectable job, but someone seemed to have gone a little crazy this issue with the “bright colors” button and the results just look unconsidered.
Dan Panosian will be back for the next issue of Road of Kings, hopefully with only a single issue. Right now, this is the only regular Conan series going, but it really makes me long for the return of Thomas Giorello. I would love to see a Roy Thomas/Thomas Giorello Conan book!
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.