ADVANCE REVIEW! King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #2 will go on sale Wednesday, February 29, 2012.
Thoth-Amon has always been a problem for Conan writers. Because Thoth-Amon is the Boba Fett of Conan. He looks cool. He has a great name. He has an inviting history. He has a powerful set-up in the original story. The anticipation of his awesomeness is tangible. In Robert E. Howard's original "Phoenix on the Sword," Thoth-Amon gets this huge and dramatic build-up, and just when you think "Now, this guy is going to kick some ass!" he walks off the stage. And he is done. Forever. As in, he never appears in another Conan story again.
Just like "Extended Universe" writers couldn't let Boba Fett go (There is no way he went out like a punk in the Sarlaac Pit!), Howard pastiche writers have been bringing back Thoth-Amon for decades. He is considered to be Conan's greatest enemy, even though the two of them never actually meet in the original stories.
With Dark Horse's adaptation of "Phoenix on the Sword," speculation has been heavy regarding Thoth-Amon's role. Would Truman stay true to Howard — would he be a "true man?" — or would he give in to temptation as so many have and give Thoth-Amon a greater role in the story? With Issue #2, we get that answer.
I don't want to spoil it for you, but I will tell you … the answer is cool.
Thoth-Amon aside, King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #2 is a bridging issue. That mean that the story isn't going to be all that exciting. We have the end of one story, and the beginning of another. If you were reading this as a collected edition, this would be no problem — it works within the confines. But as a monthly experience, bridging issues are necessary, but not exciting on their own.
That said, even for a bridging issue, King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #2 is slow. Writer Timothy Truman made the unwise decision to go heavy on the exposition text on this one. What we get are page after page of little boxes telling the story; all "Tell" and no "Show." He is really counting on the strength of Giorello and Villarrubia's art to carry this issue.
Which, looking at the art, is not a stupid idea. Giorello and Villarrubia are masters of Conan. They have the Hyborian Age dripping from their pours. Every single panel is a masterpiece. The detail put onto every page puts other comics to shame, and I find I am perfectly content to just delve into their world, exploring every line, relishing every tone. Stunningly beautiful.
And Truman really lets them play here. Without a burden of story to get across, there are a lot of full and two-page splashes. Sumptuous views of Stygia and Aquilonia. Incredible, monolithic shots of Epemitreus' tomb. And Giorello's facial expressions are outstanding. Thoth-Amon is gleefully evil, and even Gollum never looked as happy as Thoth-Amon looks when he gets back his ring.
So that is your compensation. Some of the best art in modern comics, coupled with a rather lackluster bridging issue. But I am looking forward to issue #3 where we get back to the story again.
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.