Oh yeah! Now this is some Conan! After the disappointing issue #5 of Conan: The Road of Kings, where Conan didn’t really do anything but run after the Zamorian rogue Fharos and the kidnapped Princes Olivia, the battle finally comes to a head and Conan gets to do a little of what Conan does best; hacking people to pieces with his sword while rescuing a girl.
Roy Thomas’s return to Conan, the character he made great during his run on the title for Marvel, has so far been a mixed-bag. Thomas has a definite style with Conan, more high-fantasy and humor mixed with the standard adventure tales. This is Conan in a different vein from the recent Dark Horse series that stuck very closely to Robert E. Howard’s original stories and style. I like Thomas’s take on Conan, probably because that is what I grew up with, and reading this Conan series has been nostalgic fun. But writers like Kurt Busiek have matured the character since Thomas worked on him, and this style of Conan seems like a regression.
Regression or not, Thomas still has flair and style with Conan. He gives us some fantastic scenes of Conan kicking some serious ass. In the Hyborean Age, a bunch of palace guards coming up against Conan is the equivalent of a pack of muggers running into Batman. They all think they have a chance, until they are shown otherwise. A guard with a long spear comes at Conan saying “My reach is longer than yours, Barbarian…” to which Conan replies “But your spear does not go where you want it. My blade does!” Cue guardsman head being sliced open. Props to Thomas for showing actual swordfighting technique in that exchange, with Conan using his sword to control the point of the guard’s spear.
The real issue with Conan: The Road of Kings isn’t Thomas’ writing, though; it’s Mike Hawthorne’s art. He just doesn’t draw very well. His proportions are all wrong, and the man cannot draw a three-quarters view human face to save his life. And his artwork is simplistic. Undetailed. The end-game boss of this issue, Gamesh, is supposed to look like a horror badass with a sword stitched onto a bloody stump for one hand, and a head with the skin flayed off leaving exposed muscle and bone. But Hawthorne draws him so clean that he looks like a plastic action figure, not a frightening horror for Conan to overcome.
With this series, and the shitty Conan: Island of No Return, Dark Horse is getting further and further away from the formula that made their Conan series such a hit. Bringing back Roy Thomas was a good idea, but he should have been paired with an artist that could do justice to his storylines. In those marvelous days of yore, Thomas was paired with Barry Windsor-Smith and produced some of the best Conan comics ever made. Mike Hawthorne is no Barry Windsor-Smith, and the comic suffers for it.