Epic fantasy that involves barbarians, kings, and queens gets great mileage out of the obvious and clandestine pursuits of power. For example, HBO’s stellar GAMES OF THRONES is entirely about the grand chess game to rule by hook or by crook, and certainly the roads traveled by no less than Conan the Barbarian concern themselves with much of the same thematic material. Indeed, the Cimmerian himself often finds himself trying to decide whether he’s best served leading versus following; and I suspect that before “Shadows Over Kush” is over he’ll have to make a fateful judgment over where his allegiance is best served … or he’ll pay the price for procrastination.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the publicity materials: “Agara, a sorcerer who hunts witches, seeks the source of the occult deeds plaguing Shumballa, the capital of Kush, where two peoples, the ruling Chaga and the ruled Gallah, live in uneasy peace. After initially mistaking the foreigner Conan for his quarry, the sorcerer enlists the Cimmerian’s aid in defeating a plague of undead. Yet the witch behind the plague remains undetected. He has used his black magic to murder the pregnant wife of Amboola, Gallah commander to Kush’s spearmen, and sacrified a child to give life to an otherworldly abomination, all for an unknown purpose in service of an unknown master.”
New characters and details emerge in CONAN THE AVENGER: SHADOWS OVER KUSH (PART 3) that start to flesh out both the world and the circumstances likely to trouble the Cimmerian in the coming days. While magic certainly plays a major role, it becomes clear once and for all that the political shenanigans behind the scenes by those who would lay claim to the throne are never far off from the troubles of the Hyborian Age. As agendas are revealed, our hero finds himself in the position of making yet one more decision regarding his current fate: should he stay aligned with Agara, or should he do (must he do) that which he has always done?
Scribe Fred Van Lente’s script begins to take on almost Shakespearean tones in this third issue, largely because the fate of kings is never far from tales of this nature. Conan’s been a warrior as often as he’s been a thief, and his allegiances usually take the shape of whatever deed is necessary to one day get himself on his own throne. Indeed, Conan himself can often been found vacillating between electing to lead versus electing to serve largely based on what rewards are greater: coin or companionship. Much of the same plays out here, though I’ll admit I was a bit surprised with the choice he made so quickly with so little consideration.
However, a grand puppetmaster gets revealed: Thuthmes has his sights set on creating chaos that will serve to put Tanada – sister to the king – in dire straits. By raising suspicion that her dalliances with black magic may’ve put the kingdom in jeopardy, Thuthmes seeks to have his station elevated. Still, his endgame remains more than a bit elusive, and I think Van Lente is probably playing his cards close to his chest as well.
CONAN THE AVENGER (#3) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Fred Van Lente; the art is provided by Brian Ching; the color are by Michael Atiyeh; the letters are by Richard Starkings & Comicraft; with cover art done by Kilian Plunkett. Of course, Conan is the creation of Robert E. Howard. It comes with the cover price of $3.50, a bargain by any measure.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. CONAN THE AVENGER (#3) builds yet another layer of intrigue over what’s come before. While I thought the customary introductions of major players was out of the way, little did I know that there were a few more faces yet to surface – one as lovely and reminiscent of Conan’s fabled Belit and one with cunning to rival that of our famed warrior. Those and a legendary monster figure prominently in an issue that presents Conan with a choice he may soon come to regret.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of CONAN THE AVENGER (#3) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.