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The Chronicles of King Conan, Volume 8: The Road to Empire and Other Stories

1 rating: 4.0
Trade paperback collection from Dark Horse Comics
1 review about The Chronicles of King Conan, Volume 8:...

A Welcome Blast From King Conan's Past!

  • Jul 21, 2014
As I’ve mentioned in review many times before, I’ve been actively reading comic books since the early 1970’s.  Unlike others with my experience, I don’t necessarily believe that makes me an expert on anything: my tastes tend to be a bit more eclectic than most, and I’ve often said I’m practically willing to read any title as I only have one honest desire, that to be entertained.  (And – my wife will tell you – I’m easily entertained!)  However, some books simply ‘feel’ right to me, more than others, so I tend to find them in my queue with great ease.  Batman has always been a priority.  Superman is a close second.  Star Wars tends to rise to the top of the pile.  And Conan.  Yes, Conan.  Conan the King.  Conan the Barbarian.  Conan the Cimmerian.  I’ll peruse all of them because I know that even a faltering interpretation most likely still does something worth seeing with the character.
(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 product packaging: “With the tide of war turned, Conan’s armies invade Nemedia, archenemy of Conan’s kingdom of Aquilonia.  As the brutal siege commences, the greatest threat to Conan is not Nemedian sinew or steel, but the steeled heart of a boy raised in the black arts and dedicated to Conan’s destruction.  That boy is none other than Taurus, Conan’s own lost son!”
There are many things that work for me, as a reader, in THE CHRONICLES OF KING CONAN, VOLUME 8.  The artwork – drawn from the 80’s – might seem initially like an uncharacteristic choice for what usually is a darker title; much of this is drawn with bright, bold colors, and everything seems to be draped under the light of two glaring guns.  Still, these were choices relatively common for the era in which they were being told.  Also, this incarnation of KING CONAN feels a tad more kid-friendly than contemporary versions; as the 80’s was a time wherein the comic industry as a whole was struggling with an aging audience, what appears here isn’t all that unusual.  Alan Moore and Frank Miller had really only begun transitioning books into much more adult fare, so while I can certainly understand why some readers might put VOLUME 8 aside for more adult fare I think that would be a disservice to the work.
What readers might find a bit strange is the fact that these five issues have an overwhelming sense of family to them.  Conan is largely known as the muscular loner; sure, he might have a band of ruffians at his side or a small army at his command, but this barbarian has a virtual entourage in his wake!  He has a bride.  He has a one son and one daughter.  Also, he has another son – Taurus, a lad who is entirely unaware of his lineage to the king and even conspires with dastardly forces to usher the leader into the afterlife!
Once you’re into the narrative pacing of the era (it takes an issue to really acquaint oneself with the story), then VOLUME 8 certainly feels familiar.  As it joins a story already in progress, there might be a thing or two here which don’t make perfect sense – consider them hiccups and spur yourself forward.  Even though the colors might not seem right – even though the tone might not seem perfect – this is a Conan worth getting to know.  The collection even leaves the reader with a cliffhanger that practically cries out, “Now go and buy the next installment!”
THE CHRONICLES OF KING CONAN, VOLUME 8: THE ROAD TO EMPIRE AND OTHER STORIES is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The trade collects CONAN THE KING issues 36-40 originally published by Marvel Comics circa 1986/87 and never having seen the light of day since.  Also, the trade showcases the talents of Don Kraar, Judith Hunt, Mike Manley, Al Williamson, Art Nichols, Fraja Bator, Armando Gil, Mike Docherty, George Roussos, Janice Chiang, and Ron Wagner.  For those of you who don’t know (shame on you!), Conan is the creation of Robert E. Howard.  The volume boasts the cover price of $19.99, and that’s none too shabby so far as this reader is concerned.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  What you won’t find in THE CHRONICLES OF KING CONAN, VOLUME 8: THE ROAD TO EMPIRE AND OTHER STORIES is one complete story.  But what you will find is a compelling vision for Conan comics of the 80’s era, one that pits our fabled Cimmerian against forces who would do him harm in more ways he can imagine.  You’ll also find a surprising sense of what I’ve dubbed ‘The Conan Family Variety Hour’ that might feel a bit off-kilter but works for the narrative just the same.  Give it a go – you might like what you find!
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 THE CHRONICLES OF KING CONAN, VOLUME 8: THE ROAD TO EMPIRE AND OTHER STORIES 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.

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