For this particular time and particular place, it isn’t uncommon for there to be various forces conspiring behind the ruling elite in some secret big for power. But equally compelling for epic fantasy is the appearance of an oppressed people, a class hungry to rise up against those who would rule them with insufficient consideration. Such is the case with the Gallahs, the tribe at the heart of the tale that is “Shadows Over Kush.” Tempers have been simmering for three issues – there were rumors of witchcraft at work in the castle causing unrest, and now the assassination of a people’s agent brings the anger to its boiling point. Methinks it was only a matter of time before everybody came to blows, and it looks like it’s only beginning …
(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: “In Shumballa, the capital of Kush, tensions are boiling over between the ruling Chagas and the ruled Gallahs. Tanada, cruel sister of the king, has made Conan the captain of the royal guard, after he rescued her from a mob blaming her for the death of Amboola, a beloved army commander. Yet Amboola’s true killer was an abomination summoned by a witch in service to Thuthmes, a nobleman conspiring against the king. In vain, Agara, a witch hunter, pursues the witch, even as Thuthmes plants Diana, a slave, into the retinue of the king as a spy, threatening to unleash the abomination on her if she betrays him.”
The biggest difference from CONAN THE AVENGER #3 to #4 is brought on by a change in art duties: Brian Ching is out, and Eduardo Francisco. This change always bring with it some alterations from one particular style to the other, and the most noticeable is Conan. Ching’s Cimmerian I’d likened to a contemporary MMA-style fighter, mostly lean and more sinewy muscles than true bulk. Although much of Francisco’s Conan is draped under his captain’s garb, what it visible (arms, chest shape, etc.) are larger. While I may be making too much of this, I felt it worth mentioning because I noticed it right off.
Another significant transformation is that of Tanada. Ching had been rendering the king’s sister as more of a regal waif – a Hyborean supermodel, thin and lithe like Conan – but with obvious striking similarity to the Cimmerian’s lost love, Belit. Under Francisco’s styling, however, Tanada is a completely different person. Her hair – formerly draped around her shoulders – is now pulled up in an almost Marge Simpson smokestack of dark, black curls. She’s also gone from “appearing” of Caucasian heritage to black (not that there’s anything wrong with it). Last but not least, she has much more muscle on her bones than she did in issue #3.
Storywise, “Shadows Over Kush, Part 4” ratchets up the class warfare between the Chagas and the Gallahs (as mentioned in the above summation) to the point where these people come to blows. There’s a terrific bit of scenery allowing Conan to strut his stuff as a mover and shaker of men, and there’s even more opportunity to showcase his cunning with strategy in order to bring the altercation to a decisive end. Late in the book, readers learn that Tanada and Conan have other uses for one another – something vastly more carnal in nature – though the Cimmerian admits he can’t quite shake Belit’s spell on him when he’s doing the nasty to Tanada’s delight.
In the end, this installment ends with a relatively predictable cliffhanger, one that shows perhaps Thuthmes’s machinations aren’t as clandestine as we’ve been lead to believe.
CONAN THE AVENGER (#4) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Fred Van Lente; the art is provided by Eduardo Francisco; the color are by Michael Atiyeh; the letters are by Richard Starkings & Comicraft; with cover art done by Fiona Staples. 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. Aside from some change in the appearance of the characters (thanks to new artist Eduardo Francisco showing us his skills), CONAN THE AVENGER (#4) mostly builds on the circumstances put into play with issues 1-3. To coin a phrase, the natives are restless; and even Conan himself surrenders to some momentary release after defending what serves as a king and a castle to this place. Things appear to be heading for a climax soon, so I’ll be here in 30 days to see how it all shakes out.
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 (#4) 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.