THRONE OF AQUILONIA Feels More Like "Indiana Conan and the Temple of Crom" To Me
Dec 31, 2012
As a long-time fan of pulp heroes, I’ve always been interested in the trials and tribulations of the mighty Conan. I discovered his adventures in my early teens, and I’ve followed them off-and-on through the years. Of course, there was the two-punch Conan film series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 80’s (first one was great, second one not so much) that helped spur greater interest in the adventures of the wandering Cimmerian, but that Jason Momoa misfire from 2011 was just painfully awful. If anything, a bad flick should only fuel interest in Conan fans to explore the current Dark Horse Comics’ take on the barbarian, of which I recently had the chance to do.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. However, if you’re accepting of hints about ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
THRONE OF AQUILONIA is actually a compilation of stories collecting issues #7 through #12 of Dark Horse’s CONAN: ROAD OF KINGS series. While it plays out to some good effect, it’s a bit all over the place. The first half details Conan’s adventures in a city under siege – there’s much ado about a coup to take the throne – and the second half explores his arrival in a new land – Messantia – and a reunion with an old friend.
Sadly, very little of the either story unfolds organically. Rather, much of it comes across as if plotted, pointed, and planned by a master craftsman (meaning scribe Roy Thomas), with a clever twist here and a fancy turn there. The first tale – the one involving the royal revolution – the barbarian joins forces with a warrior-priest, a disgruntled widow and her daughter, and some soldiers but before you can say ‘balderdash’ he’s in the thick of things with only the female kid under his protection. If it all didn’t play out so much like a bad ‘Bring Your Child to Slaughter’ Day, maybe I would’ve found it more entertaining. Much like in the film INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, Conan spends time exploring catacombs beneath the city. He’s left nothing to do but play father figure and hack apart some man-sized bugs for action, and it felt very contrived.
To worsen matters, even the veritable Conan himself succumbs to some questionable direction; when he faces off with a huge lizard, even he begins to verbally telegraph his movements to the beast (and the reader) by repeatedly announcing his every next move! For a few panels, it ends up being more distracting from than helpful to the tale.
Also, there’s a huge lettering typo on Page 97 as Conan’s line in the lower left panel is obviously missing a verb. One might think this a small affair, but, as the printed sentence makes stunningly little sense, I had to read it three times in order to guestimate what the Cimmerian said.
As for the artwork, I suppose it’s all well and good. For my tastes, it’s more than a bit too clean. The tales of Conan – a hardy, sweaty, bloodied hulk of a man, if there ever was one – were meant to detail more salt-of-the-earth peoples – warriors, barbarians, soldiers, kings, etc. – at a time when hygiene was a bit hard to come by. Also, they’re always awash in sprays of blood, the result of combat and the fight for their very lives. Here, however, all of the players are just too clean-looking, coming across less like real people and much more like the airbrushed cover players in Cosmopolitan or magazines in the same tradition. Neither their skin nor their clothing bear the marks of ruggedness from the era. It’s a curious artistic choice, one that didn’t lend itself as a strength to the piece.
And maybe I’ve grown a little long in the tooth myself, but since when did action heroes like Conan ever RUN from the chance to mix it up? For a barbarian, he’s grown surprisingly tame in these pages. More than once, he chooses to flee danger instead of raising his sword against his enemies in combat. It isn’t until the final pages that the Conan of old – the brash, roguish, self-righteous warrior – decides he’s suffered enough at the hands of mad mortals and mixes it up good ‘n plenty, choosing to split skulls instead of mince words. That’s the Conan I want to read about, not some skulking body-builder with a spritely blonde eight-year-old at his heels.
Quite a bit of THRONE feels like a title in transition – like this installment is coming up on the tail end of one writer’s inspiration, preparing for another one to take the reins. (As I’m currently following the title, I do know that this is true, so I don’t think it inappropriate to point out the obvious.) There’s little heart and soul to this “adventure” – if you want to call it that – and there’s even less fun. The action is obligatory, the pace is not dictated by characters but by artists, and there’s far too much exposition and chattiness to all the intrigue and ploys. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and our swords on-the-ready that, by Crom, our nomad will soon return to top form in the pages of exploits yet untold.
CONAN, VOLUME 12: THRONE OF AQUILONIA is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Roy Thomas; pencils are by Mike Hawthorne (chapters 1, 2, 5, 6) and Dan Panosian (chapter 3, 4); inks are by John Lucas (chapters 1, 2, 5, 6) and Dan Panosian (chapters 3, 4); colors are by Dan Jackson; and lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt. Conan was created by Robert E. Howard. The hardcover volume bears a cover price of $24.99, but, if you can wait for it, there’s a softbound edition coming in February, 2013, with a cover price of $19.99.
Modestly RECOMMENDED. It isn’t that THRONE OF AQUILONIA is a bad Conan story because – let’s face facts – can there ever really be a ‘bad’ Conan story? Such a thing shouldn’t exist. (Take note, Jason Momoa, if you’re listening!) It’s just that there’s so little heart in this body of work. Artistically, it’s too clean. Narratively, it’s too flat. Predictably, it’s all there. Everyone goes through the motions, but these battles don’t exactly spring off the page. They’re too heavy in printed words to do that.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital copy of CONAN, VOLUME 12 for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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