Writer Roy Thomas revisits the characters he famously adapted and first introduced to comics over forty years ago in Dark Horse Books’ Conan, Vol. 12 hardcover. Does it mark a triumphant return for the godfather of Conan comics? Read the full review to find out!
Key Review Points
- Roy Thomas does not disappoint in his return to writing Conan.
- Solid art.
- Not an ideal jumping-on point for readers new to Dark Horse Comics’ Conan series.
- Additions to the Conan canon may irk the more pedantic Robert E. Howard fans.
- Publisher: Dark Horse Books (a division of Dark Horse Comics)
- Publication Date: August 2012
- Writer: Roy Thomas
- Pencilers: Mike Hawthorne (Chapters 1, 2, 5, 6) and Dan Panosian (Chapters 3, 4)
- Inkers: John Lucas (Chapters 1, 2, 5, 6) and Dan Panosian (Chapters 3, 4)
- Colorist: Dan Jackson
- Letterers: Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
- Cover and Chapter-Break Artist: Aleksi Briclot
- Conan created by: Robert E. Howard
- Format: 152 page full-color hardcover; collects Conan: Road of Kings #7–12, originally published by Dark Horse Comics in 2011 and 2012.
- List Price: $24.99 US (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
- Availability: On sale on 01 August, 2012
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Read This Before Proceeding Further: I’ve written an overview of Dark Horse’s current Conan series, and if you’re unfamiliar with what the publisher is doing with Robert E. Howard’s signature character these days, I suggest giving that brief piece a quick once-over, as it will help put into context my opinions about this most recent collected edition.
Conan creator Robert E. Howard wrote his Conan stories in non-sequential order, skipping months and years back and forth through time to present major events in the barbarian’s life, leaving some sizable intervals in the character’s overarching biographical narrative that he meant to fill in later. Howard’s death by suicide in 1936 obviously precluded that from happening, and over the years, a small writing industry dedicated to populating the spaces between Howard’s original tales with new stories has emerged, with mixed results.
There is a significant gap in continuity between the Howard stories “Iron Shadows in the Moon” (a.k.a. “Shadows in the Moonlight”) and “Queen of the Black Coast.” The former tale (published April 1934) ends with Conan absconding from Turan with a princess-sold-into-slavery named Olivia while the latter story (published May 1934) finds the now-lone Cimmerian beginning a career as a pirate in Argos, thousands of kilometers and apparently many months—perhaps even years—removed from the events of “Iron Shadows in the Moon.” The Roy Thomas-penned Conan, Vol. 11: Road of Kings and Conan, Vol. 12: Throne of Aquilonia are attempts to fill in that gap.
Conan, Vol. 12: Throne of Aquilonia collects the second-part of Roy Thomas’ 12-issue excursion to the wildly successful Conan comics franchise he first established under the Marvel Comics banner back in 1970. The general consensus with regards to those Marvel adaptations seems to be that Thomas stayed reasonably true to the spirit of the original Robert E. Howard stories, even when he started drawing from the later L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter-written Conan stories or adapting non-Conan Howard stories and characters (the character of Red Sonja was born from one such adaptation) in his search for source material for Marvel’s Conan-branded comics and magazines.
Thomas’ astute and experienced grasp of the character and setting are on display in Throne of Aquilonia. Conan is presented as being in a transitory state, looking for glory that goes beyond the material rewards of being a professional soldier and sword-for-hire, but not exactly eager to leave behind the life of the mercenary that he has grown accustomed to. There is a curious lack of an overt romantic interest for the protagonist—normally a standard feature in most Conan tales—although this can be explained as carry-over from the events of the previous volume in the series. Overall though, those familiar with the arc of Conan’s life and career will appreciate the subtle character development showcased in the book.
I do think it only fair to suggest that this volume and the one that preceded it might strike the more traditionalist Conan fan as somewhat inessential, given that the stories presented in both collections aren’t directly rooted in anything Howard wrote. Thomas maintains a connection with the Howard canon by introducing younger versions of characters that appear in the 1935 serial Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon, set during the barbarian’s later years, although I would venture to guess this “retcon” will likely garner a mixed reception from the more pedantic Howard fans.
Mike Hawthorne’s rendering and visual storytelling craft are solid although as I mentioned in my review of the Hawthorne-illustrated Conan, Vol. 11: Road of Kings, his particular style might not be to the liking of readers conditioned to the more Buscema-like stylings of his immediate predecessor Tomás Giorello or the more painterly approach of Giorello forerunner Cary Nord. John Lucas’ inking is solid stuff. I’m not sure if his cross-hatching style is meant to be a deliberate homage to the techniques employed by the late Conan the Barbarian inker Ernie Chan (a.k.a. Ernie Chua), but in any event, the linework is consistently excellent. Dan Panosian is credited with the art for two of the volume’s six chapters, and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of his contributions, as my only prior exposure to his work were some fill-in collaborations with Mark Pacella on Marvel’s X-Force back in the early 1990s, when the duo were seemingly doing their darndest to ape the much-maligned Rob Liefeld “aesthetic.” Panosian’s work compares favorably to Hawthorne and Lucas’ and the change in artists mid-way through the book’s first story-arc wasn’t jarring at all.
All in all, Conan, Vol. 12: Throne of Aquilonia is another well-considered addition to Dark Horse’s impressive retelling of the Conan legend. The book’s “fill-in” nature makes it far from an ideal jumping-on point for new readers and will inevitably irk the more persnickety Howard fans, but for everybody else, this volume is the perfect opportunity to read new Conan material by the godfather of Conan comics.