King Conan Volume 6 – A Death in Stygia
Conan is a title from another time. He Is Arnold, a hulking bruiser of a human being, capable of devastating beasts twice his size with thrice as many fangs. A living wrecking ball, and a wandering legend in a leather loin cloth, from Conan we expect nothing short of sheer brutality, bravado, and cunning. So, in King Conan we find ourselves in the rather foreign terrain, as our scallywag hero is now jammed into the role of diplomat and wise visionary. These Conan collections by Dark Horse, are the compilation of the 80’s run of Conan initially published by Marvel.
To say the art is dated seems a bit cruel, because we do have Marc Silvestri on pencils, and it is fascinating to see the glimmers of his future style encaged in the expected 80’s style of art. Scene compositions feel a bit campy and forced, but when locked into close up and expressions, there is sincerity. Characters appear worn and haggard, as if masterfully glancing back into these brutal times and extracting the raw essence of how harsh their reality must be. When pulled back, the larger backdrop scenes feel rushed, and there is often little to no effort put into scene detail; simply the hint of a castle or a forest is expected to suffice. In all honesty, this is fine. The visual of Conan is not a focus on its chaotic and dilapidated world, but rather its menagerie of beasts and men and women carved from worn out stone.
But sadly, King Conan now lives in the lap of luxury, and there is a stark shortage of beasts and battle collected in this tome. Pencillers Marc Silvestri and Mike Docherty do manage to bring life to the grittier scenes throughout the book (like one VERY angry wizard who obliterates a room full of punier wizards), but there are so very few of those.
The colors by George Roussos are a definitive product of the time, as yellows are not so much nuanced as they are highlighters that seemingly exploded on the page. Everything is vibrant and rich, but there is no attempt to shade. Some pages are like being pimp slapped by a rainbow, but at worst it is a bit distracting. For those who read books from the 80’s, it is more likely to strike a chord of pure nostalgia.
King Conan is written with a bit more of a soap operatic essence of drama, where subterfuge and sly planning run the ship. Writers Alan Zelenetz and Don Kraar have managed to craft a tale that is clearly discomforting to our beloved protagonist. Conan often spends pages squirming at his kingly duties, and bolting from his obligations like a ranting child, and, to be frank, I would expect nothing less. Conan is a ravenous killing machine, and to see him locked into the confines of bureaucracy is like watching a tiger crammed in a tiny cage, as a child pokes it with a stick. The writers do a fine job of showing how Conan would react in such a situation, but sadly, the situation is the majority of the book. You don’t really want to read about Conan whining about being the king, or cowering from his duties (or anything for that matter) like a child. And unfortunately, that is the majority of what you get in this trade. There is some seemingly important scene building, as local royalty plots to dethrone Conan, and a vengeful wizard creeps through the shadows plotting his revenge, so this issue seems to suffer the burden of purely setting the stage for greater events.
In a larger collection, where plot building and action would eventually meet, this could be a great read, but, in it’s a current state, we find ourselves with a shadow of the barbarian.
In summation, it is a slower read. There is a bit of action, but it is paced far apart. It reads very slowly for a Conan tale. Visually, there are solid moments, especially when the focus is on a character’s face, or we are in a bit of action, but these moments are not the norm. The book does leave me curious as to where we will go next, but as it stands on its own, remains a tad dull.
2 ½ out of 5.