Reviewer: Chris Delloiacono
Story Title: The Hanumar Road
Written by: Kurt Busiek
Art by: Cary Nord and Tom Mandrake
Colored by: Dave Stewart
Lettered by: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover by: Leinil Francis Yu
Designer: Darin Fabrick
Assistant Editor: Matt Dryer
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
The other day my friend Pat asked, “Are you still reading Conan?” I replied yes. He next queried, “How is it?” I didn’t even have to think about it. One word–Amazing–was instantaneously upon my lips. My buddy Pat reads comics, but he’s not a diehard. He read and enjoyed the first couple of issues of Conan. Hopefully my ringing endorsement will kick start an interest to catch up on what he’s missed. Hopefully this review will entice a perusal from some of you that haven’t given Conan a good look. I say this because Amazing really isn’t a strong enough word to describe what’s going on in these pages. Classic is probably the best single word that can be applied to Conan so far.
Lo and behold issue #12 has arrived and marks the end of the first year of Conan. Not surprisingly it’s another fantastic entry!
Unlike the previous two issues, this month’s story doesn’t adapt a Robert E. Howard story. Although it’s not based on a Howard story, Busiek’s portrayal of Conan is so perfect that you’d scarcely believe it. Howard was known for placing Conan in precarious predicaments at the opening of his stories then catching the reader up as the story progressed. Conan comic-scribe Kurt Busiek has placed Conan in a dandy this month. More important than the set-up is how Busiek allows Conan’s wits intermingled with some brawn to free him from the situation. Busiek’s ability to balance cerebral elements with action illustrates his grasp on Conan and shows he is the right man to continue the story of Howard’s creation.
We begin as Conan awakens in the jailhouse of a town he doesn’t recall visiting. The storytelling device works well to leave the reader as much in the dark as Conan. Conan soon appeals to the priest Kalanthes for freedom. Conan learned that Kalanthes was a target on the hit list of Thoth-amon. In exchange for freedom, Conan promises to protect Kalanthes, which leads to a test against the priest’s principal bodyguard. Busiek takes the opportunity to introduce us to a rather strong supporting player in the being of the warrior-woman Janissa. Janissa poses an excellent test for Conan and their battle is rendered a stalemate when Kalanthes decides both should accompany him.
It’s exciting to see Thoth-amon set to move from the background to the fore. Amon is probably the most famous villain from Howard’s original stories. Since Thoth-amon was played by James Earl Jones in the Arnold Schwarzenegger starring film Conan: The Barbarian he’s the most famous to mainstream fans too. I’m glad that Busiek has taken great pains to slowly reveal the presence of Thoth-amon. Amon deserves ample time to dog Conan’s life, but a strong build is a necessity to pull that off.
The artwork on Conan has been a pleasure since day one. This month an added treat is intermixed with Cary Nord’s beautiful work. As the tale reaches its conclusion Janissa’s origins are revealed in a fireside chat with Conan. The gritty flashback sequence is handled with moody excellence by Tom Mandrake. Mandrake’s time on The Spectre with John Ostrander may be the seminal artistic rendition of the character, so it’s no surprise that he doesn’t disappoint with his 6 Ã‚Â½ page cameo. Cary Nord’s artwork is one major reason to read Conan. The fact that Mandrake’s art fits in perfectly and comes off as a bonus is testament to how good it works.
Expectations can be a rather cruel mistress. Once you’ve set a tone for greatness you have to keep it up. Some books surprise me every month with how good they are. For whatever reason my expectations were low when I picked the new issue up. That’s never the case with Conan. I expect and get a “great” read every month. With the first year behind us Conan‘s still on an upward trend. Busiek and Nord must be getting a lot of envious looks from creators, because precious few books can compete with Conan! It’s almost unfair.