Dark Horse Comics 2014
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by Guiu Vilanova
Coloured by Michael Atiyeh
Prince Almuric and his damned horde are no more. Conan’s small force that allied with them—Amra’s Bastards— chose to disband. Among them, Abit followed his heart and returned to Kush with the freed slave Diana, while her sister Natala and Conan set off into the desert after a near-death encounter with the evil sorcerer Thoth-Amon. Now, Conan and Natala arrive at the gates of the city Xuthal, dying of thirst . . .
Oh Fred has breathed a whole new life into Conan for me. Gone are the days I think of him as this barbarian and now think of him as man fleshed out by his personality and deeds in ways that excite and thrill me as a reader. His current journey is much like any continuing story that doesn’t end just moves on to the next chapter in his life. No jumping around from adventure to adventure but a clear progression of what his life is like makes this for far more interesting reading as you see him grow as a man.
This issue opens with a man getting a transfusion from a vase of water with a mysterious dark flower in it. He wakes as if drugged into a walking dreamlike state as the sound of banging fills his ears. It is of course Conan banging on the gates to the city but no one answers in fact no one can be seen on the parapets or heard behind the gates. The city looks like Angkhor Wat in it’s physical beauty but that belies the darkness and mystery ahead of them for it’s more like an abandoned city where dead without wounds lie on the street and a lone madman attacks them once they manage to actually enter.
Inside it seems mists cover the floor as the pair look for someone, anyone to help them when they happen across a table set for a feast so the pair eat and take their fill. They have traveled far and are thirsty and hungry beyond measure so this gift they find is something they take full advantage of. While Natala is ready to leave and feels the evil emanating from this place Conan would just as soon stay for a bit since nothing has harmed them thus far. The day is going to get increasingly more bizarre for the pair however as strange sounds make it’s way to them. A young man possibly a prince lies upon a stone altar whether asleep or dead we cannot ascertain but a shadow of darkness sweeps over the boy and he is gone.
Alright this is creepy as hell! Fred’s really delving into something dark, mystical and terrifying for this story and i’ve got to say I couldn’t be any more enthralled by it! This is the sorcery stuff that you expect when reading a sword and sorcery book. Everything that happens everyone they meet including the last page’s ominous hostess all conspire to really set this story apart from the last adventure. From fighting a madman whose magic was used to destroy we go to this one where things are more subtle and scary in ways that nightmares are made of.
Guiu and Michael really have such talent in bringing this kind of story to life. The man we saw wake up looks more like a zombie than a man even for one who thinks they are a vision instead of real. To the palace and the mist that seems to ever permeate the floors to the vision of the woman on the last page, so many I can think of there but we’ll see if I’m right about what she really is. They just capture such a mood here that it’s one of those instances that will raise the hair on your neck and scream run get away as fast as you can.
This is stuff we as readers crave, incredible settings and a story that thrills you and keeps you interactive with what’s happening and unable to turn away. Fred is a modern master and it’s stories like this one that prove why.