Conan the Avenger #14
Dark Horse Comics 2014
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by Guiu Vilanova
Coloured by Michael Atiyeh
Conan and the freed slave Natala arrive at the gates of Xuthal, dying of thirst after escaping an encounter with the evil sorcerer Thoth-Amon. Once inside, they discover the city strangely deserted save for what appears to be a shambling corpse. Entering a residence, they find a feast set for an absent diner and take it for themselves. However, it comes with a price. They have trespassed into a dark and haunting place, where citizens dreaming in a black-lotus haze are seemingly abducted by shadows. Now, a woman, Thalis of Stygia, confronts Conan and Natala for entering this cursed city . . .
Each issue I am constantly amazed at the level of storytelling Fred manages to bring to the character. With Conan and Natala’s encounter with Thalis this issue we see some very interesting word play between them. Conan may be a barbarian but he’s also extremely intelligent as well and while Thalis tries to manipulate the situation to her advantage he’s constantly on guard and not acquiescing to her requests. Yes she is this bone white almost Egyptian clad beauty but her mannerisms and actions showcase she’s deadly and not to be trusted and he is right to keep his guard up and protect Natala.
Hats off to Guiu and Michael here for the work on the interiors. With the focus on the characters that we’ve got this issue the backgrounds aren’t as important and the minimalist scenery here works to really showcase the importance of the feelings you're supposed to get from them. Throughout the entire issue what they showcase from the story just enhances the reading here and the enjoyment level. They really have found what makes Fred’s story tick and brought that to life.
I am utterly fascinated by the whole concept of this city built on an oasis. That when they aren’t asleep dreaming from the dream flower they are accomplished scientists raises new questions about the importance of science in this time. Magic, gods and fantastic creatures we’ve seen but not so much science so this opens up another facet of the world Conan inhabits that begs for more exploration. Even here we see the mix of Thog an ancient god who dwells under the city made of science and the effect he has on these people.
This isn’t the kind of stuff I think of when I think of Conan and for that I’m eternally grateful because this is such complex storytelling and characterization that really expands the world they live in making it seem like there’s so much more to learn, explore and experience. Oh plus what Thalis has planned for Natala at the hands of the men of the city yeah that’s kind of crazy too but she did experience that then it’s something she wanted and adds to the craziness that is her life and more importantly an agent of Thog as I believe her to be.
Fear not fans because before this issue is over there’s plenty of swordplay to go along with the suspense of events unfolding here. This is one of the most well balanced books where storytelling and action combine to really define Conan. It also happens to be the most exciting Conan series to hit stands in years!