Dark Horse Comics 2014
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by Guiu Vilanova
Coloured by Michael Atiyeh
Xuthal: A once-great city of wonders now dissipated and decadent, its drugged citizens the prey of the shadowy god Thog. Thalis, a lost princess of Stygia ensnared by the city’s pleasures, recounts her sordid tale to Conan and Natala, then promises to help the disgusted companions escape. The Stygian reveals her true intentions, however, when she attempts to seduce Conan; spurned, Thalis abducts Natala and leaves the Cimmerian to face a throng of maddened men of Xuthal. Conan fights like the ferocious tiger he is, only to fall through a trapdoor into darkness . . .
Fred has won my heart and loyalty with the diversity and ability he has to write any character there is and I’ve said it before and i’ll continue to do so for me to look forward to a Conan story like this one. The characterization here is unparalleled showcasing not just Conan’s determination and skill at fighting but his intelligence and ability to assess a situation and figure out a way to win. Master strategist isn’t something you necessarily think of when it comes to him but Fred’s managing to change that perception.
Guiu and Michael’s work on the interiors are pretty spectacular as well. I enjoyed immensely how this issue opened and how they portrayed the women going around in the dark before having a light source. The scene where Natala is tied up and whipped was brutally violent full of bloodlust in Thalis and there’s also a kind of sensuousness to and when the frog creatures arrive it’s almost old school classic horror.
While Conan comes to Natala’s rescue in a huge battle with the frog creature is incredibly well done when take leave of the city itself I was a little disappointed as they just left the city and it’s inhabitants as they were. Heck I realize that after their ordeal they’d want to leave but after Natala found that elixir described by Thalis and Conan was brought back to full health I’m surprised they didn’t search for more after all that elixir would come in handy during their travels. Also we’re still left with a big gap about this city and they’ve left it wide open for further travelers to fall prey to those still inside.
Though I will say that when they were walking away the characterization and dialogue between Conan and Natala was very well done and entertaining.
Dark Horse has the Conan franchise going here with a fresh voice and talented artists continuing to push the boundaries of this world in new and exciting ways. Sword and sorcery has never looked so good!