Tuesday, 27 April 2010
‘Conan and the Demons of Khitai’ – Akira Yoshida, Paul Lee (Dark Horse)
Sometimes things happen and they fit together just right. It’s always nice when that happens, things somehow feel better when they fit neatly like that. Yesterdays ‘Conan’ press release somehow timed itself to fit nicely with the arrival of more Conan material for me to read. I’m always up for reading more ‘Conan’ (and I should probably go back and re-read the original stories), especially in comic book format where you get to see the artist’s vision of the world of the Hyborian Age. I’ve been following Truman & Giorello’s ‘Conan’, for the most part, so it was interesting to get someone else’s take on the mythos this time round. The beautiful thing about Conan is that he’s a character powerful enough to breeze through any shortcomings in a story, that’s what happened here...
‘The Demons of Khitai’ is set some time in the future from Conan’s regular exploits as a mercenary and thief. Now, Conan is the King of Aquilonia and finds himself with the opportunity to open trade with the mysterious lands of Khitai in the East. The promise of such riches is enough to tempt any man and that is why the offer was made in the first place. Conan’s presence is required for far more devious ends and if he is to find what lies at the bottom of this mystery then he must fight animals the likes of which he has never seen before...
‘Conan and the Demons of Khitai’ is a collection of the Dark Horse four issue mini-series and this is where the main problem was for me. With all the best will in the world, there’s only so much story that you can fit into four comics, it’s physically impossible to do more. As a result ‘Demons’ can come across as more than a little lightweight, especially when the background hints at a wider world that there is no time to see. This is even more the case when valuable room is taken up with material that really doesn’t need to be there. I’m talking about the story that Pallantides is told by the wise woman of the forest tribe. While it does link to what is happening with Conan, it’s not really doing a lot more than repeating what’s happening elsewhere. There’s no room in a book this size for that kind of indulgence. Tell us more about the kingdom of Khitai. Give us more time with Zina and Zito, two characters who come across as having a lot more potential than just being mere sword fodder. Either of these two approaches would have fleshed things out a bit and given us a more absorbing read.
The linear plot doesn’t really help either. The trap is given away far too early and the rest of the book becomes a case of ‘find the villain, kill it’. No twists to keep things fresh...
It’s a good job then that we have Conan himself.
Conan can carry pretty much any plot because he’s just larger than life; that’s what he does here. Yoshida’s plot may not be up to scratch but the depiction of Conan himself is dead on target, brash, loud and never afraid to draw his sword on something far bigger than him. Coupled with Paul Lee’s more than capable artwork (although I preferred Pat Lee’s cover art and would have liked to have seen this approach taken in the book itself), this makes for some exciting moments where Conan has to do what he does best. The fight with the Kappa is particularly effective here due to it’s simple brutality.
While there is a lot to Conan that simply hasn’t changed this serves to highlight the changes he has undergone and this makes for a more interesting character that it would have been nice to see more of. His time as a King has made Conan a little less likely to kill at a perceived insult (although the animal side to his nature is never far away); we see a wiser and more thoughtful person here and it’s refreshing to see a character such as Conan being developed in this way.
It’s a real shame that there wasn’t enough room in the book to really go into and develop the story in the way that it wanted to be. Like I said though, if you only have a limited amount of room then there’s only ever going to be so much that you can do with it. ‘Conan and the Demons of Khitai’ has flashes of brilliance but is ultimately hamstrung by it’s own format.