"The Ibis and the Serpent"
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: Cary Nord, Tom Mandrake and Thomas Yeates
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Richard Strakings and Comicraft
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
As Conan and Jannissa do battle with a city full of possessed minions, we see that the magic user Kalanthes is bound and determined to destroy the mystical Eye of Tik-Pulonga before Thoth-Amon's magic overwhelms them. However, we see his plan to destroy the gem has Conan playing a role he's not prepared to play, and instead Conan focuses on doing battle with Thoth-Amon's monster. Needless to say this reckless decision nearly destroys him.
This biggest problem that this issue never quite manages to overcome the idea that a large part of the excitement is dependant on the reader believing Conan is in real danger of losing this fight. Now I realize that almost every adventure story ever made asks its readers to buy into the illusion that their hero might not escape the deadly threat that endangers them, and nine times out of ten I find myself willing to sit back an enjoy the show, as there's a great deal of enjoyment to be found in watching how the hero will escape certain doom. However, the problem that I find myself having when Conan is playing the role of a hero who has been backed into a corner, is that his response to every problem is a little too uniform. I mean when every problem can be resolved with a swing of the sword it becomes a little difficult to really become absorbed in the dramatic tension. What's more the big climax to Conan's first battle with Thoth-Amon is resolved by the less than dramatic fade to black finish, as the only ending that I find more irksome than the "wake up to discover it was all a dream" finish, is the "hero is knocked unconscious and when they wake up the crisis has been resolved" ending. I mean whenever I encounter an ending like this I find myself wondering why would any writer believe that the readers would enjoy being cheated out of a real ending. Still, there are moments in this issue that I quite enjoyed, from the overwhelming nature of the threats that Conan and the others find themselves facing in the opening half of this issue, to the perfect Conan moment where he decides that Janissa would make a better sacrifice to the old gods. In fact this latter decision should make Janissa's return to these pages in a future issue a lot of fun, as I imagine she is bearing a bit of a grudge, and she possesses the skill to make her displeasure with Conan hard to ignore.
The cover image was a little too washed out for my liking, as while I realize that this image is supposed to have an ethereal quality to it, to me it was a little too hazy and ill-defined. As for the interior art I have to say the issue gets off to a wonderful start, as the opening page drops the readers right into the midst of the action, and the following double-page spread does a lovely job of selling the overwhelming nature of what our heroes are up against. I also enjoyed the sequence where we see Conan being consumed by the old gods, and the panel where he rejects this control was a powerful visual moment. Conan's battle for his very soul was also well done, and while it was a simple visual, I loved the influence that Tom Mandrake imposed on the art during the scene where Conan is faces with the full magical fury of Thoth-Amon. The dream sequence where Conan deals with the bone woman was also nicely done, as the close up shot of her face does a lovely job capturing her evil intent.
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