Sunday, August 19, 2012

Conan: Book of Thoth

Written by Kurt Busiek and Len Wein
Art by Kelley Jones

Around the time that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan were launching their new Conan the Barbarian series, the store I shop at had a small pile of this Conan trade on sale for $5.  Normally, I would have passed right past it, but as I don't know much about Conan, I thought that for that price, it would be worth checking out to get a better understanding of the character and the world.

Conan: Book Of Thoth is not a very good comic.  I suppose from reading the back cover that Thoth is a big-deal bad guy in Conan's world, and this mini-series was written to share his origin.

Thoth starts out life as a beggar and scavenger in the city of Memphia.  He gets beaten by his father, and his small horde of money stolen by bullies.  He's an angry kid.  He has one friend, Amon, who is his exact opposite, showing optimism and kindness.  Amon rescues the life of the city's high priest one day, and is offered a place as a student in the priesthood.  Excited about this prospect, Amon tells Thoth, who immediately kills him and takes his place.

As the years pass, Thoth, now using his dead friend's name, ingratiates himself with all the right people, all the time scheming on how he can one day take over.  There is a lot of stuff involving the evil god Set, and some ancient power, as Amon-Thoth, as he comes to be known, eventually takes over the entire city-state, leading it to war with its neighbours, chaos, and ruin.  He's a bad guy.

My problems with this book are many.  First, it's difficult to read a series with no sympathetic characters to root for.  Thoth is an ass, but no one else gets much space for development, so it's very difficult to care about anything that happens to anyone.  Also, the comics are overly wordy and slow-moving.

The biggest problem though, lies in Kelley Jones's art.  I can remember when Jones first drew Batman, with the gigantic cowl ears and the cape that had a life of its own, and I remember finding his work thrilling.  Now, his art has become a caricature of itself, as he needlessly exaggerates peoples' physical features on a whim.  He does very little to differentiate characters (Amon, Thoth, and the young king Cstephen are often indistinguishable), and characters appear to age or de-age twenty or thirty years on the same page rather randomly.

If there's anything that I take away from reading this trade, it's that my new respect for Brian Wood's Conan need not lead me to backtrack and read the other Dark Horse series that predate it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jones art is really the best part.The fantasy elements and the character studies are remarkable.Young Thoth and his friend are to look similar,they choose different paths,and it is remarked that Thoths resemblance to his friend is what gets him into the monastery.
The scenes involving magic are amazing,Jones does it by hand,not produced in a computer.
The story moves back and for in time,so they should look different ages.
A great artist and a great book.