As part of its initiative to provide readers with a series of self-contained, easy-to-read one-shots, Dark Horse tapped Darick Robertson to write and draw a Conan book, which, if you’ve seen Robertson’s art, is a brilliant and logical choice. Except, honestly, for the writing portion of the comic. While Robertson’s art is perfectly suited to Conan, his writing is mediocre with a very simple and unoriginal plot, and grating, over-written narration.
The narrative voice that Robertson employs in telling this story covers the pages with text that is more reminiscent of a prose story than a comic. It’s both a lush and direct style, shifting between the two poles of purple prose and fragmentary sentences, which is slightly jarring, but also leads to a stop-and-start reading pattern. Robertson relies on the prose narration to carry the story over a large period of time, rarely using dialogue except in short, specific scenes. Even then, the dialogue is surrounded by narration that over explains every thought and motivation of the characters.
Given the simple nature of the plot, the narration is overdone. In this story, Conan has provided his service to a small kingdom as a mercenary soldier. When the king dies in battle, the subjects and wise men choose Conan as the new king instead of the proper heir, the untested prince. However, all Conan wants to do is fight, eat, and have sex, which leads to the kingdom falling into disrepair with crops untended and too many young men dying in battles that could be avoided through diplomacy — an approach Conan avoids when drawing swords is an option.
Much of the narrative time is devoted to skimming through this story, rarely stopping to linger on moments suited to Robertson’s talents like the battles. Without meaning to be too condescending, I honestly thought a Robertson-drawn Conan book would have more bloody battles. Just look at the way he begins the book and tell me that a 22-page story that had Conan in the midst of a giant battle wouldn’t impress. Robertson’s art is gorgeous throughout the comic, but is at its best in the fight scenes where he can let loose with a wild, energetic style. His ability to depict attractive, monstrous scenes is one of his biggest strengths as an artist and he downplays it here for a simple morality play about the difference between a good leader and a good soldier.
Given Robertson’s lack of writing experience, a more minimalist approach to the narration would have worked better than what’s done in “The Weight of the Crown” where the only scenes that really rise above the level of mediocre tedium are the battles.