Now this is more like it. Writer Fred Van Lente has yet to truly distinguish his run from previous “Conan” writers, but he turns in a tale with more variety and energy than the one he delivered in the previous volume. In order to obtain the treasure hoard known by the mute slave girl Diana, Conan has pledged to rescue her sister Natala from the walled city of Nippur. While his comrades in Amra’s Bastards would normally be enough for the job, circumstances force them to team up with the mercenary forces led by the foolish Prince Almuric to assault the city. As it turns out, rescuing a slave girl and pillaging a nigh-impenetrable trade city is the easy part of this operation. The path Conan and his fellow warriors follow takes them deep into Stygia where they face chariot archers, a magic plague, lakes of lava, and the wrath of none other than Thoth-Amon. All of this is worth the untold riches this hoard is supposed to contain, right? I mean, it’s not as if the title of this volume is referring to a “Damned Horde” waiting to be awakened from their cursed slumber.
In addition to the above, we also get to see the title character mix it up with cannibal wildmen and their leader Eamon the Flayed, order scalding gruel to be poured on some cowardly noblemen, headbutt a snake and then kill it with its broken fang, and create a miniature eruption of lava by stabbing the ground hard enough with his sword. Yes, it’s safe to say that Van Lente has Conan’s badass credentials well in hand. More of the irreverence I was expecting from the writer finds its way into the narrative here, mainly in the way that his Conan simply will not stop trying to take on those who get on his bad side. Even if it comes down to just spitting at them when he’s infected with the plague.
This is great because it’s things like that which carry the volume. Once again, the story is fairly standard issue by “Conan” standards, and the title basically gives away its only twist. While the reappearance of Thoth-Amon should’ve been a big deal, it kind of falls flat. Though Van Lente makes a decent effort to show the sorcerer as being out of his depth here, it feels like he was brought in for a bit of villain stunt casting rather than because the story needed an antagonist of his caliber. Finally, Brian Ching does solid work here even if it’s becoming increasingly evident that we’re not going to see art on the level of his “Star Wars” work in this title. So it’s not a great read, but “The Damned Horde” is still a good one for anyone who has been following Dark Horse’s “Conan” series for as long as I have.