King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon #1
Writer: Timothy Truman
Artist: Tomas Giorello
Colors: Jose Villarrubia
Cover: Gerald Parel
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon is a six issue miniseries that adapts Robert E. Howard’s only Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon which is considered one of his greatest Conan stories. It was originally serialized in 1935-1936 just before Howard’s suicide. Dark Horse Conan veterans Timothy Truman and Tomas Giorello write and draw a riveting portrayal of an aging King Conan and Conan during his early days on the throne. Giorello’s art with coloring from Jose Villarubia adds layers of symbolism to the story and handles closeup facial work and passage of time very well.
In a well-written framing device, King Conan acts as both storyteller and story as he relates the story of how he met the love of his life Zenobia to his scribe and chronicler Pramis. This will make up the main story of the miniseries, but a large chunk of it is setting up a formidable villain to create conflict for Conan. Xaltotoun is a dark take on the Merlin legend, a mage who is been dead for 3,000 and is raring to kill some Cimmerians. Truman revels in the majestic way that these characters speak, but balances the book well between dialogue, caption boxes, and silent panels. The narration can be a little overwrought sometimes, especially when it describes what is obviously happening in the panel, but it does a good job moving the story along and setting up new locations and characters.
As far as the characterization of Conan goes, one can see little changes in his character between the aged storyteller and the active warrior king. Old Conan is far more sentimental and takes himself far less seriously by making the occasional sarcastic quip at his servile scribe. Young Conan is a man of vibrant action and intelligence, but full of brashness as well. The art shows this by having old Conan wear his crown securely while young Conan uneasily passes his from hand to hand. However, the younger and older versions of the characters have some similarities. There are identical scenes of Conan drawing his sword to ward off an intruder showing that he hasn’t lost his edge in his old age. Their faces also have similar lines even though Villarubia does a good job differentiating the coloring of an old and young man’s skin.
The subtleties in the art make King Conan a treat to read. Torches are a recurring motif from the fading one that old Conan carries to his wife’s tomb to bright red one that lights the chamber of the dark mage Orastes as he tries to resurrect Xaltotoun. Giorello also has a proclivity for the heavenly bodies. There is a yellow sun shining over the peaceful realm of Nemedia that is obscured by clouds which signify a plague. Later, when Tarascus, the new king of Nemedia marches on Aquilonia to depose Conan with the help Xaltotoun, there is a yellow sun obscured by a red cloud. The red cloud returns in the middle of the climactic battle scene. In addition to the motifs and symbols, Giorello excels at drawing armies marching that are a meld the Bayeux Tapestry and the covers of old sword and sorcery pulps as well as eyes that convey emotions from surprise to horror to the vacant eyes of the long dead Xaltotoun. However, Giorello’s figure can occasionally be splotchy, and it can be difficult to tell characters apart or gauge their reaction to a scene.
Truman and Giorello do real justice to Robert E. Howard’s classic in King Conan: The Hour of Dragon. There is the occasional poorly drawn character or exposition dump, but the plot is fast moving aided by the narration. There is also a great cliffhanger at the end which made me hunger for the next chapter of the miniseries. This book is a feast for fans of high fantasy, pulp storytelling, or adventure yarns in general and is filled with rich details and symbolism hiding under the facade of a violent sword and sorcery story.