At last! The second half of Tim Truman, Tomas Giorello, and Jose Villarrubia’s adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s only Conan novel, Hour of the Dragon is here! Dark Horse decided to split this into two mini-series, which gave the team enough breathing space to hit their monthly schedule—and gave fans enough time to build up anticipation for the big finish.
I was surprised by Tim Truman this issue. I was expecting him to keep the story going without skipping a beat, but he actually changed voice and perspective with this second issue—and made some choices that are sure to be controversial with diehard Howard fans. The biggest change, right from the first page, was changing his POV character from Conan to Pramis the Scribe. We are no longer reading the Nemedian Chronicles. We are reading the private journals of Pramis about his accounts of writing the Nemedian Chronicles, of sitting with Conan and talking to him about his past.
It’s an interesting chance to get inside someone’s head. There’s an old tradition of Conan writers—established by Roy Thomas back in the 1970s with Conan #1, and observed by almost every Conan writer ever since—that Conan does not have thought balloons. No reader ever gets to peek inside of Conan’s head. This can be a challenge for writers who need to deliver exposition, but don’t want to rely on omniscient narrators. Truman solved this problem by letting us look out of Pramis’ eyes. In the meantime he delivers a short re-cap of the story so far, just in case any new readers are jumping on with this issue (and you should, you really, really should.)
As to the controversial bit—It is nothing that affects the story, but it certainly affects the mythology of Conan. It is a subtle point, and one that I don’t really agree with. Conan never married Zenobia, never made her his official Queen. Some people will care, some won’t. Some won’t even notice. But there it is.
And the rest of the story—oh yes. It is wonderful. King Conan: The Conqueror has the perfect mix of Conan eras. He is king of Aquilonia, mature and confident in his powers; but at the same time he is a rogue on the run, mixing with his old allies like Publio the fence, navigating the back allies and Thieves’ Quarters of Messantia. There’s no political intrigue here like in King Conan: Phoenix on the Sword. Just old-fashioned sword and sorcery and high adventure. And maybe a few surprises here for those who think that Conan never loses a fight …
Another surprise came from the art team of Tomas Giorello and Jose Villarrubia—I honestly thought these guys could never get better. But they keep outdoing themselves with every issue. Giorello and Villarrubia’s mystical, stunning art keeps the re-cap pages from being boring to those of us who already know the story. Giorello’s panel work has always been noteworthy, but here again he outdoes himself. Publio’s chess set serves as a metaphor, and as the pieces get moved around we see the Lion set against the Pirates and the tentacled Sea Monster. It’s a subtle interplay of quiet, small movements with big actions that builds the tension and allows for a combat even if only of words. Villarrubia’s colors are always outstanding, and here he gets some more supernatural to play with. I like how he colors the different kinds of magic, from the ethereal green of previous issues to the violent red of the Black Hand of Set.
One of my favorite parts of this issue came in the letter’s page. Editor Philip Simon slides in a little hint that we might have more of Truman, Giorello, and Villarrubia when Hour of the Dragon is finished. Will they stay with King Conan? Write some new adventures for him after Howard’s original series are exhausted? Who knows. All we know for now is that the adventures will continue, and that makes me very, very happy.
Now bring on the Black Corsairs.