I had an epiphany while reading the latest issue of King Conan: Hour of the Dragon: I never realized how much this story is about the women in Conan’s life. And no, not his lovers; contrary to misinformed beliefs not every female Howard characters is a “hot babe in distress.” Gail Simone once said that Robert E. Howard was a bit of a proto-feminist, and that is exactly what I see here.
The first three issues showed Conan’s fall to the conspiracy lead by the traitor Tarascus, his wizard Orastes, and the great, dark power known as Xaltotun. Conan lay rotting in a dungeon where he would have died, if it weren’t for the courage and love of the former harem girl and future queen Zenobia. Finally free from Tarascus’s dungeons, his story moves on to the ancient wolf-witch Zelata, whose roll here is small but will become a key player as the story unfolds. Like the wise sage that she is, Zelata puts Conan on his next path, to rescue the young Countess Albiona, imprisoned for her unwavering support of the supposedly dead monarch.
In the three, we almost have the perfect Celtic maid (Countess Albiona), mother (Zenobia), crone (Zelata) combination forming a magical female triad. The three set Conan on his path to recovering his kingdom, and serve—each in their own way—as guides and saviors. I’m certainly no expert on Celtic mythology, but I know Robert E. Howard was. The way Tim Truman is unfolding this adaptation makes me think he might have had this in mind as well. And I’m pretty sure mythologist Joseph Campbell would have something pithy to say about it, at any rate.
To me that’s the hallmark of a great adaptation. Even though I have read Howard’s Hour of the Dragon multiple times it took Tim Truman emphasizing certain points in the story to give me an “Oh, yeah!” moment. He allowed me to discover something new about a familiar story. Something that was there all along. Its moments like these that confirm that Truman is the best Conan writer of his generation, surpassing even those like the venerable Roy Thomas and the popular Kurt Busiek, whose work was a good bridge between the shambles that was 90s era Conan and the masterpieces of Dark Horse’s modern King Conan series.
And if Tim Truman is the best writer, Tomas Giorello and Jose Villarrubia are without a doubt amongst the best artists. The art work is simply phenomenal. Giorello combines traditional comic book art with fine art techniques—such as rendering the legs of a moving horse is lesser detail than the head and body, brining focus and depth to the image. His panel work is some of the best in the business. The only person I know who constructs panels like Giorello is Tony Harris, both building a complete image on a single page that also shows movement and pacing in a way only sequential art can deliver. (Granted, he doesn’t have Harris’ s flair for exquisite border design, but they both use an architectural approach.) Villarrubia’s colors are magnificent—ethereal and earthy at the same time. Like Giorello, he colors the entire page instead of just the panel, giving you a complete picture instead of parts of the whole.
And man, can the guy color fire. That kind of light is hard to pull off, but Villarrubia does it with style and skill.
And this is only issue #4 of this series! I have gotten used to the King Conan series being incredible, but short. I am so happy Truman, Giorello, and Villarrubia finally have the length and time they need to flesh out the story completely. This is a great year for Conan fans.