First off let’s call a spade a spade; this is one of the worst Conan covers I have ever seen. I am not sure what is going on here, other than it looks like Conan is being attacked by some wizard whose spell is making Conan inflate like a balloon. That is some seriously bizarre anatomy going on there, especially that giant foot out in front and the twisted right shoulder that is as big as Conan’s head. So far none of the covers for this otherwise-spectacular series have been spectacular, and cover artist Andrew Robinson is the weak link of this Conan team.
But while a cover is a nice decoration, it is really what is inside that counts. And the inside is satisfying indeed. Truman, Giorello, and Villarrubia consistently deliver the most impressive and authentic Conan in comics today.
Issue 3 of King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword finds Conan deep in the mountain of Golamira, summoned by the sage Epemitreus the Wise in advance of a sneak attack on Conan and the Throne of Aquilonia. Ememitreus tells his story of his struggles with Set the serpent god, before marking Conan’s sword with a phoenix and sending him back to await his conspirators. Meanwhile, the wizard Thoth-Amon makes his own plans for revenge. Let the battle begin.
The trio do their usual excellent job on this third installment. I had thought that Truman’s framing device of the old King Conan might be getting a little played out, but here it is used to exquisite effect, moving Conan and Epemitreus through the layers of time. A young Epemitreus is every bit the warrior that Conan is, and the aged Conan proves to be something of a sage himself. Conan and Epemitreus stand as god-touched defenders of Aquilonia against the menace of Set
I particularly loved the dialogue, both of the old King Conan, Empemitreus, and the young King Conan. There are some goosebumps to be had here, and at least one scene that made me want to shout out “Hell yeah!” You’ll know when you get there.
In The Phoenix on the Sword, Tomas is surpassing his already incredible style, building up linked triptychs and double-page spreads that give a sense of grandeur and awe. I love his ability to bring things from a very large, very wide scale atmosphere down to a single pair of glowering eyes. Giorello is investing this series with a sense of artistry, not just drawing. His partner, Jose Villarrubia, is a true “color artist” rather than a “colorist.” Villarrubia’ s muted pallet punctuated with bright magic has set the tone for this series, and I couldn’t Giorello imagine anyone, not even the King of Colors Dave Stewart, doing a better job.
This third issue is still build-up; the real action won’t come until the climax in the final issue. But there is enough here to keep me hooked and wishing that the story didn’t end with the final flipped page. King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword is a comic that is really going to read better as a trade, and I know several readers are stockpiling the issues to read them all together. Personally I don’t have that much patience for a series this good.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the ’90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.