I gushed enough in my first two reviews for issue 1 and issue 2 of this series for you to get the point, but if you need it, here it is again: King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon is one of the best Conan comics ever made, and one of the best things on the stands. If you aren’t picking this comic up, you are missing out on something pretty spectacular.
Now onto issue #3.
Tim Truman is doing a fantastic job parsing up Robert E. Howard’s only novel into comic book length segments. So far he has ended every issue mid-action, and with the first page of the next issue we are immediately thrown back into the story, adrenalin first. He is pacing the action sequences with the quiet moments, showcasing the swords strokes and backroom political intrigue, and yes, even the romance that drives Hour of the Dragon. It’s almost like a Nirvana song, going loud/quiet/loud /quiet in equal balance. This issue doesn’t end with a slam bang finish, which makes me wonder if he has plotted all 12 issues as a series of trilogies. If so, it is working.
Truman is also doing what I wish every Howard adaptor would do but few have the talent for—skillfully blending in his own writing and interpretations in a way that is almost invisible. He gives Zenobia a much larger role than Howard did, and by doing so makes her a stronger character. Every addition to the story flows smoothly, and I completely buy this Zenobia as an equal to Bêlit. She is not a warrior woman—nor should she be—but she has a strength and power that befits her role in the Conan mythos as Conan’s wife and queen. I like this Zenobia.
I do have a few minor grumbles. Truman’s exposition can get a little excessive. There was one scene in particular that I thought would have been stronger without exposition. It broke the rule of never showing and action and telling an action on the same page. If you show me a man bending over and getting a drink of water, you don’t need to tell me that is what he is doing at the same time.
(And this is super-nitpicky, but when a comic is this good I don’t have much more than nitpicks—I really don’t think Conan could have stabbed a dagger right through plate armor. He’s strong, but not that strong. Really, the dagger would have snapped. But there it is.)
And Tomas Giorello—I don’t care if you are a Conan fan or not, if you just love beautiful art you will enjoy this comic. Giorello is a fine draftsman. His line work is magnificent, recalling the other great Conan artist Barry Windsor-Smith, especially in Zenobia’s Pre-Raphaelite face. And I love his Michelangelo-posed figures. As the proud owner of a Fine Arts degree I appreciate his classical compositions and musculature.
But man, where Giorello really shines is his panels. I love going page by page over this book and really noticing how he arranges and plays with his panels. There is one page that uses an inverted pyramid sequence of panels to draw you tighter and tighter into the scene. In a fight scene, he sets up short and long panels to differentiate between short snaps of time and longer motions. His art is innovative and classical all at the same time.
Color artist Jose Villarrubia puts the finish touch on Hour of the Dragon and brings it all together. Giorello and Villarrubia have been working as a team for so long I couldn’t image anyone else doing the task. They are as in synch as Mike Mignola and the King of Colors himself, Dave Stewart. I especially love Villarrubia’s effects on magic and the supernatural elements of the story. I can’t wait to see what he does when Conan makes his way to Stygia, and a certain immortal lady steps onto the stage.
A beautiful series all around. This is one for the ages and Truman, Giorello, and Villarrubia are creating something that is going to delight Howard fans for decades to come. Now the long wait for the next issue begins.