ADVANCED REVIEW: King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1 (of 4)

A comic review article by: Zack Davisson


ADVANCE REVIEW! King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1 will go on sale Wednesday, January 25, 2012.

Getting a new Truman/Giorello/Villarrubia Conan story is like getting water to a thirsty man. After the disappointment of Road of Kings, it is so nice to just be able to crack the covers of a new Conan story and say, oh yeah. This is how you do it.

And not just any Conan story. The Phoenix on the Sword.

If any story can be said to be the Conan story, it is The Phoenix on the Sword. This is the first Conan story, built from a recycled plot from the rejected King Kull story By this Axe I Rule, Robert E. Howard rewrote the basic plot of the Kull story with a new character that had sprung to life in his mind one day. Conan would quickly come to dominate all of Howard’s fiction, as Kull and the gang slipped to the sidelines. Indeed, hither came Conan.

In the first of Dark Horse’s Conan series, writer Kurt Busiek added to the Conan Canon with the addition of the Wazir and the Prince from the famous opening lines Know. O Prince. Then in King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel, writer Tim Truman delved further into the Nemedian Chronicles deciding that they were dictated by Conan himself, to the Nemedian scribe Pramis. Truman continues the trope here, with an aging yet still powerful Conan, white-bearded and lips loosed by copious quantities of vinegar and fermented mare’s milk, telling the story of how he almost lost his kingdom to the poet Rinaldo and his band of traitors.

In the miniseries format, Tim Truman has really been able to shine. Because Robert E. Howard mainly wrote short stories, working with a miniseries allows Truman to adapt the story to the right length without having to invent filler and subplots to try and pad out the story. He distills Conan down to its most perfect essence, then reaches into his own extensive knowledge of history to add some details and polish. And it is perfect. I don’t know how many times I have read Howard’s The Phoenix on the Sword. Dozens. More. But even though I know the story well, Truman has kept up the tension keeping me wondering what will happen next even though I know very well. It isn’t really the what that I am waiting for, but the how. How will Truman portray a scene? And how will Tomas Giorello draw it?

Tomas Giorello’s art is stunning. I really can’t praise it enough. It is hard for me to believe that when Giorello and Jose Villarrubia first took over the art chores on Conan I was disappointed. Both Giorello and Villarrubia have steadily improved issue by issue until their Conan is as iconic as any of the great Conan artists. Their old King Conan in particular has a face so full of character, with carved valleys and deep-set eyes. Giorello’s work is so detailed that I can spend time just looking over the background, not wanting a single line to go to waste. There is a two-page spread in The Phoenix on the Sword of Conan reminiscing about his days in Asgard and Vanaheim that is so beautiful I want to cut it out and hang it up. 

The Phoenix on the Sword is a perfect Conan comic. Tim Truman -- a self-described diehard Howard devotee -- knows just how to mine Howard’s rich text for visual gold. And Giorello and Villarrubia’s art captures all of the spirit of Howard’s Hyborian Age. With this first Conan story to adapt, they all have rich material to build from. If you are a Conan fan, or just someone who loves good comics, you must read this.



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.

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