ADVANCE REVIEW: King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel

A comic review article by: Zack Davisson

ADVANCE REVIEW! King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel will go on sale Wednesday, February 15, 2012.


There is a scene in the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film that I always loved. It took place at the end of the credits, and showed Arnold Schwarzenegger as an aged King Conan, brooding on his throne. Somehow that single shot had as much power as the entire film, and there was always the promise that the story of that scene would someday be told. Unfortunately, that promise never came through. Endless incompetent Hollywood script writers, actors, and directors have managed to produce nothing but Conan garbage since then. It is only in the realm of comic books that the promised power of that scene has been realized.

King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel is that scene. And it is powerful. And aged King Conan, gray and scarred from a lifetime of battle, sits on his throne. Surrounded by the trappings of a victorious king -- fine wine drunk from golden goblets, pretty dancing girls at his feet -- he is still a powerful and commanding warrior. Hither comes Pramis, a scholar from Nemedia, under orders to talk to King Conan, and to put his stories down into a document that would become known as the Nemedian Chronicles. And if you know anything about Conan, that should give you goosebumps right there.

The Scarlet Citadel is one of my favorite Robert E. Howard Conan stories. It is infused not only with Howard’s primal energy, but it also is touched by the weird world of Lovecraft and filled with strange monsters and sanity-shocking horrors. Conan, trapped by intrigue and magic, fights his way through the horror-haunted dungeons of Tsotha-Lanti and the Scarlet Citadel. A trusty yard of iron in his hand, Conan meets things even he cannot overcome and is put on the defensive as he flees for his life. Meanwhile, his kingdom of Aquilonia burns as the upstart Prince Arpello tries to steal the throne, backed by the kings of Ophir and Koth. 

Truman’s adaptation of The Scarlet Citadel is heavy with maturity. Not only in theme, of an old warrior looking back on his past, but in execution. In his introduction, Tim Truman says that it is only four years of experience writing Conan that allowed him to craft something as daring as King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel. The idea that it was ultimately Conan who dictated his own story, who essentially wrote the Nemedian Chronicles is a bold idea that works beautifully. The framing device of the old King Conan spinning yarns to a young scribe works perfectly, and infuses a familiar tale like The Scarlet Citadel with fresh life. This is adaptation at its finest. 

Maturity also defines the work of the art team of Tomas Giorello and Jose Villarrubia. I can’t believe that at one point in time I wasn’t happy with their Conan artwork. Over four years, they have refined their skills and perfected their craft until they have become the quintessential Conan art team. Their interpretation of an aged King Conan is nothing short of phenomenal. I believe completely in the reality of their characters. And Giorello gets extra props for his handling of the monsters in The Scarlet Citadel. It is a rare artist that can draw both the human and the monstrous with such fluency.

King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel is not only the best Conan comic of modern times, it is one of the best comics period. This is good in every single way a comic book can be good, in every way a literary adaptation can be good, and in every way Conan can be 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.

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