This weekend at the comic shop, I stumbled across a new Conan series. But not just any Conan series. Dark Horse is adapting the only Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon, over two six-issue runs. I had to check it out. Was it any good? Yeah, it’s really good.
The Hour of the Dragon was written as a novel, but originally published over more than a year’s worth of Weird Tales issues. It details a slightly older Conan, the conquering king of Aquilonia. He’s made many enemies in his rise to power, and some of them band together to resurrect an ancient necromancer. With the help of the necromancer’s dark magic, they plot to overthrow Conan, forcing him into a long and perilous journey to recover that which he treasures most. It’s an amazing pulp adventure tale, filled with gritty sword & sorcery action, but taking on an epic sweep.
It’s never been fully adapted into full-color comic book form before. In the 1970s, Marvel adapted it over six issues of Giant-Size Conan and Savage Sword of Conan (with Roy Thomas, Gil Kane and John Buscema no less), but publication changes forced the last two issues to be done in black and white. Dark Horse is splitting the story over the six-issue King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon, and in 2014 another six-issues series, King Conan: The Conqueror.
I haven’t followed Dark Horse’s Conan offerings in a while, not since Kurt Busiek was penning the title. A few too many reboots and creative changes stifled my interest. As a result, I’m not familiar with the work of writer Timothy Truman and artist TomÃ¡s Giorello. Turns out that’s my loss, since they are both perfect for this kind of story.
The art is spectacular. Each panel is full of gritty detail and depth. It’s a kind of art I wouldn’t enjoy in a superhero comic, but is ideally suited to graphic fantasy. Giorello is highly skilled at visual storytelling as well — the action flows smoothly from panel to panel. This image, of the undead sorcerer casting a spell on Conan, is my favorite from the first issue.
Truman handles the writing duties with equal adeptness. He uses a simple framing story: a much older, grey-haired Conan relating the tales of his life to a scribe. And though this is just one chapter in Conan’s long and storied life, the plot is explained deftly and clearly so that even new readers can jump right in. And it’s a credit to both Robert E. Howard’s original story and Truman’s adaptation that even in the first issue there are some tense moments and unexpected twists, plus a massive military battle.
I’d probably read a Betty & Veronica comic if they called it Hour of the Dragon, but it turns out this is one of the best fantasy comics I’ve read in years.