One of the main goals of Dark Horse's Conan comics line has always been to tell the tale of the famed barbarian from beginning to end, cleaving closely to the original Robert E. Howard stories wherever possible but also filling in Conan's career where necessary. They've reached the time of Conan's kingship of Aquilonia, and have at last decided to tackle the only full-length novel Howard ever wrote about his most famous character: "The Hour of the Dragon." Fortunately, the classic team of Timothy Truman and Tomas Giorello seems set to do justice to this major work in a new "King Conan" six-issue miniseries.
Truman has written the bulk of Dark Horse's Conan comics, and it's easy to see why. He has an obvious reverence for the original stories of Howard, and is generally handy at converting them into fast-paced, entertaining comics that still resonate with the sense of ancientness that pervades all of Howard's work. Truman isn't afraid to let these stories take their time, and a good half of "King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon" #1 is given over to narration-heavy backstory. It does begin to drag a bit, as the comic starts to feel more like an illustrated edition of the novel than a comic book, but soon enough Conan leaps out of bed, sword in hand, and all is right with the world. Truman has a tendency as well to overburden action scenes with a bit too much dialogue, but even this is in keeping with the original stories, in which Conan was never a monosyllabic musclehead but a thoughtful warrior with a brutal, but well-defined, philosophy.
Giorello's art is, as always, magnificent. He draws everything in such detail that it feels almost real, and his characters move with personality. The framing scene at the beginning of the issue, showing an aged King Conan, gives us a man who is at once weighed down with melancholy but possessed of the undimmed ferocity of his youth. His design for Xaltotun, Conan's necromancer nemesis for this tale, is especially appealing -- rather than a frail old skeleton of a man, Xaltotun is a powerful, bearded figure who takes more than a little from Rasputin.
Jose Villarrubia's coloring also deserves mention. As always, he colors onto Giorello's uninked pencils, which gives the art a rough, hoary, old feeling perfect for the dark swords-and-sorcery tale it tells. Villarrubia always has excellent taste -- colors in Conan's world are universally muted, except for the powerful, important stuff like magic, blood, and war banners.
Overall, "King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon" looks like it will be a worthy addition to Dark Horse's Conan line, which has been of almost universally high quality over the last decade. Conan fans, both of the comics and the stories, will find it very familiar, and that perhaps is its key weakness-- Truman and Giorello never take chances with the stories they tell, and have never strayed from the careful formula that has worked so well for them. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing, but it would be interesting to see a more daring take on the character whose tales have been told and retold for three quarters of a century. Nevertheless, Truman and Giorello know their stuff, and Conan fans won't be disappointed.