Fact: if it was easy, everybody would do it. Yes, that’s also true for being a ‘king.’ I’m not speaking about a ‘king’ of greater pomp and circumstance. I’m talking about accepting the responsibilities of leadership and then displaying them in such a fashion as to encourage more and more of your loyal citizens to genuinely ‘follow’ in your footsteps. Royals necessarily get a bad rap when they simply rule because of their bloodline, and that’s precisely why they get overthrown on so many occasions. If KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF DRAGON teaches us anything worth learning, it’s that sometimes a rogue, rowdy, or a rebel who takes a throne by force was truly destined to have that role, much more so than the charlatan who merely inherited it.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
When we last left Conan, some dreaded thing – a beast – was lunging at him and his accomplice Zenobia from out of the darkness. As happens all too often in tales of this sort, vanquishing one enemy really only means clearing the path for another, but this is the conflict the Cimmerian has been waiting for: Tarascus has returned to the castle, and – if our barbarian has anything to say about it – the man won’t draw breathe another day! Things don’t go as smoothly as he would’ve liked, and Conan is left with no other course but to flee the palace. Flee he does, and the promise of new adventure – taking back his throne – awaits him and his loyal readers.
One of the standards of palace intrigue – especially those tales involving kings who would align with the black arts – is that, eventually, wizards and warlocks are also apt to be double-crossed; thankfully, THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (03 of 06) is no different. Tarascus realizes that a man who deals in magic is almost as much threat as is a barbarian with a sword, so he necessarily acts out to preserve his time on the throne. This gives readers a chance to see a contrasting portrait of how royals behave – Tarascus turning on a gifted ally at the same time as Conan seeks to keep Zenobia’s identity a secret for her part in helping to spare his life – and that’s the stuff of great literature: present readers with opposing viewpoints so that they can choose who is the better ‘king’ to follow.
Also, this third installment is the first time I personally felt that the action and intrigue finally rose to the level of perfection. Scribe Timothy Truman has adapted Howard’s original novel in such a way as to hone in on the greater moments, and this third issue feels like there’s finally a genuine understanding between the original tale, the adaptation process, and the pacing. It starts with a big action sequence – Conan facing down a blood-thirsty ape preying on the dungeon inhabitants – and it builds consistently toward a climax … with the necessary side jaunts along the way.
Furthermore, Truman’s perspective has been to book-end his tale as an aging King Conan narrating this story via flashbacks to a royal scribe. (This may be a conceit of Howard’s original novel, as well; I couldn’t say, as I’ve yet to read it.) Whereas the first two issues had to dispense moments of establishing the characters, this third installment benefits from that narrative device mostly being left in the background – it shows up fleetingly – and, thus, the actual tale finally gets the center stage treatment it deserves.
All in all, DRAGON is definitely shaping up in a way that I’d imagine pleases most Howard fans and even his fiercest fanatics. Bravo, Dark Horse! Bravo, indeed!
KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 3 of 6) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Timothy Truman; the art is by Tomas Giorella; the colors are by Jose Villarrubia; and the lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an adaptation of a tale woven by Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, himself. All of its bloody glory comes with the cover price of $3.50, and that's a bargain at any slaying!
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. Finally, the myth that is KING CONAN becomes but a man in THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (03 of 06). He may not be of noble blood, but Conan on occasion demonstrates that he understands that truly serving people occasionally means rising up, vanquishing enemies against all odds, and inspiring them to align themselves behind a great man. Zenobia’s kinship inspires Conan to accept the demands of leading, and he rises above his natural barbaric instincts in order to save the two of them from certain doom.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (03 of 06) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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