One of the developments that can make an interesting character even more exciting is when he behaves in some manner either contradicting his nature or that knowingly increases his own jeopardy in any given situation. Granted, writers will on occasion manufacturer such instances in order to play up a dramatic angle to the plot, but so long as it happens organically with the greater story then that’s an easy circumstance to overlook if you’re a happy reader. When a long-established character does it, the stakes are obviously a bit higher, as cynical readers might look away fearing that this uncharacteristic development is little more than a stylistic “jumping off the shark.” Again, I’d have to argue that if – and only if – it serves the story and appears to be a one-time-occurrence, why quibble with it? Why not instead sit back and enjoy it for nothing more than what it is?
(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 …)
With the help of the lovely Zenobia (whom he’s promised to return one day to liberate), our fabled Conan tears away on horseback from the castle of his imprisonment. His mission: to return home and retake the throne from those who’ve usurped his reign. However, even a man on a mission will stop to aide an old woman suffering the beating of her life at the hands of three surly soldiers. Little did Conan know that this was no ordinary “hag” – Zelata has been practicing the art of witchcraft for years. To return the favor, she offers the Cimmerian some disturbing visions of what has transpired in his absence, and she counsels him on what’s necessary to get back on the throne. As fate would have it, Conan sees a challenge much more treacherous than even he had imagined.
With this fourth part of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON, scribe Timothy Truman pushes the narrative into a more provincial direction than what had come before: he presents a vengeful Conan seeking a return to normalcy. There’s little time or space for the hints of a life-changing romance, but what there is continues to be a veritable feast for hungry followers of the Cimmerian’s life. At this point, it becomes clear that this story will not likely wrap up as conventionally as perhaps one may’ve assumed back at its onset. In fact, it may not conclude in this run at all.
The challenge before the barbarian are mythic in scope – in order to set things right, he must find ‘the heart of a kingdom.’ What’s missing in those cryptic words from the wayward witch is what shape such heart may take. Does it describe a gem used previously by the sorcerer who helped bring Conan to such a lowly state, or could the phrase mean something a tad more personal? Naturally, our hero is up to whatever quest is required of him, but first things first: there’s a fair maiden trapped in an Iron Tower (not Zenobia but instead the Countess Albiona) needing his help. Alas, sorcery has been no friend to him.
Still, legends of this sort are exactly what one might expect from any of Conan’s adventures, and Truman and his creative team continue to display why they’re in the right place at the right time in both the Cimmerian as well as his readers’ lives.
KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 4 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!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. No good man ever goes down without a fight, and this fourth issue definitely serves up some of the most gruesome kills of KING CONAN’s run thus far. And why shouldn’t it? The man’s faced life and death more times than he cares to remember. While he’s quick to rush in where others fear to tread, it certainly looks like there may be more challenges in store for the fallen king ... even if that means embracing the dark arts.
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 (04 of 06) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.