Coming off of the narration-heavy issue #1, issue #2 of Timothy Truman and Tomas Giorello’s “King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon” is a welcome change of pace. It’s pretty much non-stop action from beginning to end, as a young King Conan is taken alive by the necromancer Xaltotun after the disastrous battle at Valkia. This gives it a much better flow than the debut issue, but more importantly, it really captures the feel of a classic Conan story.
Tim Truman has written Conan comics for so long that he probably has a better handle on the character than any other contemporary writer. Decades of stereotyping to the contrary, Conan isn’t a stupid, monosyllabic thug. He’s certainly a barbarian — he has an almost animal fear of magic, for example, which is always portrayed as the tool of decadent cowards in his stories. But he’s intelligent and self-aware, a trait that Truman captures well in the book’s opening narration, in which an elderly Conan reflects with bitter humor on how many times he was laid low by evil wizards in his career. Nevertheless, there’s violence beneath Conan’s veneer of foxhole philosophy, and Truman gives it equal treatment as the trapped barbarian happily smashes the skull of one of his jailers — and the aged Conan reflects on that, as well.
Tomas Giorello’s art also falls into its well-worn excellence here; the dirt and grime of the Hyborean Age come alive in his uninked pencils. Jose Villarrubia’s colors are simultaneously lush and gritty. Gerald Parel’s cover also deserves a special mention — it’s modern and powerful in its design, but would also fit perfectly on the cover of an old Conan paperback published by Lancer in the ’70s.
Each character has a distinct feel, from the barely-chained physical power of Conan himself, to the sneering face of the Kushite jailer who’s not long for this world, to the slightly animalistic features of Xaltotun, who breaks necromantic stereotype as a big, bearded Rasputin-like figure rather than a skeletal little thing.
Giorello also gets a bit more to do from the action side of things. Conan gives and receives quite a bit of punishment in this single issue, and Giorello ably shows it on the barbarian king’s face and body. Conan’s body language is in fact one of the great pleasures of Giorello’s art– he cleaves heads, staggers to his feet, gets zapped by magic, strains against shackles, sulks, and lurks through dungeons with a barely-restrained power visible in his huge muscles. His face is as expressive as his body, and his emotions can be plainly read there– appropriate for a character who sees lies and subterfuge as the tools of decadent civilization.
If there’s one place “Hour of the Dragon” #2 goes astray, it’s in the introduction of Zenobia, who readers know will be his queen someday. She appears in the stereotypical slave-girl-of-an-evil-king garb, leaving little to the imagination in her various sexy poses, and promptly frees Conan from his chains while giving a tearful admission of how she fell in love with him in a single glance years ago and has dreamed of him ever since. A modern female character she isn’t, despite earning Conan’s respect by choosing a good knife to bring him in his cell. It’s been years since I’ve read the original Robert E. Howard story that this comic is based on, but I can’t imagine it’s any more forward-thinking. Nevertheless, it would be nice to see future issues make Zenobia less like weeping arm candy and more like the proud warrior-queen who’s hinted at by the old King Conan’s narration.
Overall, issue #2 is a step up from #1 simply by virtue of the pace of its storytelling. The backstory is out of the way and now we can see Conan doing what he does best: bashing heads, creeping through dungeons and fighting wizards. Luckily, it’s what Truman and Giorello do best as well.