Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Timothy Truman
Artist: Tomás Giorello
Release Date: 21st January, 2015
I hadn’t realised before I picked this collection up, but this volume is actually the second part of Timothy Truman’s adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s ‘The Hour of the Dragon’, the only full-length Conan novel ever published by the acclaimed author. Don’t let that put you off though, as Truman begins here by smoothly recapping the events which have led us to this point, making this an incredibly satisfying self-contained reading experience in its own right.
The previous volume saw an older Conan, now King of Aquilonia, usurped by a group of conspirators following the resurrection of Xaltotun, an ancient sorcerer. His throne taken from him in a bloody coup, Conan is throw in jail and scheduled to be executed before a young slave girl Zenobia risks her life to set him free. This volume – framed as an aging, grey-haired Conan recounting the events of his life to a scribe – is based around Conan’s quest to obtain a magical gem to help defeat Xaltotun, and features vampires, evil sorcerers, slave galleys and giant snakes; basically everything a self-respecting fantasy fan could hope for.
Now, to the adaptation itself; widely regarded as one of REH’s best works, the burden of expectation was definitely on the shoulders of Truman as he attempted to translate this epic, sprawling tale into the graphic novel format. However, he manages to do so with style and flair, tweaking the original prose ever so slightly to improve the reading experience while still staying true to the source material. While Howard had Conan strangely absent during the final battle, Truman pushes him firmly into the spotlight, providing a satisfyingly visceral conclusion to this tale of treachery and revenge. He also beefs up the role of slave girl Zenobia, making her a more than worthy recipient of Conan’s affection.
As impressively steady as Truman’s hand is through this series, the collection is pushed to a whole new level by the utterly stunning artwork of Tomás Giorello. Detailed, kinetic and incredibly expressive, Giorello churns out poster-worthy page after poster-worthy page, propelling the story forwards and providing a stunning level of solidity and impact to the frequent, blood-soaked skirmishes. There’s almost something of a Bernie Wrightston in the lightly shaded detail he puts to the page, adding an extra layer of atmosphere to the proceedings, and while his female characters do have a tendency to all look alike, his action sequences are among some of the best I’ve ever seen.
As a relative newcomer to the fantasy genre, I was completely blown away by the storytelling here, both written and visual. Rather than merely being conveyed as a mindless, chest-thumping barbarian, this book delves a little deeper into the mindset of a fiercely proud man, and weaves an incredibly satisfying tale of revenge, swords and sorcery. Fans of Robert E. Howard are in for an absolute treat, but Conan newcomers like myself are also sure to find something to enjoy in this gorgeously illustrated collection.
You can purchase King Conan Vol. 4: The Conqueror from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy of this title) via their official website.
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