Tuesday 18 June 2013

King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon #1

Many apologies for the delays in the Scottish Invasion the Fourth posts, the aforementioned combination of Blogger issues and Internet maladies have ganged up: don't worry, they're coming. In the meantime, I'll migrate a couple of thoughts on King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon #1.

If I come across as a hardline, merciless canon-thumper in all my reviews of Howard (or Tolkien or Burroughs or just about anyone's) adaptations, I can only say one thing: Mark Finn explained to me why that's not necessarily a bad thing. As I'd said, I met and talked briefly with Tim Truman, and saw how much of a genuine REH fan he was. So I was starting to feel a bit conflicted: if I was agreeing with everything Tim was saying, and finding so much in common with his likes, dislikes and even opinions, then what was my deal with his work on Dark Horse's Conan? Luckily, you can blame Mark for elucidating what I'd been trying to figure out for a long time: using Howard as the yardstick is a measure of consistency. By comparing any adaptation to the source material, I'm making comments and criticisms that have weight for context. With so much criticism, it's easy to say "I just don't like it," but when I like or dislike an adaptation because of its divergences from the source material, then it has at least one thing going for it - consistency.

But therein lies the rub: what if you don't mind alterations to the source material? What if, after decades of reading and re-reading the stories, you actually like little tweaks and twists? What if you're of the opinion that it's not only inevitable, but desirable for the adaptation writer to diverge - thereby putting their mark on the adaptation in a way that would be more difficult in a straight translation? My only answer is well, duh! If you're OK with all that, then you're OK with all that: what could anything I say matter a bean? And likewise, when adapting an existing story, the adaptation writer has no obligation to be faithful.

So with that in mind, here is my golden rule for adaptations:

The Golden Rule of Adaptation Fidelity
When one adapts a story from one medium to another, the only measure of fidelity that matters is between how faithful the adaptor says it will be, and how faithful it actually is.

If your adaptation of Sherlock Holmes is set in the 21st Century and thus completely alters the setting, context and history of Conan Doyle's work, then there's little point in grousing about how the adaptation of "A Study in Scarlet" has certain deviations. If your adaptation of "The Tempest" is set in deep space in the far future and replaces the titular storm with a Monster from the Id, then you certainly shouldn't need to feel forced into adapting Shakespeare's text. On the other hand, if you adapt the setting, characters, plot and text of a story, and - this is important - promote the adaptation as faithful, then it is in your best interests to ensure the adaptation is indeed faithful to the source material, simply as a matter of accurate promotion. If you don't set out to make a faithful adaptation, then people can hardly criticise you for the adaptation's divergences without being redundant: likewise, if you do set out to make a faithful adaptation, then you'd best do your damnedest to live up to your own statements.

So after that roundabout introduction, I should say this is probably going to be the most critical review of King Conan on the net - in that it has the most criticisms. Do not mistake that, however, for a thumbs-down: it is an excellently drawn and written story, and I happily and cheerfully endorse it. I definitely find it far, far superior to the team's adaptations of "The Scarlet Citadel" and "The Phoenix on the Sword" (I found the former excellent and the latter hit-and-miss). I do, however, think a deeper look could be interesting for me as well as for anyone else - at least, it'll be interesting to see how much is based on difference of opinion, and how much is active divergence.

I'm not going Good Scot/Bad Scot on this because I don't know if anything is necessarily good or bad, just observations. I have the Gerald Parel cover: a lot of people preferred the Sanjulian alternate, and indeed it's a beautiful piece of work, but I think Parel's has enough going for it. In any case, both are a bit too Arnold for my liking - Sanjulian even went as far as to take the 1982 film's final shot as inspiration:

I mean, I know they're drumming up interest for The Legend of Conan, but still...

Now, I've hinted that I really disliked Busiek's "Prince & Vizier" device, mostly because it's painfully obvious the Vizier's meant to be Thoth-Amon (or at least meant to fool the readers into thinking it's meant to be Thoth-Amon), but also because I feel it intrudes into the actual stories too much. At his panel, Tim told the audience of the need to deal with putting pages of words into comparatively less pages of art & words. With "The Hour of the Dragon," there's a lot of compressing even in this first issue, and so it rankles when a good five pages are dedicated to Truman's pastiche material that I feel could have been used on Howard's original material.

Truman's King Conan and Pramis interludes are a lot more appealing than the Prince & Vizier, mostly because, well, it's actually Conan as opposed to a nameless prince. It's obviously thematically tied to Howard's statements in his letters of the Conan stories following no chronology, but more like the rambling storytelling of an old warrior skipping from year to year out of sequence. Of course, the problem of using an older King Conan relating the events of the story is that I feel it robs the king stories of one of their greatest advantages over the thief/reaver/slayer tales: the possibility that Conan could die.

Of course, the law of serial protagonists means we know Conan probably won't die, but I maintain there's a difference between reading a story about an 18-year-old Conan knowing that just one or two stories ago he was a 40-year-old king, and a story about the 40-year-old king set at the chronological end of his written adventures. "The Hour of the Dragon" could well have been Conan's very last adventure to those reading it in Weird Tales all those years ago - as could "The Phoenix on the Sword" and "The Scarlet Citadel" - without access to the P.S. Miller letter where Howard assures Miller of Conan's "turbulent and unquiet reign" of "many years." The Miller letter wasn't published until after Howard's death and the last Conan story was typed - indeed, it wasn't until 1953 with the Gnome Press Coming of Conan - and nobody was "officially" writing new Conan stories until de Camp came along in the 1950s.

But the Old King Conan interlude is, by its nature, speculative. Everyone has a different idea of Conan's kingship and later years. In my mind, Conan died before his hair turned fully grey - and pertinently, before Zenobia died. Truman, like other authors before him, has Conan outlive Zenobia, as this comic begins with Conan visiting Zenobia's tomb. It's certainly a valid interpretation, but since Zenobia was a mere girl when Conan first met her, I concluded that she may well have outlived Conan. Of course, it seems possible that both de Camp and Truman are either consciously or unconsciously evoking Empress Theodora, as indeed Howard himself may have done - Theodora died before Justinian too. So if Truman's going for the historical analogue approach, there are few better inspirations than the former prostitute who became empress of the mightiest empire of the world to a man decades her elder.*

After Conan chastises Pramis for interrupting his gigantic melancholies, we start in the actual adaptation. And as ever, Truman & Giorello show they know their stuff: the Rebel Four v3.0 are clutching the "black gold candles" for the ceremony, a dog is howling outside the mysterious tomb, and Giorello even includes the stars and crescent moons on Xaltotun's robe in such a way that he still looks incredibly menacing, when it would be easy for it to be camp and silly. The four conspirators are easily distinguishable not just from each other, but previous conspirators from "The Phoenix on the Sword" and "The Scarlet Citadel": I particularly like the depiction of Tarascus.

But the one thing they needed to get right was Xaltotun himself, and they capture the Acheronian brilliantly: he has both the sinister draconian aspect which makes him terrible, and yet is powerfully built and almost handsome in countenance, with a very leonine head without going into Vincent territory. He is, in short, very close to how I personally pictured Xaltotun myself: my mental picture is more stately and composed than Giorello's somewhat fierce wizard, but when it comes down to it, he's immediately recognisable as Xaltotun to me, which is the only thing that matters.

Here the problem of compression is most evident: this issue crams 19 pages of no less than 8,000 words into 17 fully illustrated pages. As a result, the entire first chapter is done in only 6 pages. While there were several lovely touches like those I mentioned above, it would be impossible to cram every little detail Howard puts in:

 - The sinister "something" which lurked outside the door and pushed against it was gone, and Howard's subtle magic (the sarcophagus burst outward "as if from some irresistible pressure applied from within," while Orastes' mirror conjures a reflection of Conan in a mirror by staring at it for a bit) is replaced with more fancy razzmatazz (the sarcophagus actually explodes violently, while Xaltotun - not Orastes - uses flaming hand-waving to see an image of Conan from thin air). This is undoubtedly much more visually exciting, but I feel the loss of subtlety runs the risk of reducing the impact of more profound magic.

Consult your doctor about Spontaneous Finger Combustion today: don't die of embarrassment.
 - In Howard, Xaltotun's return is somewhat slower. (He lay motionless, his eyes wide open, and blank and unknowing as a newborn babe’s...“There is no intelligence in his stare, Orastes...” “He has long been dead.... He is as one newly awakened. His mind is empty after the long sleep – nay, he was dead, not sleeping. We brought his spirit back over the voids and gulfs of night and oblivion...”The lips of the man moved mechanically. “Xaltotun!” he repeated in a groping whisper...) It shows both Amalric's greater astuteness, as well as reinforcing the idea of Xaltotun's resurrection being a strange, unearthly thing. Here, Xaltotun more or less shakes the cobwebs in a few seconds, since there isn't enough space to ease Xaltotun back in gradually.

 - Steve Tompkins notes in the original story Xaltotun's strange reaction to the Hyborian era map: (Xaltotun regarded it, and then shook his head, baffled. “The very outlines of the land are changed. It is like some familiar thing seen in a dream, fantastically distorted... “It is the map of a world I do not know,” said Xaltotun softly, but Orastes did not miss the lurid fire of hate that flickered in his dark eyes.”) which might suggest part of Xaltotun's motivation beyond the usual desire for domination could actually be something as simple as desire to restore the past - to return home. This does a bit to add some rare humanity to the otherwise inhuman Xaltotun. Naturally, this bit had to be cut for time.

Onto the second chapter. Now, while I must commend Truman on his efforts to include as much Howard into the text as he can, to particularly striking effect in "Iron Shadows in the Moon," I must also point out that in the significant shortening of the story, this has also led to a bit of "remixing" of Howard's text. For example, here's the first few paragraphs of Chapter Two, "A Black Wind Blows":

The year of the Dragon had birth in war and pestilence and unrest. The black plague stalked through the streets of Belverus, striking down the merchant in his stall, the serf in his kennel, the knight at his banquet board. Before it the arts of the leeches were helpless. Men said it had been sent from hell as punishment for the sins of pride and lust. It was swift and deadly as the stroke of an adder. The victim’s body turned purple and then black, and within a few minutes he sank down dying, and the stench of his own putrefaction was in his nostrils even before death wrenched his soul from his rotting body. A hot, roaring wind blew incessantly from the south, and the crops withered in the fields, the cattle sank and died in their tracks.

Men cried out on Mitra, and muttered against the king; for somehow, throughout the kingdom, the word was whispered that the king was secretly addicted to loathsome practises and foul debauches in the seclusion of his nighted palace. And then in that palace death stalked grinning on feet about which swirled the monstrous vapors of the plague. In one night the king died with his three sons, and the drums that thundered their dirge drowned the grim and ominous bells that rang from the carts that lumbered through the streets gathering up the rotting dead.

That night, just before dawn, the hot wind that had blown for weeks ceased to rustle evilly through the silken window curtains. Out of the north rose a great wind that roared among the towers, and there was cataclysmic thunder, and blinding sheets of lightning, and driving rain. But the dawn shone clean and green and clear; the scorched ground veiled itself in grass, the thirsty crops sprang up anew, and the plague was gone – its miasma swept clean out of the land by the mighty wind.

Men said the gods were satisfied because the evil king and his spawn were slain, and when his young brother Tarascus was crowned in the great coronation hall, the populace cheered until the towers rocked, acclaiming the monarch on whom the gods smiled.

Such a wave of enthusiasm and rejoicing as swept the land is frequently the signal for a war of conquest. So no one was surprized when it was announced that King Tarascus had declared the truce made by the late king with their western neighbors void, and was gathering his hosts to invade Aquilonia. His reason was candid; his motives, loudly proclaimed, gilded his actions with something of the glamor of a crusade. He espoused the cause of Valerius, “rightful heir to the throne”; he came, he proclaimed, not as an enemy of Aquilonia, but as a friend, to free the people from the tyranny of a usurper and a foreigner.

If there were cynical smiles in certain quarters, and whispers concerning the king’s good friend Amalric, whose vast personal wealth seemed to be flowing into the rather depleted royal treasury, they were unheeded in the general wave of fervor and zeal of Tarascus’s popularity. If any shrewd individuals suspected that Amalric was the real ruler of Nemedia, behind the scenes, they were careful not to voice such heresy. And the war went forward with enthusiasm.

The king and his allies moved westward at the head of fifty thousand men – knights in shining armor with their pennons streaming above their helmets, pikemen in steel caps and brigandines, crossbowmen in leather jerkins. They crossed the border, took a frontier castle and burned three mountain villages, and then, in the valley of the Valkia, ten miles west of the boundary line, they met the hosts of Conan, king of Aquilonia – forty-five thousand knights, archers and men-at-arms, the flower of Aquilonian strength and chivalry.

Space is at a premium in Dark Horse's adaptation - and so Truman has to put all that in a single page. Here's what Truman came up with:

Thus the Year of the Lion passed into bleak star-light and memory, and a new era roared forth.

The year of the dragon brought with it war, pestilence, and unrest. A hot wind blew in from the south. Crops withered in the fields. Cattle sank and died in their tracks.

Famine was followed by plague. Sickness and death stalked the streets of the Nemedian capital. Before it, the physicians were helpless.

The sickness had no regard for statio, striking down merchant, serf, and knight with equal rancor.

In one night, King Nemed and his three sons died, felled by the ravages of the strange plague.

The day after the king's death, a great wind roared among the towers and a cleansing rain fell upon the fields. The dawn shone clean and green and clear.

Soon crops sprang up anew. As though by miracle, the plague was gone, its miasma swept from the land.

When the king's brother Tarascus was crowned, the populace cheered until the towers rocked. "Here," they said, "is a monarch on whom the gods smile!"

Alas, such rejoicing is often a signal for conquest.

Thus, no one was surprised when King Tarascus gathered his knights and renounced the truce made between the late king and his western neighbours.

Was not his exiled friend, Valerius, the rightful heir to Aquilonia? Tarascus vowed to help Valerius free his people from the tyranny of the foreign usurper, Conan.

At the head of an army of fifty thousand men, Tarascus and Xaltotun moved westward, razing castles and burning villages as they passed.

In the valley of the Valkia, ten miles west of the border. They met the hosts of Conan, king of Aquilonia.

There are quite a few reviews which mention the prose & dialogue, usually something along the lines of "too overt for its own good," "a bit forced and dry," "comes off rather corny" - but attributing this as much to Howard as to Truman. I disagree on two points: 1. While Truman does his best to bring some of Howard's most poetic and colourful phrases into his text, this is absolutely his own writing for the most part; 2. His writing isn't half bad at all - it ain't Howard, but there's only one of him. In rewriting Howard for the purposes of the comic, Truman is making a brew with Howard ingredients: it's its own animal, and should be judged as such.

To play play armchair Howard adaptor for a second, here's how I would've done this part, if limited to a single page and the same number of pages for the whole story as Truman & Giorello.

The year of the Dragon had birth in war and pestilence and unrest.
A black plague stalked through the streets of Belverus, striking down the merchant in his stall, the serf in his kennel, the knight at his banquet board. Before it the arts of the leeches were helpless.
A hot, roaring wind blew incessantly from the south, and the crops withered in the fields, the cattle sank and died in their tracks.

In one night the king died with his three sons. That night, out of the north rose a great wind that roared among the towers, and driving rain. But the dawn shone clean and green and clear; the thirsty crops sprang up anew, and the plague was gone – its miasma swept clean out of the land by the mighty wind.

When Tarascus was crowned in the great coronation hall, the populace cheered until the towers rocked, acclaiming the monarch on whom the gods smiled.

Such a wave of enthusiasm and rejoicing as swept the land is frequently the signal for a war of conquest.
So no one was surprised when it was announced that King Tarascus had declared the truce made by the late king with their western neighbors void, and was gathering his hosts to invade Aquilonia.
He espoused the cause of Valerius, “rightful heir to the throne”; he came, he proclaimed, not as an enemy of Aquilonia, but as a friend, to free the people from the tyranny of a usurper and a foreigner.

The king and his allies moved westward at the head of fifty thousand men. They crossed the border, took a frontier castle and burned three mountain villages.
In the valley of the Valkia, ten miles west of the boundary line, they met the hosts of Conan, king of Aquilonia.

The thing is... This isn't really much different, is it? It's cutting out so many of Howard's great little details and nuances that it ends up being soulless, lifeless, staid - Truman may have re-written and rearranged the text, but in doing so, it doesn't come across like several lines have been cut. Howard crafted the story exactly as he wanted it, and if anything can be discerned from his vast volume of work, it's that he wrote with great economy. So really, most of my issues with King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon are outside Truman & Giorello's control: 12 issues simply isn't enough for such an epic tale. I'd even argue 22 issues, one for each chapter, may be inadequate - though it would undoubtedly put a tremendous strain on Giorello, hard-working as he is.

See, if you reduce even a few paragraphs to such a small space, you lose so much detail which enrich the story so greatly - the superstitious fears of the Nemedians leading to the evangelical rejoicing upon the cessation of the famine & plague, the subtle hints at the previous king's unpopularity and alleged propensity for debauchery (and tying in beautifully with "The Phoenix on the Sword," for was Prospero not warned to kiss Numa's "dancing girls" only for himself?) the cynical courtiers astutely noting Amalric's part yet not daring to voice those concerns, and especially the idea that the Nemedians were caught up in Tarascus' jingoistic power plays. Single sentences in Howard's original open up the complexities and many facets of the Nemedian court in the lead-up to war in less than a hundred words, which would be enough for an entire George R. R. Martin novel.

Wouldn't it run the risk of people recognizing Valannus if his face wasn't fully covered (as in the book)? And wouldn't speaking do the same thing? Unless Valannus does a good Cimmerian accent...

And this distillation continues. Conan's conversation with Pallantides is probably the most extended conversation still intact, while the battle itself is extremely shortened: very little of the formations, movements and tactics are retained, which was a particular shame for me, since the Battle of the Valkia's one of my favourite REH battles. Again, I understand why that's the case (can you imagine poor Tomas' wrist after drawing a battle with 100,000 men for a comparable number of pages to Howard's descriptions?) but I would've loved for elements like Tarascus' feint, the melee in the river, and the subtle hints that Xaltotun psychically compelled Valannus into his disastrous charge to remain. That said, you'd probably require an entire comic for all just the battle.

But if I could point to a single criticism that's based on actual divergence as opposed to truncation, it's how Xaltotun breaks down the cliffs. This is how REH described it:

He staggered as the walls of the tent swayed drunkenly. Afar over the thunder of the fight rose a deep bellowing roar, indescribably ominous.

“The cliffs reel!” shrieked the squire. “Ah, gods, what is this? The river foams out of its channel, and the peaks are crumbling! The ground shakes and horses and riders in armor are overthrown! The cliffs! The cliffs are falling!”

With his words there came a grinding rumble and a thunderous concussion, and the ground trembled. Over the roar of the battle sounded screams of mad terror.
“The cliffs have crumbled!” cried the livid squire. “They have thundered down into the defile and crushed every living creature in it! I saw the lion banner wave an instant amid the dust and falling stones, and then it vanished! Ha, the Nemedians shout with triumph! Well may they shout, for the fall of the cliffs has wiped out five thousand of our bravest knights – hark!”

Technically, Truman & Giorello could've done what they liked: after all, REH never explained how Xaltotun brought the cliffs down during the Valkia. But there is are several clues at how this was accomplished in later chapters:

“Aquilonia is doomed,” answered Xaltotun, unmoved. “Lance and ax and torch shall conquer her; or if they fail, powers from the dark of ages shall march against her. As the cliffs fell at Valkia, so shall walled cities and mountains fall, if the need arise, and rivers roar from their channels to drown whole provinces.
 - Chapter IV, "From What Hell Have You Crawled?"

“We cannot doubt that it is indeed Xaltotun of Python,” said Hadrathus. “He it was who shook down the cliffs at Valkia, by his spells that enthrall the elementals of the earth – he it was who sent the creature of darkness into your tent before dawn.”
 - Chapter X, "A Coin from Acheron"

“Set, god of darkness, scaly lord of the shadows, by the blood of a virgin and the sevenfold symbol I call to your sons below the black earth! Children of the deeps, below the red earth, under the black earth, awaken and shake your awful manes! Let the hills rock and the stones topple upon my enemies! Let the sky grow dark above them, the earth unstable beneath their feet! Let a wind from the deep black earth curl up beneath their feet, and blacken and shrivel them – ”
 - Chapter XX, "The Road to Acheron"

It seems, then, that Xaltotun brought down the cliffs at Valkia by calling upon the "elementals of the earth" which are Set's children.

Truman and Giorello, on the other hand, decide to show Xaltotun bringing down the cliffs.

I can understand Truman & Giorello wanting to have some fun with the cliffs. Certainly I had my own interpretation, and I'd dare say everyone has their own idea of just what Xaltotun's sorcery looked like. Until I reread the story (my sixth? seventh? I'd read it a few times, in any case) I imagined the sundering of Valkia's cliffs to be somewhat like the fourth cinematic from the Undead campaign in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. In my personal interpretation of the cliffs reeling, I imagined something like Sargeras' destruction of Dalaran, only with a sort of "map" of the Valkia carved with runes and such into the ground, where Xaltotun would either crush or casually pour rocks representing the cliffs onto the sigil:

4th cinematic from the Undead campaign in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. Watch it in full screen if you can, even in 2003 Blizzard's CGI was theatre-quality.

I guess I just love the juxtaposition of seemingly innocuous gestures with monstrous devastation. But when I realised that the cliffs were essentially being undermined a la Worms of the Earth's destruction of the Tower of Trajan, that Xaltotun effectively commanded the things which dwell under the Red Earth, it seemed somehow scarier to me than Xaltotun using his own magical powers. Xaltotun marshaled the forces of Darkness Itself, and unlike so many half-human sorcerers, we could not hope that those forces would reject, usurp or abandon him.

But Howard does not reveal the information so early on: a magician does not reveal his tricks, after all, and in this case, showing exactly how the cliffs fall so soon robs it of its mystery - much like revealing the monster in a horror film too early, or describing it in so much detail that it ceases to be unknown, that it becomes mundane. Howard teases out the information over chapters, and it's notable that the one time we see Xaltotun actually enacting his incantations, it happens to be minutes before he is defeated. Up to "The Road to Acheron," Xaltotun's means and powers are obfuscated by shadow and mystery: how can you fight something you cannot even understand? But as soon as the characters - and the reader - start to see beyond the veil, he becomes more defined, more lucid - and more mortal. A tiger in the night is a demon: a tiger in the day is an animal.

The comic ends as Conan stumbles out of his pavilion to meet the Nemedians head-on. Another minor issue I have is that Xaltotun's clear usurpation of Tarascus' position - even going so far as to give Tarascus orders! - so early on anticipates their realisation that Xaltotun overpowers every member of the Rebel Four. It'll be interesting to see how Truman deals with this in issue 2, where Tarascus' suspicions that Xaltotun may make a more overt power play lead him to inadvertently save Conan's bacon - and, of course, what he'll do with Zenobia.

So King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon #1 - and, most likely, the rest of the series - has to limit itself only to the most important plot elements, with anything not of absolutely crucial relevance to the narrative and characters regrettably cut out. Again, this isn't on Truman, nor necessarily on Dark Horse. A 25-issue run to mirror Wood's run would mean either more breaks over a longer time, or fill-in artists - hardly desirable for an adaptation of a single novel. And as I've ranted on about, there are plenty of things I would've done differently. But this is Truman's adaptation, and considering the amount of compression he's had to do, I can't say anyone could've done a finer job and retain the details he has.

This was always going to be a strange series for me, though, because "The Hour of the Dragon" was always a very special Conan story to me. With nearly all the other Conans, even my very favourite, "The Tower of the Elephant," when I close my eyes to imagine, I can't quite visualise precisely what's happening. It is as Fritz Leiber said it: A mass of glimmering black for the menace, and ice blue cascade for the hero, between them a swath of crimson for battle, passion, blood - and that was the picture, or story, rather, except where a vivid detail might chance to spring to life, or a swift thought-arabesque be added. Conan, the other characters, the monsters, the magic, the cities - everything a blur, forms seen through a veil, dashes of paint in the broadest strokes imaginable. "The Hour of the Dragon," on the other hand - that I see with crystal clarity. I can see King Conan with his features cut like rock, the expression on his face as he struggles with his old wanderlust on the road to Messantia. I can see Xaltotun's draconic visage, more-than-human and yet decidedly inhuman, darkly angelic, enthralling in his horror. I can see Trocero's drooping moustache, Valerius starting to lose his mind to debauchery and excess, the stark brutality of the Iron Tower amidst the splendour of Aquilonia - everything. And so I guess Truman & Giorello's vision was always going to conflict with mine in a far more profound way than any other tale.

I will say, though, that Truman has managed something rather remarkable: this really could be treated as a gateway to the original story in ways that other adaptations may not. Consider just how much more detail there is in the novel which had to be trimmed for space: how much more subtle, richer and more vibrant the characters, settings and events are, to the point where I'm confident that someone who's read this comic could read "The Hour of the Dragon," and not feel like they're re-reading the comic. Much like short stories which were later adapted into full novels act as "sneak peeks," or good film adaptations turn people on to the original source material, King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon #1 could open up the world of Robert E. Howard's Conan in a way comparable comic adaptations might not.

Despite the brevity and breakneck pacing of the comic, Truman & Giorello manage to ensure - at least to me - that there's something beyond what you see or read on the page, that there is even more to discover. Just as Robert E. Howard himself did, in the original stories themselves.

*Theodora seems a pretty good match for Zenobia, but one must remember that there were many former prostitutes, concubines, hetaerae, courtesans and other such women who had gone on to affect the course of world history - and Howard of course was well aware of them - while Conan and Justinian have one or two commonalities themselves.

**Alright, technically it's more of a Final Flash or something, I'm not up on my anime Ki attacks... 

***One might think that Xaltotun calling upon eldritch horrors to rend the earth implies that he does not have powers of his own, but for one important difference: Xaltotun is completely unafraid of these beings. Thoth-Amon didn't dare turn around to face the Slave of the Ring; Tsotha-Lanti had to confine his horrors in the Halls of Hell; Thugra Khotan did not have complete control over his charioteer and steed. Xaltotun communes with forces of the outer dark, and they are enthralled to him. As mighty as the other sorcerers Conan has faced are, Xaltotun is on another level, another order of magnitude, beyond: this "son of a race of wizards" is practically a Child of the Dark himself. It's notable that out of all the sorcerers Conan's faced directly, Xaltotun is the only one which Conan does not - cannot - defeat with his sword. If Cthulhu rose during the Hyborian Age, there's a good chance he would take orders from Xaltotun. Remember that Thoth-Amon never directly challenged Conan in either "The God in the Bowl" or "The Phoenix on the Sword." Likewise, Yara was not Conan's enemy so much as Yogah's. 


  1. I like your "Golden Rule" regarding adaptations. There's a great bit of wisdom there for reviewers and critics to take to heart. Personally, the more an adaptor raves about how true to the original his or her work is when my back goes up. They immediately open themselves up to extra intense scrutiny.
    You've also made me realize I need to reread "Hour of the Dragon" this summer.

  2. Great review. I agree with you on almost most all the points. You had great insights which I hadn't noticed or didn't even think when reading this issue.

    I was pleased with this issue overall.

    However, I don't like the framing device at all. Conan's later life was a mystery even to REH and I feel this framing device hurts that. I think it should be better to left for us to imagine what happened to Conan.
    I didn't like Buziek's Prince&Wazir framing device either but the very first scene when they find the statue of Conan had a better feel to it as it had this aura of mystery around it. "Who was that guy and what did he do" sort of a thing.

    I wasn't a fan of the look of Xaltotun but then again I doubt that my own mental image has much to do what REH wrote. Perhaps I will pay attention to that on my next re-read. I would also have preferred that the sorcery to be conveyed differently. Flashes of light are after all just cheap tricks. That is something what Tsotha-lanti would do, whom I consider the lowest of the sorcerers (his demon heritage aside) Conan meets.

    It is a shame that we only get twelve issues. As you wrote a lot of stuff gets left out or condensed.

    Also why weren't Conan's eyes blue? Some panels had some blue in them but for the most part they were brownish. Was the lighting supposed to bad or was this an oversight? IDONTUNDERSTAND!!

  3. You going to review the second issue

    1. When I get around to finding a copy, I think so: probably nowhere nearly as detailed as this one, but still.