*Review written by contributor Lido Giovacchini
We now return to the continuing adventure of King Conan in his quest to reclaim his lost kingdom from the forces of magical foreign dictators. For those of you who missed my previous review of King Conan Hour of the Dragon issue 3 I said that it was in essence exactly what you expected from a Conan story and that what it had in functionality it lacked in depth, novelty, or imagination. At the time I suggested that Conan hadn’t really changed as a character or adapted to the modern fantasy landscape but now I don’t think that’s exactly the case. There’s a brief portion of this issue in which Conan basically considers abandoning his kingdom to go off drinking or some such other barbaric activity but decides he can’t abandon his people and that it’s not their fault for accepting their new ruler because they thought he was dead. This is actually a pretty strong moment for the character as an earlier Conan would’ve been fine to just abandon his kingdom to its self induced fate (a fact he isn’t shy about letting us know.)
I mention this moment in particular because it show’s how Conan has changed from being a wandering barbarian hero to a king of nation and also because the rest of the book is largely devoted to undoing that change. That’s what I’ve come to realize reading this installment is that by robbing Conan of his kingdom Hour of the Dragon forces Conan back into the role of wandering adventure albeit with more of a purpose then usual. I can’t help but feel our time would be better spent exploring Conan in situations he hasn’t been in before instead of wallowing in the character’s comfort zone. For instance very early on in this arc Conan’s army is destroyed by witchcraft of mass destruction when really the prospect of forcing Conan into a very real combat situation as a king would be a more interesting scenario if only because as king he’s too valuable to put into severely dangerous situations. Part of having Conan feel a sense of responsibility for his citizens is that it forces him out of the role of detached loner who doesn’t care about things because caring is un-cool so the character can actually have stakes in his actions and the events of the story, so he can’t just leave for any reason, but Hour of the Dragon just isn’t taking advantage of this change in the character.
As I mentioned the plot of Hour of the Dragon is that Conan’s country of Aquilonia has been attacked by villainous foreign powers who destroyed Conan’s armies using black magic and have sense taken over his kingdom with most of the citizens thinking the barbarian hero dead. Most of this is covered through dialogue instead of a text recap which works to an extent, events are explained for us but aren’t given in a real time frame though the basic outlines of the story are there enough for new readers.
This particular issue is focused mainly on set-up, maneuvering Conan back into Aquilonia and getting him ready to retake his kingdom, mainly involving him crossing paths with a forest witch. The forest witch stuff feels a lot like padding or a very round about way of having Conan shake his pursuers from the end of the previous issue while getting in some severely vague foreshadowing. Incidentally the forest witch is the one with the giant wolf on the cover except in the comic it’s just about the size of one of the dire wolves from Game of Thrones and isn’t nearly as big as the cover suggests. Other then that little flub most of the artwork is very good in big broad action strokes though there is the occasional odd face to bring things down.
Overall Conan is one those characters like Mario or Sherlock Holmes or Superman to a degree in that writers will often make the mistake as seeing them as simply the adventure and thinking that the character can’t be the focus of any of the drama so the only way to make the story interesting is by bringing in outside elements which does more harm then good. Stories like this view Conan as an immutable brick of a character who interesting things happen around but not too which just isn’t the best way to take the character. This is usually the part where I say if you like most of the written Conan stories you’ll this because it’s basically just more of it but with pictures but even that rings false as the “interesting things happening around Conan” part of my description is really lacks here with so much of the magic and mythology here being very basic fantasy stuff you’ve undoubtedly seen before. Still if you’re new to Conan I guess this isn’t a bad read and maybe if you are or know an adolescent whose big into Conan right now this is probably a pretty good book to get them but in that case I’d say wait for the trade.