*Review by contributor Lido Giovacchini
Another King Conan Hour of the Dragon review today, and this one suffers from all the previous problems the series has enjoyed. I think that from an outsider’s perspective following these reviews you’d think I didn’t like Conan but that’s not the case, I’ve read some of the older comics and like them and I really like the movie with Arnold Schwarzenager but I think the big difference here is that not only is Conan very shallow in Hour of the Dragon but the story, world elements, and locals are all extremely boring. So far we’ve just been bouncing around from vague fantasy castle to vague fantasy castle feeling in the space between with generic fantasy markets and forests like something out of Runescape. That’s the biggest problem with this series, Conan is too boring to really hold the story on his own but the world we’re being led through isn’t interesting enough to redeem the series of that fact, there’s no weird or cool location, no freaky out there magics, no cool villains with interesting personas it’s all very by the numbers. In fact the entire plot of the series so far has felt very similar to a video game, you’ve got your beefy gruff man hero running around from city to city as one quest bleeds into the next all to face down a villain with the same depth and complexity of Snidely Whiplash. But I suppose I should get into the issue and review proper.
Issue 5 picks up the continuing adventures of King Conan who has been dethroned from Aquilonia by the villainous king Tarascus because…well because he’s evil, it doesn’t go much deeper then that really. This is a major problem for the series in my opinion; Tarascus is an incredibly dull villain with no style or personality to make-up for the shallowness of his motives. He’s the wheat toast of the villain world: bland and un-nourishing. As you might’ve guess Conan’s dethroning has in essence return the character to his scrappy adventurer roots (most likely as part of some plan by the writers to bring Conan back to basics) and with his back against the wall he must try and reclaim his lost kingdom…kind of. This issue though mainly concerned with Conan rescuing one of his last remaining supporters in his home kingdom also introduced some new massive threat in the form of ancient wizard now reborn who threatens the whole world. This is a decision I really question as we’re 5 issues in so I honestly don’t see how they could resolve both Conan’s missing kingdom and the wizard threat all in one, honestly the wizard plot point only really exists to force Conan to keep moving to the next hub town for the next stage of his quest.
The root problem with the story is that an older Conan who is now king of Aquilonia again is narrating it so there really isn’t much tension on the “will Conan succeed” front. Without any kind of narrative tension to the hero’s main goal the story has to fall back on questions of personality and world building to keep the audience involved and as I’ve pretty much established through this review King Conan Hour of the Dragon is lacking in both of those. Conan is just a blank slate brick who serves only to murder people and scowl, the villain is one-note and one-dimensional, and the world never progresses beyond very standard fantasy city/castles and forests, not really the stuff of legend. Additionally something I certainly noticed in this issue was how easy things seem to be for Conan, one of the major attractions of a story like this is supposed to be the fighting and combat sequences but here Conan is able to cut through his enemies like they’re made of butter and there’s really no sense of challenge for him. In fact the only time when he does seem outnumbered he’s saved by a coincidence, which is just poor storytelling when coincidences get your characters out of trouble. Artistically this is also probably the weakest of the King Conan books, the artist and style are still the same there are just less big sweeping images. Sweeping shots are still included mind they just aren’t done as well, for instance one shot of Conan triumphantly saving a captive should be big and sweeping but Conan’s hunched and awkward pose make the whole enterprise feel somewhat lackluster and underwhelming.
The big picture of King Conan Hour of the Dragon is ultimately that if you’re already reading it chances are I’m not going to dissuade you, especially with just one issue left to go. No this is a review for everyone else who sees this book on the shelves and has considered buying it or the trade, I tell you sir or madam don’t do it, there are plenty of great Conan stories out there and I encourage you to seek them out this just isn’t one of them, what King Conan Hour of the Dragon #5 is, is simply a tired re-hashing of worn out franchise clichés, it’s paint by numbers of the most transparent kind and I’ll be happy once it’s over.