Friday, 25 December 2015

Review: Robert E. Howard's The Hour of the Dragon adaptation by Timothy Truman, Thomas Giorello and Jose Villarrubia

Robert E. Howard's The Hour of the Dragon is one of his most impressive tales of Conan the Cimmerian in his later life as the king of Aquilonia. It has been reinterpreted in comic form before, but the latest adaptation by Timothy Truman, Tomas Giorello and Jose Villarruba published by Dark Horse is undoubtedly the definitive edition of the tale in comic form - and it even improves upon some aspects of the original.

The first half of the tale is published as a trade paperback with the title "The Hour of the Dragon" and the second as "The Conqueror". Quite fittingly, the latter title is actually the same as the variant title of the original novel used by Lancer Books in 1960s. For those unfamiliar with he story, all they need to know is that Conan's throne is desired by his political opponents who resurrect a three thousand year old wizard to help them to overthrow him. Conan is captured and put into a dungeon where he first sets his eyes on his future queen and the mother of his children: Zenobia. But before he can call her his queen, he has to escape, find a way to defeat the wizard and his other enemies and reclaim his throne.

The comic book adaptation follows the story very faithfully, only changing small details here and there: giving a little bit of more room for characters who deserve it and especially to Zenobia. The adaptation does not go as far as turn the story into a tale of romance, but it does sell the relationship between Conan and Zenobia better than the original novel did. After all, Conan has encountered quite a few women on his travels so the readers should be made aware of what makes Zenobia different - and worthy of taking the place on Conan's side that once belonged to Belit. The one big change in this retelling is that the story is told through old and greying Conan, who relates his stories to a young scribe who is writing down the story of his life and reign. This point of view allows for Timothy Truman to insert emotion and introspection to scenes that may originally have lacked them, especially so where it comes to Zenobia.

The writing style is engaging and Truman and his fellow adapters have retained much of Howard's own voice in the retelling. The artist, Tomas Giorello, has really come far from his early days of working on Conan comics - or else he is given more time to work on his art. Gone are the stiffness and unfinished quality of some of the scenes. This time, the art fully serves the poignancy of the tale, underlining the sorrow, romance, horror and violence where it needs to be underlined.

Overall, this is a fantastic adaptation and almost makes me forget the mess that Dark Horse made with the Queen of the Black Coast - a tale that really should have been given a similar treatment with a writer and artists who know and love the character. In his afterword, Timothy Truman says that his other favourite tale is Beyond the Black River. As this is also one of my favourites, I really hope that Truman will be given the chance to adapt that tale as well.