Eric’s Dark Horse Comics Review: KING CONAN: THE PHOENIX ON THE SWORD #1

While calling it a comic may be a misnomer in the strictest sense, King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword has some great, flowing writing with even better art! Political intrigue trumps violence in this issue, but that doesn't keep things from being exciting.

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Saying the thing that probably needs not to be said, fans of Robert E. Howard and/or comics should pick up King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1. It's not because the famous fictional barbarian's name graces the cover, but because it's also a well-crafted product. While his script tends to be verbose, writer Timothy Truman writes with a lilting poetry that flows well as is carries the pace along with it. There's a lot going on in this book, but it never ends up feeling hard to follow or burdensome. The language usage hits the right balance of archaic and easy, yet visceral, reading. Basically, it doesn't sound like a cheap Renaissance fair. As with everything else, the narrative works out really well with a good eye for lucid sequencing that makes each side in all of the usurping, subterfuge, rivalries, and goings on. It's light political intrigue, but fun none-the-less. These goings on comprise most of the comic, so those looking to satiate a want for violence might have to wait for next issue (for which dismemberment is hinted). That aspect is a large part of what makes King Conan so appealing as readers see the usually confident Cimmerian Warrior so out of his element. It presents a palpable vulnerability for a character seen by many as all but invincible.

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The only tiny critique that was found within King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1 (besides the long-ass title) was that it blurs the lines between comic and illustrated story (Some may ask, “What's the difference?”). Coming from a purely literary source, it's easy to see why Truman and crew made the decisions that they did, but it doesn't fully utilize the tools of the medium. For instance, a caption may describe in type what can plainly be seen in a panel. The execution is so good the majority of readers won't notice these repetitious redundancies (ha, ha!), but the Alan Moores among them might cringe.

The effect of the above issue is that the writing steals some of the thunder of Tomas Giorello's amazing art. The style is not innovative per se, but the detailed character designs and lush environments are something not seen as much in mainstream comics with many taking place in urban settings and others taking on a more minimalist style of an Eastern influence. It's amazing just how much is put into each panel, which is positively exacerbated by Jose Villarrubia. The palette is balanced in a way that is balanced and bright. Readers should also take heart that, once swords do begin to clash, there should be some great action sequences. There are only a few shown via flashbacks that are dynamic, gory, and hard-hitting.

Story: Timothy Truman
Art: Tomas Giorello & Jose Villarrubia
Cover: (A) Andrew Robinson & (B) Gerald Parel
32 Pages/FC
$3.50
On Sale January 25, 2012!

4-5 Stars